Tag Archive: Literature

  1. Paul Fry: An Ocean of Islands

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    Paul Fry isn’t just a famous academic; he’s also “Yale famous.” A scholar of British Romantic poetry and a professor at Yale for over forty years, Fry put aside his original aspirations of becoming a painter to pursue literature. In addition to being one of the few professors whose course is available online, Fry served as beloved master of Ezra Stiles College for almost a decade. In an interview with WKND, Fry recounts memorable Master’s Teas, including a particularly charged one with the founder of the Black Panthers, and describes his work in the upcoming “Critique of Reason” exhibition at the Yale University Art Gallery.

    Q: I heard that you were originally interested in pursuing a career in painting, but went to graduate school because your father believed art wasn’t a viable career path. How did this impact your life, and what advice would you give to students who are torn between pursuing their dreams and fulfilling expectations?

    A: Well, in the first place I should give my father the credit of not really being a person who stood in my way. I made my own choice, and my father was a painter and very much honored painting. I went to graduate school because I felt I had a deeper vocation for the study of literature than for painting. Also, you could be drafted if you went to art school — this was during the Vietnam War. However, if you went to graduate school, you were exempt from the draft. Once I was in graduate school I was comfortable and happy with my choice. Today I could only advise students to follow their deepest vocation.

    Q: Do you believe it’s possible for a person to realize their creative aspirations at any point during his or her life?

    A: I certainly think so. The time and intensity of effort that would be required for most of us to do does perhaps mean a career change, and the ease with which one changes careers depends on one’s phase of life. It’s probably unwise to do so and hope to succeed without being fully committed to it. I have to say that literary studies is a discipline that requires a lot of preparation and is not something I would recommend someone do midlife or later.

    Q: In your online lecture “Introduction to Theory of Literature,” you examine various conceptions of the meaning of literature. If you could describe the purpose of literature and why it continues to engage us in a few words, what would you say?

    A: I think literature calls our attention to the measure of the fictive. I think that literature as a form of discourse has a privileged position amongst others because of its openly and exuberantly fictive nature. In some ways I would defend it and its study on formal grounds. However, one could say in a more humanistic vein that literature expresses more eloquently and subtly emotions and feelings that we all try to express one way or another.

    Q: How did you get involved with Romanticism? Was there any particular reason you chose this artistic movement?

    A: When I was a graduate student at Harvard, I thought of myself as a Modernist. I spent a lot of time studying the canonical works of the earlier twentieth century and was fascinated with them. I also had a temporary flirtation with early American colonial literature that was developed under one of my more interesting mentors. However, it was when I came to Yale that my interest in Romanticism took off, under the influence of the great figures in the department in those days, like Harold Bloom and Geoffrey Hartman.

    Q: On the subject of Romanticism, could you describe your work in “The Critique of Reason” exhibit?

    A: It’s quite limited. My role is only to read a half-hour paper in a symposium that I understand is going to take place on April 18th and 19th. My own experience has been mostly with the British Art Center and their collection over the years. It is a great occasion for collaboration, and I hope it works out because it’s an excellent idea.

    Q: Do you have any favorite Romantic poems?

    A: Yes, certainly. I think Keats’ “To Autumn” is the most perfect poem in the language. I very much admire “Tintern Abbey” and a poem called “Michael” by Wordsworth. While these are lyric poems, I also esteem Wordsworth’s long autobiographical poem “The Prelude,” and Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight.”

    Q: To switch gears, college students are so often swamped with course reading that they don’t have time to read for leisure. What would you say to a student looking to read for leisure?

    A: Well, I think it is important simply to deepen one’s sense of a rich field. To read works in isolation is to feel that somehow they are little islands in the vast ocean, whereas, in reality, the entire ocean is islands.

    Q: What is your philosophy of reading, and how does it square with a college student’s practice of skimming?

