Surrey English Blog http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english The blog for English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Surrey Tue, 15 Jan 2013 14:53:18 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.2.1 Professional Training Year: Eagle Radio http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/2013/01/15/professional-training-year-eagle-radio/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=professional-training-year-eagle-radio http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/2013/01/15/professional-training-year-eagle-radio/#comments Tue, 15 Jan 2013 14:47:38 +0000 Lorna Salmon http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/?p=153

Though I’m only half way through my placement year with Eagle Radio, I can already say with confidence that it’s the best decision I’ve made with regards to the progress of my career so far. The decision itself was made around April/May of my second year studying English Literature with Creative Writing at the University of Surrey. I knew by this point that I wanted a career in the radio industry specifically, and Eagle was the only station in the area and of its kind that offered a placement quite like this. Other stations across the country offer a week here, 4 weeks there; nothing long term, or with the benefits I receive by working here specifically. For me, it’s a one of a kind placement year that I wouldn’t replace.

The placement itself is unpaid, though it offers coverage of transport costs, which is a huge weight off my shoulders. As well as this, as soon as I started my initial pre-placement work over the busy summer period at the station, I was signed up for our promotional team: the Love Crew. Being a part of the Love Crew is great fun, and meant I could establish those essential initial connections with other members of staff. It means I can meet our listeners, and represent the company on the road. It also provides important extra paid work that means I can keep my head above water with bills and rent.

Since being with the station, I have gained endless experience and confidence in my abilities. The job title itself is a broad one: ‘Station Assistant’. I ‘assist’ with many tasks across Eagle, from my initial first steps editing and writing content for our website, to larger sound production tasks that have ended up on air. What I would say is important here is to realise that every task, be it large or small, contributes to the business. Though some days I may be focusing on our website, there will be other days that I take part in larger tasks. Most recently, I was able to put into practice the skills I gained through my voluntary work with GU2 Radio on campus. For the 2011/2012 academic year I was the Head of Events, which meant I already had the initial skill sets to help lead an event with Eagle. The station has its own charity, the Eagle Radio Trust, which provides money for causes and communities across our target audience in Surrey and Hampshire. A member of our staff here proposed that we host an event to raise money, called ‘Busk for the Trust’, the idea being that we put on an all-day event of professional busking to tie in with the Christmas lights switch-on in Guildford. I was entrusted as project manager, and worked alongside a regular freelancer at our station, who was the technical manager. The event was a huge success, and was a real test of everything I have learned so far on my placement. I had to deal with many problems and challenges on the day as a team leader/project manager, which resulted in the MD of Eagle giving me an award for leadership. I was very touched by this, and it affirmed to me that all my hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed here.

Looking ahead into 2013, I am looking to launch my own ‘DJ School’ with our Education team, as part of our Broadcasting for Schools programme. I am creating my own scheme of workshops, aimed at utilising the engaging experience of DJing and MCing as a new and practical way to learn. I will also be using the workshops as a team-building exercise alongside the team I work for here, which I’m very excited to get started with!

All in all, I have had a brilliant time here so far. Working with Eagle Radio is truly what you make of it – and if you put in the extra hours, and show a willingness to learn and adapt easily, you’ll reap the rewards.

If any students have any questions they want to ask me about getting into radio, feel free to tweet me:  @FauxloUK.

I would also highly recommend these websites for work experience adverts and advice:
www.thepips.co.uk
www.gothinkbig.co.uk
www.mediauk.com

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Book Publication – The Poet’s Mind: The Psychology of Victorian Poetry http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/2013/01/08/book-publication-%e2%80%93-the-poet%e2%80%99s-mind-the-psychology-of-victorian-poetry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=book-publication-%25e2%2580%2593-the-poet%25e2%2580%2599s-mind-the-psychology-of-victorian-poetry http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/2013/01/08/book-publication-%e2%80%93-the-poet%e2%80%99s-mind-the-psychology-of-victorian-poetry/#comments Tue, 08 Jan 2013 11:52:14 +0000 Gregory Tate http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/?p=146

