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    UCL Festival of the Arts: Queer Edwardians: E.M. Forster and D.H. Lawrence

    By James L Russell, on 28 May 2015

    As part of the UCL Festival of the Arts, which ran over five days last week, Dr Hugh Stevens from UCL English Language & Literature presented the lecture Queer Edwardians: E.M. Forster and D.H. Lawrence, on Tuesday 19th May. In this, he explored the representations of same-sex desire in the writings of these two authors in their work before World War One.

    Dr Stevens examined a range of short stories and novels by both authors, in particular Forster’s novel ‘Maurice’ and Lawrence’s ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’. He placed these works within context of the authors’ own sexualities and romantic lives, and within that of wider society during the time they were both alive.

    Forster’s novel ‘A Room with a View’, and the 1980s Merchant Ivory film of it starring Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham-Carter and Daniel Day-Lewis among other quintessential English actors, will forever remind me of studying for English Literature ‘A’ Level. With its tale of an upper class girl being encouraged to marry a repressed man she doesn’t love, the novel typifies Forster’s earlier writing and the age in which it was written, explained Dr Stevens. 

    Boys bathing, Henry Scott-Tuke

    Image by Henry Scott-Tuke

    ‘Maurice’ on the other hand, a novel that I myself later read (and only recently finally caught the film of starring a very young Hugh Grant), was apparently written after Forster had his first sexual experience with a man and was directly inspired by this; and as a result is much less typical of the time.

    As homosexuality was of course illegal until 1967, Forster did not allow ‘Maurice’ to be published until after he died in 1970. He did however write a footnote to the novel in 1960, following the publication of the Wolfenden Report in 1957 which recommended that ‘homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence’. He wrote that a ‘happy ending was imperative’ for the novel, and that he was ‘determined, that in fiction anyway’ a love story between two men should end well.

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    English Grammar Day 2014

    By Sophie E Pleterski, on 29 July 2014

    In a world where economics and technology dominate, what is the place of grammar in our society? Is it important?

    The English Grammar Day 2014  (held on July 4) sought to tackle these questions. Organised by Charlotte Brewer (University of Oxford English Language and Literature) and Bas Aarts (UCL English Language & Literature) in association with the British Library, this conference brought together some of the preeminent authorities on language use: Debbie Cameron, David Crystal, Dick Hudson, Debra Myhill and John Mullan.

    David Crystal

    David Crystal

    The event traversed the history of the “grammar debate” from Jonathan Swift’s Proposal for Correcting, Improving, & Ascertaining the English Tongue (1712) to Michael Gove’s new curriculum. Yet the overriding theme of the day was the teaching of grammar (or lack thereof) in schools.

    Montaigne’s assertion that ‘the greater part of the world’s troubles are due to questions of grammar’ was perhaps hyperbolic, but as Dick Hudson (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences) pointed out in the opening lecture, London is experiencing a literacy crisis. Citing an article in the Evening Standard from 2011 which claimed that one million people in London could not read, he discussed the consequences of the decline in the teaching of grammar in the 20th century. “From the 1920s to the 1960s grammar research died. The effect of a subject dying at university means that the next generation of school teachers never hear about it during their undergraduate years–a recipe for disaster”, he argued.

    Each speaker had their own ideas of how this could be remedied, but the prevailing opinion was that a playfulness with language is imperative. As Debra Myhill observed, British humour is often based on grammatical nuance: grammar is the difference between knowing your shit and knowing you’re shit (not an example for the primary school kids).

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    One Day in the City: In conversation with Kazuo Ishiguro

    By Sophie E Pleterski, on 4 July 2014

    An unmissable event – UCL’s One Day in the City and Harper’s Bazaar came together to host John Mullan, head of UCL English Language & Literature and former Man Booker judge, in conversation with Kazuo Ishiguro in the packed Darwin Lecture Theatre.

    kazuoishiguro1

    Writer Kazuo Ishiguro

    The Booker Prize winning author was on form. In a day devoted to London in fiction, Ishiguro, or Ish, as he was called by John, announced “I came to explain why I don’t set my novels in London… I’m a bit anti-London.” Excellent start.

    The conversation ranged extensively from settings in fiction to Ishiguro’s literary method, writers in London and the peccancy of political naivety in an author.

    Ish established from the start the distinction between a novel’s setting and its world: “every novel should have a strong sense of its own world, whether it be severe, bizarre, dark or noire-ish… and the psychological and physical laws that operate in that world.”

    The setting, meanwhile, has more to do with the public preconception of a place such as London, Paris in the 20s or New York in the 80s. He cautioned against the use of a setting without acknowledging its reverberations – what kind of noise it creates – adding wryly that “a writer who uses a setting like Nazi Germany without taking into account the Nazis is at best naïve.”

    Ishiguro’s antagonistic relationship with settings began with his early novels A Pale View of the Hills (1982) and An Artist of the Floating World (1986). Westerners, knowing little about Japan, tended to take his novels too literally within the context of their Japanese setting. They assumed that he was trying to teach the reader about the Japanese mindset of the time.

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    Is it something I said? Scurrilous or taboo language

    By Jack H C Dean, on 25 June 2014

    The penultimate event of UCL’s One Day in the City saw John Sutherland (Lord Northcliffe Professor Emeritus of Modern English Literature at UCL) chair a debate on scurrilous or taboo language with Will Self, Tim Clare and Melanie Abrahams, who stood in for the absent Sunday Times writer, India Knight.

    one day in the city

    Sutherland began by introducing Will Self as “a novelist and presenter”, to which Self replied: “Presenter? What the fuck are you talking about?”

    Sutherland continued, suggesting that we are “rediscovering linguistic taboo” and that Freud had written that all language begins with it: “It is uncanny and unclean”.

    He explained that during his lifetime – Sutherland was born in 1938 – the diachronic alteration of language had been dramatic, but that it was also vital to look at language synchronically. Diachronic change being linguistic alteration over time and synchronic, meaning the study of language at one point in history.

    The end of the 1930s, for example, saw the publication of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Niggers a title that was synchronically acceptable. By the 1970s, this had changed to And then there were none…, which alluded to a nursery rhyme in the novel. This was a notable diachronic change.

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