    A: I am unable to skim. If I skim I have acquired no information, let alone understanding of the text as a text. Sometimes I have to skim just like anyone else and I make the best of it. Now, there is a movement abroad in literary studies called distant reading, which involves digital humanities databases, that really absolves you from reading at all. All you have to do is gather together vast quantities of whatever you are interested in and then develop a search engine that asks the intelligent questions so you can come up with generalizations about a whole genre. It is not an insignificant or uninteresting field, but it is really amazing to me because it absolves you from reading and composes other tasks in its place.

    Q: In your opinion, does distant reading detract from the intended purpose of literature? Does the manner in which we acquire information alter our understanding of it?

    A: I don’t want to be dogmatic or doctrinaire. I think one can learn interesting things by this means. We have always used what are called concordances [an alphabetized list of the important words in a book or text]. As a student of Wordsworth, I have worked all my life with the concordance of words that allows me to see when and how often he uses a certain word, phrase or theme. Concordances are already like databases and search engines, and even traditionally they could search for things other than words — they are just not as vast.

    Q: You have taught at Yale for more than forty years. Is there any particular moment in your teaching career that has been the most gratifying or interesting?

    A: Well, I’ll have to say that the response to the online literary theory lecture course has been incredibly gratifying. For years, I got emails from people in every corner of the world telling me that it had changed their lives. Furthermore, I was able to turn it into a book! My most recent book is based on a transcript of the lectures: I turned the transcript into decent prose, fixing the grammar and eliminating all the “umms” and “ahhs.”

    Q: What was something you most enjoyed as Master of Stiles? I think a lot of students are curious about this because from our point of view, college masters seem to have a lot of fun!

    A: It was certainly an interesting position — we were laughing all the time. I enjoyed all kinds of things about it! I participated in some sports; I got to know lots of students and enjoyed knowing them. What I particularly liked doing was developing ideas for Master’s Teas. We had Martha Stewart, film directors, actors such as Edward Norton, conceptual artists and other intellectuals and celebrities. It was a lot of fun putting those events together over the years.

    Q: Is there one particular Master’s Tea that you recall which received the best reception?

    A: I think the most exciting Master’s Tea was with Bobby Seale, one of the leaders of the Black Panthers who had opened a barbeque restaurant in Philadelphia and had published a book titled “Barbequing with Bobby.” He came to the Master’s Tea accompanied by the New Haven head of the Black Panthers chapter, a guy named James Edwards who was on the hustings at a time when the city was full of tanks, and when Brewster [the Yale president at the time] made his stand on behalf of the Black Panthers, saying they couldn’t get a fair trial in New Haven. It was a tremendously controversial period. James Edwards was one of the most fierce and dedicated people I have ever encountered. He was so much more serious in his politics and his understanding of racial relations than Bobby Seale was, or at least is now. I think the Martha Stewart event was also special. It all went great until toward the end of the Q&A someone asked her if she had any advice about decorating his dorm room and she thought he was being condescending and got mad at him. She had come from a local Kmart where she was introducing a new line of towels. I can’t even begin to remember all the people we had from an enormous variety of fields. Sometimes we would have people who weren’t very well known and we would have to scour the courtyards to find an audience. But we had them hanging from the chandeliers for a lot of them.

    Contact SAATCHI KALSI at

    saatchi.kalsi@yale.edu .

  2. Windham in Their Sails

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    Tuesday morning, Beinecke Library staff set up a small, modestly lit stage and 40 chairs upstairs to prepare for the announcement of this year’s Windham-Campbell Literature Prize winners. The prize awards $150,000 to each of nine writers — three in drama, three in nonfiction and three in fiction.

    Though this certainly makes for a noteworthy accolade, few people attended the ceremony. Almost all those who came worked at the Beinecke. University President Peter Salovey read a short speech: He named the winners, summarized their careers, thanked listeners and left. The whole thing took less than 20 minutes.

    Despite the small reception in New Haven, the event attracted a much larger audience than could be contained in the Beinecke. Michael Kelleher, program director of the Windham-Campbell Prizes, opened proceedings by saying, “We’re being watched all over the world live right now.” Indeed, the announcement was live-streamed over the Internet.