The Poet's Mind

In November 2012 my first book, The Poet’s Mind: The Psychology of Victorian Poetry 1830-1870, was published by Oxford University Press. The book is an academic monograph, investigating a specific area of English literature which interests and enthuses me, and I’ve been working on the project, in different forms, for six years. At the end of such a substantial stretch of time, I’m pleased and also a little amazed to see the book in its final, finished form, because while the process has been consistently rewarding, it’s also been quite challenging at times.

The Poet’s Mind studies the ways in which Victorian poets – Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning, Arthur Hugh Clough – write about psychology, and looks at the links between their writing and the work of scientific psychologists in the nineteenth century. The idea behind the book took a long time to germinate. I got hooked on poetry, and Victorian poetry in particular, when I was an undergraduate student, thanks to the guidance and encouragement of some inspirational lecturers. I knew, when I went on to postgraduate study, that I wanted to research and write a doctorate about how Victorian poets thought about the mind and subjectivity, but it wasn’t until another teacher suggested that I read some Victorian psychology that the idea for the project began to form in my head. The Victorian era saw the development of psychology in its modern form, as an independent scientific discipline, and it quickly became clear to me that there was a close and reciprocal relation between poetry and scientific psychology in the nineteenth century. Psychologists used poetic quotations as starting-points or evidence for their studies of mental processes, and poets incorporated new scientific theories of the mind into their literary analyses of psychology.

After this insight struck me, it took three years of full-time work, under two brilliant and supportive supervisors, to develop my basic ideas into a coherent argument, and to write and submit my doctoral thesis. After completing my doctorate and passing my viva examination, I then had to write a proposal explaining how I would revise my thesis for publication as a book, making it (hopefully) more interesting to a wider readership. Much to my delight, Oxford University Press accepted my proposal and agreed to publish the book, but I then had to revise and rewrite the thesis, and that was perhaps the hardest part of the whole process. I hadn’t worked intensively on the project for some time, and I found it difficult, even painful, to go back to my doctoral thesis, which I thought of as a finished piece of work, and make changes to it. There were some miserable days of writer’s block, when the ideas and the words just wouldn’t flow. This passed after a couple of weeks, though, and the writing of the book soon became smoother, and very enjoyable at times. Once I finished the writing, it was just a question of finding a cover image for the book, reading the proofs prepared by the publisher, and compiling an index. The editorial and production staff at Oxford University Press were efficient and supportive throughout the process, and the result is a finely made book.

Like Liam Murray Bell, who has recently completed his creative writing PhD here at the University of Surrey and published his first book, the novel So It Is, I’ve loved holding and looking through a physical copy of my book and seeing the final result of all that work. Of course I feel some pride at bringing the project to a successful conclusion, but I’m even more excited than I am proud; excited that the ideas which have been intriguing and fascinating me for the last few years are now out in the world, and that they will be read by, and might interest, other scholars, enthusiasts, and students.

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Poetry Reading by Surrey Creative Writing Students http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/2012/12/10/poetry-reading-by-surrey-creative-writing-students/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poetry-reading-by-surrey-creative-writing-students http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/2012/12/10/poetry-reading-by-surrey-creative-writing-students/#comments Mon, 10 Dec 2012 13:57:13 +0000 Stephen Mooney http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/?p=142

Students on the Contemporary British and American Poetry Creative Writing course in the School of English and Languages here at Surrey will be holding a reading of their work on Wednesday 12th December 2012.

Presenting their work in short snappy readings will be Laura Colledge, Wafik Doss, Sophie Goodman, James Griffin, Rebecca Hillard, Annabel Knowlson, Alice Lincoln, Lauren Mason, Phillippa Nayer, and Chloe Wenborn, along with our poet in residence Stephen Mooney.