    The ambitions of the Windham-Campbell Prize certainly merit global attention. It aims to reward writers in the English language from all over the world for demonstrating achievement or promise in their respective genres. In an interview with the News, Kelleher joked that he was happy that this year was the first when over half the winners already knew what the Windham-Campbell Prize was, and that no one thought the phone call notifying them that they’d won was a Nigerian Prince scam. But in all seriousness, the vast scope of the award has attracted international attention, and though it was created only three years ago, the Windham-Campbell Prize has quickly acquired significant prestige.

    The prize was created by Donald Windham who, upon his death in 2010, left the majority of his estate to Yale in order to fund the Windham-Campbell Prizes. Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, Windham moved to New York City soon after graduating high school to become a writer. There, his career took off when he collaborated with Tennessee Williams on “You Touched Me!,” and he went on to become a critically acclaimed novelist.

    Windham’s success never came easy. He never went to college, and as a young, financially struggling writer, he worked odd jobs in New York City. It is perhaps because of this difficulty that Windham wished to create a prize that would not only honor well-known authors with impressive bodies of work, but also — and perhaps more importantly — provide younger, less established writers with the financial opportunity to focus on their craft.

    Eugene V. Kokot, co-executor of the Windham-Campbell estate, says he ensures that the selection committees choose winners that match Windham’s goals. “It was Donald’s intent to give someone the prize who would really benefit from money to aid [their] writing, without having to work a second job to make ends meet,” he said. In keeping with this mission, last year’s winners have expressed their gratitude for the prize, which has enabled them to stop looking for temp jobs and worrying about money, and to finally focus on establishing themselves among literati.

    The newfound ease of the prizewinners is the result of a long and complicated process. Each year, Kelleher travels to a different part of the world to familiarize himself with the region’s literary circles. He then chooses 60 nominators — usually writers or academics — who will each choose one “established” writer and one “up-and-comer” to nominate for the prize. He cited the importance of having what he called a “saturation” of nominees from a particular part of the world, so that every year selectors can closely examine the literature of a given country, rather than annually comparing literature from all over the world.

    Selection committees choose winners not based on a single masterpiece; instead, they look at the writers’ entire bodies of work. Judges on the committee then pick a book they think is indicative of the overall quality of an author’s work to send to a panel of jurists, who decide on the final winners. It’s a long process, and usually takes an entire year. In fact, Kelleher begins searching for new nominators the day after winners are announced.

    This involved procedure yields promising results. “The proof that the selection process works is in the people who are selected,” said Richard Deming, an English professor at Yale who teaches the popular creative writing course Daily Themes. “By and large, they aren’t household names, but they have been very impressive.”

    The names of the nominators are never made public, and nominees do not find out they’ve been nominated unless they win. The selection committees, also composed of anonymous members, work in seclusion throughout the process to determine the best nominees. Even after their term ends, previous judges cannot reveal their identities to the press.

    “The process is anonymous because we wanted to avoid conflicts of interest,” Kokot said. “We want nominators to nominate purely on the basis of their review of authors who deserve a wider audience.”

    This could explain the modest reception that accompanied the announcement of the winners; unlike prizes such as the Pulitzer Prize or the National Book Award, there is little fanfare surrounding the selections. While other literary prizes have celebrity judges and long processes involving publicized longlists, short lists and finalists, the Windham-Campbell doesn’t make a show of its procedure. As J.D. McClatchy, editor of “The Yale Review,” puts it: “The Windham-Campbell has prestige, like the Bollingen, more than glamour, like the Pulitzer.”

    McClatchy is not the only person to compare Windham-Campbell to more established prizes. Though the Windham-Campbell program is still in its infancy, members of the literary community have high hopes for its future. The prize was profiled in a Foreign Policy article about prestigious global literary awards, along with the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Man Booker Award. Unlike these accolades, the Windham-Campbell does not allow almost-winners to benefit from being named finalists. However, Teju Cole, one of this year’s fiction winners, says he wouldn’t have wanted to know had he been a finalist. For him, the anonymity de-emphasizes the competitive nature of literary prizes. “Making art is not about rivalry,” he said.