Expect text based work – expect visual and sound material – expect energy and performance – expect to hear some really exciting work – expect to do your soul good!

Venue: Room TB14, Teaching Block, 7pm start

It’s free entry, and you’ll get a free poetry anthology featuring the poets as well.

See here for further details.

 

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English and Creative Writing Applicant Days at the University of Surrey http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/2012/12/05/english-and-creative-writing-applicant-days-at-the-university-of-surrey/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=english-and-creative-writing-applicant-days-at-the-university-of-surrey http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/2012/12/05/english-and-creative-writing-applicant-days-at-the-university-of-surrey/#comments Wed, 05 Dec 2012 10:49:47 +0000 Beth Palmer http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/?p=139

If you’re applying to University this year, the chances are you’ll be invited to an Applicant Day by those institutions that make you an offer. You might already be feeling pretty popular and wondering how you’re going to fit in visits to your top choices alongside the demands of your A-levels. As an Admissions Tutor I’d recommend that you find time to attend some of these events if you can – particularly if you can’t quite make your mind up!

The purpose of an Applicant Day is to give you the chance to get a closer look at the university and to provide you with more information about the particular degree you’re applying for. The schedule for the day will be much more tailored to your specific interests than the university-wide Open Days that you might have attended earlier in the year. You’ll probably get to meet the staff who will be teaching you and some of the students who are on your course.  You might be asked to participate in a short seminar or workshop, which will really help you get a feel for the kind of teaching that you’ll experience at university.  It’s unlikely that you would be asked to prepare anything specific for these taster teaching sessions; you’ll just need to be willing to participate!

Importantly, you’ll have plenty of chances to ask any questions you have about any aspect of university life, the degree you want to do, or the application process.  From what texts you’ll be studying to how to get involved in student societies, we’ll be happy to tell you as much as we can. Everyone involved wants to share their knowledge and experience in order to help you make the best decision.

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Surrey Music and Drama Society: You’ve Been Tagged http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/2012/12/04/surrey-music-and-drama-society-youve-been-tagged/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=surrey-music-and-drama-society-youve-been-tagged http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/2012/12/04/surrey-music-and-drama-society-youve-been-tagged/#comments Tue, 04 Dec 2012 09:19:02 +0000 Paul Vlitos http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/?p=136

The University of Surrey Music and Drama Society’s first production of the year was utter filth – and I loved it. Written by and starring Laurence Williams (4th Year, English Literature with Creative Writing) and co-directed by Emily Clegg (2nd Year, English Literature with Creative Writing) and Chris Evans, You’ve Been Tagged was a relentlessly inventive two and a half hours of theatre. Part political thriller, part love story, part sex comedy, this was a tremendously ambitious and enjoyable show, unafraid to juxtapose the serious with the comical, and deftly interweaving its several plot strands. You could describe You’ve Been Tagged as a mash-up of Spooks, Queer as Folk and Skins - with added socio-political commentary and moments of real tenderness. Neatly staged and engagingly acted, the piece built up genuine theatrical momentum over the course of the evening – and left me intrigued to see what its creators, performers and the rest of MadSoc will come up with next…

You’ve Been Tagged was performed at Wates House on the 26th, 27th and 28th of November 2012.

 

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Making a Living as a Writer http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/2012/12/03/making-a-living-as-a-writer/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=making-a-living-as-a-writer http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/2012/12/03/making-a-living-as-a-writer/#comments Mon, 03 Dec 2012 13:08:44 +0000 Paul Vlitos http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/?p=132

As part of the University of Surrey Careers Service’s ‘Welcome to my World’ series of talks on Wednesday 21st November our students had the opportunity to attend a fascinating talk from Jonathan Steffen on the topic of how to make a living as a writer.

Jonathan Steffen has specialised in international corporate communications for twenty-five years and is Managing Director of The Corporate Story – a firm which helps business leaders to communicate where their organisations are coming from, where they are going, and what they stand for. An English Literature graduate, Jonathan is an accomplished poet and since graduating he has combined his interest in writing creatively with his interest in business, working variously as a translator, interpreter, editor and more recently corporate communications consultant and ghost-writer. He spoke about his own experiences as a writer and how his perceptions of what it means to write creatively – and the uses to which a young writer might put their skills – have broadened and diversified. Jonathan has also very kindly agreed for The Corporate Story to host one of our English Literature and Creative Writing students for part of their Professional Training Year next year – a fantastic opportunity for one of our own aspiring writers.

The talk was followed by a lively and informative question and answer session. Jonathan was particularly entertaining in describing his early years as an ambitious young poet and short story writer – and about the ways in which his understanding of what it means to write, and of ways in which writers can contribute to the world, have developed and changed over the course of a highly successful career. The visit was a valuable reminder to all of us to think broadly and inventively about where our talents might lead us – and a reminder that not all creative writing takes places in a solitary garret!

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Surrey’s Veer Books at the Small Publishers Fair 2012 http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/2012/11/29/surreys-veer-books-at-the-small-publishers-fair-2012/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=surreys-veer-books-at-the-small-publishers-fair-2012 http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/2012/11/29/surreys-veer-books-at-the-small-publishers-fair-2012/#comments Thu, 29 Nov 2012 12:37:11 +0000 Stephen Mooney http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/?p=115

The first Veer Books publication to be produced at the University of Surrey, Peter Larkin’s Imparkments, was launched as part of the Veer Books readings on Saturday November 17th at the Small Publishers Fair 2012 at the Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London WC1.

The SPF is organized by RGAP (Research Group for Artists Publications), and has been running for many years now. This year’s event was busy and well attended both by the public and by publishers producing some really exciting and beautiful work, from hand-made book art works, lovingly created luxury editions, and high-end printed postcard and other visual works to letterpress and digitally printed books, pamphlets and other publications.

Billed as ‘the international fair celebrating books by contemporary artists, poets, writers,
composers, book designers, and their publishers; together with a programme of 
readings and talks. With more than 50 publishers taking part there will be thousands of books and other editions to browse and buy!’ it really did live up to its claims.  As admission is free every year, and it went on all day Friday and Saturday, between 11am and 7pm, and with a showcase exhibition of work by Hans Waanders and a series of very fine readings on the Saturday (also free to attend), it was a really enjoyable way to spend a few hours (at least)!

It’s an annual event, so if you missed it this year, look out for it in 2013.

From a poetry point of view, the fair always has a very strong contemporary poetry press contingent; presses putting interesting, innovative and exciting work to the fore. These are usually well reflected in the Saturday readings, for many the highlight of the whole event.

Of particular interest in the 2012 fair were the book stalls from Reality Street Editions, West House, Shearsman, Veer Books, Etruscan Books, seekers of lice, VerySmallKitchen, Coracle, Poetic Practice MA at Royal Holloway University of London, Equus Press (which is connected to the Czech based Litteraria Pragensia), and a special appearance by Allen Fisher’s Spanner press.

This year the readings line-up was particularly impressive. What with co-staffing the Veer Books stall, buying books and generally circulating, I managed to catch some, but not enough, of these. Particularly interesting were the West House Books & Reality Street Editions reading (Geraldine Monk, Johan de Wit, Giles Goodland, Sean Pemberton & Robert Sheppard), the seekers of lice & VerySmallKitchen launch, ‘Theatre of Objects’ (Becky Cremin & Ryan Ormonde), the reading by students of the Poetic Practice MA at RHUL (Jennie Cole, Rachel Deakin, Annie Runkel, Juliet Troy, Emma Wootton), and, of course, the Veer Books reading.