    Most commonly, interviewees compared Windham-Campbell either to the Macarthur Genius Award, as the decision processes are similar, or, perhaps more aptly, to Yale’s Bollingen Prize, which is essentially Windham-Campbell’s poetic counterpart.

    The Bollingen Prize has awarded literary excellence ever since its inception in 1948, when Ezra Pound was the first winner. Also affiliated with the Beinecke, the Bollingen selects American poets who have published the best book of poetry in the two years preceding the prize’s announcement. It also takes into account lifetime achievement that the judges deem particularly impressive. Its goals, then, are somewhat different than those the Windham-Campbell — the Bollingen is not international, and is rarely given to a junior poet without a significant body of work.

    Nancy Kuhl, curator of American Literature at the Beinecke and Program Director for the Bollingen Prize, thinks that, because of these different functions, the Bollingen and Windham-Campbell will mutually inform and enrich one another.

    “The two prizes together highlight Yale’s deep investment in great literature,” she said. “This isn’t just a deep investment in research, but also in the creation of great works of art.”

    The relationship between Yale and the prizes is, in a sense, symbiotic: The prize enhances Yale students’ experience of literature, and association with Yale lends the prize automatic prestige. Kuhl went on to explain how awards such as these impact students and aspiring writers who are considering entering the field: “When we give an award to a writer, we don’t know what’s going to arise from their imagination, or how that will spark the imaginations of others at a distance.”

    The Windham-Campbell has already put significant effort into sparking young imaginations. Since its inception, the prize has maintained a partnership with Co-op Arts and Humanities High School in New Haven. Each year, six students concentrating in creative writing or theater coordinate a panel and workshop with one of the winners.

    Lynda Blancato organizes the cooperation between the Beinecke and Co-op High School. “This program shows students that the prizewinners have very diverse paths to their careers as writers,” said Blancato. Even just meeting new people who aren’t from New Haven, she said, is exciting for students — so working with writers from all over the world was especially rewarding.

    The high school’s affiliation with Windham-Campbell winners is, in a sense, indicative of the realization of Windham’s goals — for many writers, especially those from outside the U.S., local recognition in New Haven is the first step to recognition abroad. “I’m literally trying to bring these writers to the world,” Kelleher tells me. According to him, the Windham-Campbell Prize intends to bring acclaim to writers who deserve it and whose art should be appreciated by literary enthusiasts around the world.

    That said, fame is not the ultimate goal of most writers. “I think making art is about having a voice — prizes are not the reason we do this work,” said Cole. (This was, of course, after saying that he was very happy to have received the Windham-Campbell this year.) “But any opportunity to develop that voice is very meaningful. Money is not the end in itself, but it allows the work to go on.”

  3. Comeback Kid: "The Silkworm"

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    What if some authors only have one good book in them?

    So wonders one of the characters from “The Silkworm,” a new mystery novel by Robert Galbraith, and therein lies the heart of the story. Maybe some authors only have one blockbuster idea, but maybe not. Robert Galbraith, as many now know, is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling. And “The Silkworm” is about as close to an autobiography as we will likely ever get from the tight-lipped Rowling.

    Cormoran Strike, Rowling’s massive, gruff, quietly brilliant detective protagonist is, subtly, Rowling herself. In the first book to feature Strike — “The Cuckoo’s Calling” — the reader encountered Strike living in a state of depression and near-homelessness, barely scraping by. The sorry detective took on a case that seemed far from promising — the brother of a fashion model who apparently killed herself wants Strike to prove that the model was actually murdered. A few hundred delightful pages later, Strike catches the elusive killer and, because of the model’s fame and the high-profile nature the case has taken on, he skyrockets to sudden stardom.