Traditionally, Veer gets the last reading slot of the evening, and we always get a good crowd, so between 5:30 and 6:30pm this year, we were really pleased with both the turnout and the quality of the readings. This year we featured some new recent publications, and a selection of those we have in the pipeline, plus a special reading by Veer editor William Rowe from his forthcoming Nation book.

The more I watched and listened to these readings unfold, the more strongly I registered the breadth of the work we’re interested in at Veer, something I’d been aware of intellectually, obviously, but seeing these poets read their work live really did remake that observation in a visceral way that I had not expected – its true, you really can’t beat a poetry reading for that immediate sense of the texture of poetic language.

We began the evening with the launch of Peter Larkin’s new Veer Book ImparkmentsThis is the first in a new series of Veer Books to be produced and published jointly by the University of Surrey and the CPRC, Birkbeck College. Thanks must go to Wafik Doss and Christina Webb at Surrey for their design work on the publication. Peter’s reading displayed a poise and accuracy of language that did the complex and sophisticated text proud. Have a look at the video, and you’ll see what I mean.

Carol Watts’s reading from the forthcoming Sundog was strident, confident and arresting, completely changing the space of the reading room and working particularly well alongside the Peter Larkin reading, and that of Doug Jones who followed. Jones’s Posts will be the next publication from Veer, and the next to be worked on at Surrey, and as you’ll see from the video it’s punchy, forceful and relentlessly modern in its engagement with medical and blogified language. The three poets that followed were just as surprising. Holly Pester’s rhythmic earbashing of language changed the aural space of the room yet again in a wonderfully disjointed way. William Rowe’s reading from Nation was intelligently passionate and powerful in its delivery of uncompromising resistance poetry grappling with the hands of corporate and political greed around our necks, while Danny Hayward’s reading engaged the space of Rowe’s reading in a curiously intense way, his poetic analysis of the power relationship between work and leisure measured but forceful in its insistence.

Veer will be back at the SPF next year, and will hopefully feature a string of new books edited, designed and printed here at Surrey.

There is much more information about the SPF on the RGAP website. On the wesbite you’ll also find a link to an interesting article by Les Coleman, ‘The Independent Bookcase’, on small press publishing.

For more on Veer Books, you can have a look here and at our brand new website coming very soon.

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The Fall of the House of Laity: the Church of England and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/2012/11/26/the-fall-of-the-house-of-laity-the-church-of-england-and-hilary-mantel%e2%80%99s-wolf-hall/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-fall-of-the-house-of-laity-the-church-of-england-and-hilary-mantel%25e2%2580%2599s-wolf-hall http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/2012/11/26/the-fall-of-the-house-of-laity-the-church-of-england-and-hilary-mantel%e2%80%99s-wolf-hall/#comments Mon, 26 Nov 2012 10:05:29 +0000 Diane Watt http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/?p=109

What does the House of Laity have in common with Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall?

On Tuesday, the draft Measure for the consecration of women bishops was defeated in the House of Laity. The arguments against the Measure were complex. Some were concerned with the terms of the legislation, and some were made on theological grounds. But whatever the views of the debaters and of those who voted, if the discussions that I have followed on Facebook and Twitter are anything to go by, the overall public perception is that the Church of England is a deeply misogynist institution, steeped in old fashioned traditions, and out of touch with contemporary society.

A longer view of the history of the English Church provides us with a different picture. In the earliest English church, women exercised tremendous authority. A key figure in the establishment of the church during the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons was Hild, founding Abbess of Whitby (614-680). The Venerable Bede writes about her career in the fourth book of his Ecclesiastical History of the English People (completed in 731). Yet even this early and hugely influential work of scholarship tends to underplay Hild’s role as a politician. Hild presided over the famous Synod of Whitby of 664, but Bede chooses to minimize this, despite describing the debates themselves in some detail. In the later Anglo-Saxon period, the abbesses lost much of their political and cultural power when double monasteries governed by women were replaced by separate religious communities for monks and nuns.