    Rowling, the one-time teacher who has spoken publicly — if infrequently — of her own depression and near-homelessness, also found herself an unlikely star: the first author in the history of the world to become a billionaire just by being an author. Hundreds of millions — probably billions — of children and adults worldwide read her famed “Harry Potter” series, and Rowling developed one of the world’s most loyal cult followings. (When a rival author gave “The Casual Vacancy,” Rowling’s first post-Potter novel, a bad review a year ago even after admitting she hadn’t read the book, hundreds of loyal Potter fans took to Amazon, giving the author a slew of one-star reviews and vowing to ruin her career.)

    Rowling and Strike were both determined to move on. Desperate to show she was more than a one-trick pony, Rowling wrote “The Casual Vacancy,” a dark and complex story of poverty and acrimony. “The Casual Vacancy” received mixed reviews but still sold more than a million copies worldwide. Rowling gave interviews in which she expressed a desire for the book to be judged by its merits, rather than her fame. The literary world rolled its eyes — sure, good luck with that.

    Strike, on the other hand, received more attention than he desired after solving the case of the model’s mysterious murder. As with Rowling, this brought him fame and some degree of fortune — at least he had more paying clients for his detective agency. But he too seeks to prove himself, even if this desire remains bubbling beneath his coarse exterior.

    Enter Robert Galbraith, Rowling’s pseudonym and Strike’s creator. Through Galbraith, Rowling was able to enjoy a sort of rebirth — with “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” she recreated herself as a solid mystery writer, one who received glowing reviews and middling sales. (That is, until the wife of a professional acquaintance spilled Galbraith’s true identity to the world media, placing “The Cuckoo’s Calling” atop worldwide best seller lists and instigating a lawsuit from an irate Rowling.) Galbraith, though, clearly loves his craft and his new character, so Strike continued his detective work. In “The Silkworm,” he finds his next grand adventure in the form of a frumpy English housewife complaining that her husband has gone missing. Let the second great act of two lives begin!

    The husband is Owen Quine, a B-list novelist struggling to remain relevant. Everyone from his agent to his wife thinks that he has merely run away — perhaps to garner attention for his new novel, “Bombyx Mori” (Latin for “The Silkworm”). But after Strike finds Quine’s gruesomely mutilated corpse, many are forced to reconsider their preconceptions of Quine. Strike, along with his beautiful, spunky sidekick Robin — why don’t they see they are meant for each other? — will scour the gritty streets of London in search of answers.

    The mystery rolls along, pleasantly, grotesquely, grippingly. It is, again, an excellent book, in many ways a classic British mystery — evoking the smiling ghost of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But the true joy of “The Silkworm” is its commentary on publishing.

    “Bombyx Mori,” the novel within the novel, was essentially a hit piece on everyone Quine knew, painting vicious parodies of authors, publishers, editors and even his own wife. “Writers are different,” explains one editor. “You cannot imagine the crap I am sent,” remarks the editor’s boss.

    “The Silkworm” thus doubles as Rowling’s comeback, part two, and also her own not-so-subtle jab at the world of publishing. Editors are drunken blowhards, publishers are egomaniacal manipulators and agents are cynical has-beens. “If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels,” says one character.

    Even Quine, a novelist dismissed as amateurish by many critics, a one-hit-wonder desperate to prove he can write a good book again, can be seen as Rowling in disguise. But that would be, in my opinion, an incorrect reading. Quine used those around him and descended into the dark world of self-pity. Rowling is his polar opposite. Rowling has never stooped so low.

    Nor will she. “The Silkworm” continues to prove that J.K. Rowling is one of the best and most important authors in the world. We have only just begun to watch her second act.

  4. “The lyf so short, the craft so longe to lerne”

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    Caveat: I am not an English major. I am not an English major for many reasons, including a fear of large departments, a freaky obsession with Russia, and “The Victorian Novel,” a course I took last semester. English 265: “The Victorian Novel” was lovely and informative. But I spent every lecture in hiding, at the back of the room, by an elderly gentleman auditing the class. I sat in the lecture hall’s shadowy recesses, and I was incapable of sitting anywhere else. 

    This was the problem — class felt like an alternate reality. The professor made perfect points; we took perfect notes. And even when she said, “this passage is tricky and complex,” I only ever drew a bullet point and wrote “tricky and complex.” My recollection is flawed of course, a memory warped by confirmation bias and personal mythology, but still — I don’t remember grappling with the texts. I never unpacked the words “tricky” or “complex.” 