Nevertheless throughout the Middle Ages, exceptional women could and did yield considerable influence. Double Man Booker Prize winning author Hilary Mantel writes about one of these women in her 2009 novel, Wolf Hall. Elizabeth Barton, the so-called ‘Holy Maid of Kent’, is a minor player in the book, but she was far more significant in her own time. Barton was a young nun and mystic who was executed in 1534 after she prophesied against Henry VIII’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon and against his marriage to Anne Boleyn. Mantel’s story is told from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell, who engineered these events for the king. In Wolf Hall, as in the propaganda that surrounded Barton’s execution, Barton is represented as a foolish, malleable young woman, manipulated by Cromwell’s opponents and, ultimately, by Cromwell himself. However, an understanding of traditions of medieval mysticism throws a very different light on Barton. In later Medieval Europe, there were a number of powerful women visionaries who used the authority that they claimed had been given to them directly by God to intervene in political affairs at the highest level. One of the most famous of these women was St Bridget of Sweden (1303-1373), who admonished King Magnus of Sweden about his failings and gave warnings to Pope Clement VI. Even Barton’s enemies acknowledged that Bridget was an important role model for her. The surviving historical records indicate that Cromwell took Elizabeth Barton very seriously indeed: when her supporters tried to print 700 copies of a book of her revelations for distribution around the country, he had his spies seize and destroy every copy. Not one survived. Mantel makes no mention of this in her novel.

What does the House of Laity have in common with Wolf Hall? Both underestimate the authority, whether God-given or not, of powerful women.

Diane Watt’s essay ‘Literature in Pieces: female sanctity and the relics of early women’s writing (500-1150)’ will be published next month in The Cambridge History of Early Medieval English Literature, ed. Clare A. Lees (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). She has written about Elizabeth Barton in Secretaries of God (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1997).

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English Literature in the Workplace: The Professional Training Year http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/2012/11/15/english-literature-in-the-workplace-the-professional-training-year/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=english-literature-in-the-workplace-the-professional-training-year http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/2012/11/15/english-literature-in-the-workplace-the-professional-training-year/#comments Thu, 15 Nov 2012 09:55:03 +0000 Samantha Arnold http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/?p=104

A placement year in a degree like English Literature might not seem like a natural fit at first. Other degrees pair off quite nicely with certain jobs; Aerospace Engineers do plane engineering, a Psychology student might do psychiatry, Biochemists do experiments on chemicals in the body in research institutes (forgive me if this is vague, I know nothing of science!), but what does an English student do? Well, last academic year we had teaching assistants, PR assistants, an HR compensation support specialist, editorial assistants, and me? I was a digital marketing executive for the year. None of these roles may seem inherently English Literature-related but we all found links to our degrees along the way. More importantly than all of that, what we learnt about the professional world was completely invaluable. If you are considering the placement year, please don’t think of this year like extended work experience where you make some tea, do a bit of filing and don’t really understand what everyone else is doing. This was a full time job, with responsibilities, deadlines and, in some cases, salaries. We were thrown head-first into a situation where a lot was expected of us and now I don’t recognise the person I was when I started my placement (in a really good way).

I would recommend doing the placement year to anyone – yes, you may find that it’s difficult to find a placement and, as an English student, you may not have a lot of obvious choices, but I’d argue that you can do almost anything you want to. I believe that the opportunity is so beneficial: even though I was in an industry that I know I don’t want to get in to, and I was in a role in which – at the time – I felt out of my depth, it is these things that have pushed me to define what I want to do with my career.

So, on the face of it, my placement may not have been wholly relevant to an English degree, nor to someone with a hope of working in publishing (like me), but I learnt so much about the world of recruitment and, surprisingly, of publishing in those 12 months, something I just wouldn’t have been able to do without the experts around me and my own first-hand experience. The skills I learnt there I know I can take with me; by the time I’d finished I had so much more drive, and I can already see the benefits in my University life: organisational skills and expectation management, stress management and digital skills have all already shown their usability in and out of the workplace.

It helps that this time last year I was getting ready to go on an all-expenses paid skiing trip to France with my company, so as well as all these long-term benefits, there are always extra perks too.

For further information on the Professional Training Year, see the University of Surrey Professional Training webpages.

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Skyfall: Bond and Tennyson http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/2012/11/04/skyfall-bond-and-tennyson/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=skyfall-bond-and-tennyson http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/2012/11/04/skyfall-bond-and-tennyson/#comments Sun, 04 Nov 2012 21:43:27 +0000 Gregory Tate http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/english/?p=95

James Bond and Alfred Tennyson seem like an odd pairing. In their own ways, though, they’re both British institutions, old-fashioned and perhaps outdated. They might be loved or tolerated for their place in cultural history, but, arguably, they’re not immediately relevant to twenty-first-century concerns.

This issue is directly addressed in the latest 007 film, Skyfall, in which Ian Fleming’s spy and the Victorian poet laureate are brought together. As Bond (Daniel Craig) runs through the streets of London to stop an assassin gunning for M (Judi Dench), the under-pressure head of MI6 is fighting for her job in front of a parliamentary committee, and she concludes her speech of self-justification with a defiant quotation from Tennyson’s dramatic monologue ‘Ulysses’:

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Although the sonorous determination of these lines has been admired by politicians since the poem was first published in 1842, there is an irony to their use here. Unlike M, Tennyson’s Ulysses is trying to resign his post: he yearns to escape his responsibilities as king of Ithaca and embark on one last voyage with his mariners. Although he insists that he remains ‘strong in will’, he also acknowledges that he’s no longer fit for office.

These lines from ‘Ulysses’ seem to have been everywhere in 2012. As well as their Bond cameo, they were inscribed on a wall in the athletes’ village at the London Olympic Games, and the last line in particular became a sort of unofficial Olympic motto. Quoted again and again over the course of the summer, Tennyson’s words were bound up with ideas of fortitude, endeavour, and patriotic pride. Skyfall deploys them to similar effect, but the quotation also crystallises a sense of doubt and melancholy that pervades the film.

For much of Skyfall, Bond and MI6 are presented as dinosaurs struggling to keep up with the modern world. Under attack from a cyberterrorist, they are forced to retreat into the subterranean tunnels of Winston Churchill’s World War II cabinet rooms. The film persistently reiterates the possibility that Bond and the intelligence service might be past their best: at one point the spy stares intently at J. M. W. Turner’s painting The Fighting Temeraire, depicting a once-famous warship as it is towed away to be broken up.

Skyfall is, on one level, a film about the loss of British power: the plot hinges on an incident which took place during the 1997 handover of Hong Kong from British to Chinese control, and the film’s villain (foreign, of course), played by Javier Bardem, delights in telling Bond that the days of British power and imperial glory are long gone. The lines from ‘Ulysses’ perfectly encapsulate this concern. Like Ulysses, Skyfall wants to have it both ways: it recognises that Britain has been ‘made weak by time and fate’, but it also clings nostalgically to a myth of fortitude and heroism. As M intones the words ‘and not to yield’, Bond arrives to save the day. 007, of course, will never yield. This is a big part of the character’s appeal, but it’s also one of the reasons why these films often seem reactionary and simplistic. In every film, no matter how outdated Bond is, he will strive, and seek, and find: Britain’s enemies will be defeated, and the plot will be resolved.

Tennyson’s Ulysses, however, never reaches the end of his story. Despite his self-proclaimed strength of will, at the close of his monologue he remains, as the Victorian critic Goldwin Smith noted, ‘a listless and melancholy figure on the shore’. He is stuck in a sort of limbo, looking back on the fading glories of the past and facing an uncertain future. This is a peculiarly Victorian state of mind, but, according to Skyfall, it might also be characteristic of twenty-first-century Britain.

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