    As Margaret Shultz ’16 says,“In English classes, there are just these standardized reactions to texts. And I think there should be an antagonistic approach.” 

    I wanted one of us to nod or gasp or faint or even blink when our professor said something controversial. And we never did. 

    That was my caveat.

    * * *

    The English department casts a long shadow, looming large over the humanities at Yale. The faculty is star-studded and prize-winning. “Daily Themes” is a class every alumnus tells you to take. And the undergraduate major is undeniably popular — about 75 students graduate with a bachelor’s in English each year. 

    In other words, everyone has an opinion about the department, from the English majors themselves (some of whom call their peers a “flock of sheep”) to my parents (who like to ask “Why can’t you just major in English, Jane? It’s just a lot *realer* than Literature.”)

    My parents might be right. The English Department has strict, no-nonsense requirements — majors complete three courses in literature written before the nineteenth century, one in literature written before the twentieth century, and one in American literature. 

    And, of course, students must take the notorious English 125 and 126. Titled “Major English Poets,” the two prerequisites cover eight authors, from Chaucer to Eliot, and should be completed by the end of sophomore year. 

    Ruthie Prillaman ’16, an English major, has found that these courses weed out less committed students. Many take 125 and conclude they’re not cut out to keep going. 

    And Shultz, also an English major, said “125 and 126 do a terrible job of recognizing alternative narratives, especially regarding the total absence of women and people of color.” In other words, all eight of the major English poets are dead white men. 

    This, of course, can trouble or alienate students interested in more contemporary literature, literature that doesn’t quite fit into the American or British cannon.

    While Professor Jessica Brantley, the major’s Director of Undergraduate Studies, acknowledged that these requirements have only “changed slightly in the direction of more student choice,” she also defended them. “The point of coming to Yale is to open your mind to new things, precisely those things that you would never have been reading unless someone asked you to.” 

    Most professors stand by this assertion — they’re quick to shield the requirements from attack. According to English Professor Ruth Yeazell, “students think their interests are more present-oriented than they are.” They’re surprised to find courses in Middle English, for instance, “actually cool.”

    For both Prillaman and fellow English major Ariel Katz ’15, Yeazell’s assertion certainly holds true. The English requirements have been immensely rewarding, some of them blessings in disguise. “Major English Poets,” for instance, traces a particular intellectual and historical narrative that can be eye-opening to students unaccustomed to such survey classes. Katz remembered English 126 as “a class that kind of convinced me [these authors] were worth studying.” 

    But still, many English majors find the department “stuffy” and a little arcane. Indeed, of the 32 full-time professors, over half are white. Many have been teaching the same classes for decades.

    In talking about the department’s rigidity, Shultz was unflinching. “There’s a huge problem with old, stodgy lecturers,” she said. She’d prefer “more seminars, with younger, more enthusiastic professors.” 

    Yeazell, for one, acknowledged that variations in age are unfortunately slight. “Too many of us are older,” she admitted. “A lot of us are in the same generational cohort.” This lack of diversity may be a consequence of the University’s tenure policy. At Yale (unlike some other research universities), faculty members must publish two books before they receive tenure. According to Palmer Rampell GRD ’17, a fourth-year graduate student in the English Department, “it’s harder for [the department] to retain talented young scholars of color” because of these regulations. Such scholars are in high demand at most universities, many of which can offer them tenure sooner than Yale can. 

    But Yeazell maintained that the homogeneity is temporary — many professors will be retiring in the next decade. She hopes this will encourage a new diversity of thought and opinion in the department. 

    To Prillaman too, the major allows for a certain academic laxity. “You could just float by without ever interacting with any professors or any other English majors,” she said with a shrug. “It’s an impersonal major.”

    To a certain extent, this perceived intellectual conformism accounts for the emergence of newer majors, ones like American Studies, Humanities and Literature. These majors are often smaller than English, facilitating relationships between professors and students, and enabling a more personalized course of study.

    Jingnan Peng ’15, for instance, picked Literature for its flexibility. “You can build something for yourself,” he said of his department. 

    And in Rampell’s experience, many students stray from the English Department while looking for a more open-ended academic experience. He has noticed that students sometimes prefer American Studies to English because it has fewer requirements.

    But these majors cover completely different material, Brantley noted, and therefore should not be seen as competitors.  

    * * *

    In my flawed recollections, memories warped by confirmation bias and personal mythology, the students in “The Victorian Novel” were clean, stylish and happy. Most had shiny hair and clear skin. The boys wore boat shoes. The girls wore makeup to look as though they weren’t wearing makeup. They seemed a homogeneous bunch, all either well-adjusted or damn good at looking well-adjusted. They took perfect notes, on Macs or in Moleskines, and I watched in awe as many transcribed the lecture verbatim, even pesky repetitions and quotations. I have no idea how these students felt or how they conceptualized literature. They might have harbored hidden doubts about readings and interpretations. But they operated so smoothly in that lecture hall, they looked so serene and attentive, that I couldn’t sit near them. 

    Still, some professors are unfazed by complaints of rigidity or homogeneity (even those less petty than my initial ones). They’re not bothered by a possible overrepresentation of white males in the reading. According to Professor Brantley, the department’s requirements are already “designed to guide majors towards as full and diverse an experience of Anglophone literature as is possible.”

    While some professors of English 126 do eschew Eliot in favor of non-white or non-male poets, substantive curriculum reforms are not forthcoming. The department does not appear perched to add requirements or tweak the status quo. 

    Rampell, however, favors reform and cites a handful of professors also championing academic amendments within the department. He knows the matter is contentious. No one is quite sure how to define or delimit the English Major, he says. While this ambiguity might confuse and frustrate students, it’s ultimately essential to the major.

    “It’s important to expose students to different ideas of what an English degree is supposed to do,” he said.

    I suddenly felt guilty, hearing that. I thought back to “The Victorian Novel,” the boat shoes and shiny bags, the Moleskines and Macbooks. Didn’t I know that only a self-selected bunch would take a class on “Jane Eyre” and “Wuthering Heights”? Why had I extrapolated so wildly?

    I thought — I’m an idiot. Of course a few students aren’t metonyms for a department. Those kids and I just have different ideas. We have different ideas of what an English class should do.

    After all, when I interviewed Ruth Yeazell, she said “one doesn’t go to literature to look in the mirror.” One doesn’t go to class for that either.

  5. Harden ’09, author of ‘Sex and God at Yale,’ strikes again

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    A few months after releasing his book “Sex and God at Yale,” Nathan Harden ’09 is back again — this time, with new evidence that Yale students are obsessed with sex.

    In a Friday article published with the National Review, Harden (again) criticized Yale’s sexual culture, calling the campus “a bizarre and sad sexual dystopia.” He points primarily to an alleged Saybrook Master’s Tea with “Wilma Dickfit” as another example that the campus has been spiraling toward moral degeneration.

    [ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”440″ ]

    “The latest example of a Yale’s depravity is so graphic that I can’t even mention much of it on these family-friendly pages,” Harden writes in his National Review post, titled “Yale’s Latest Sexual Perversion.” “Crude, and woman-demeaning, [the flyer advertising the event] is comic material worthy of a 13-year-old’s intelligence and sophistication.”

    Harden caused a stir in August when the New York Times published a review of his book, “Sex and God at Yale: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad,” in which he first accused Yale of sexual corruption.

    Besides bemoaning the crude Pundits (?) humor, Harden also pointed to the poster in response to critiques from a review by The New Republic’s Nora Caplan-Bricker ’12, a former University News editor for the News. Harden’s book and an article he penned in August on The Daily Beast website elicited responses from numerous Yale alumni, including former Women’s Forum board members Kathryn Olivarius ’11 and Claire Gordon ’10.

    Harden wrote on the National Review that he is not surprised his warnings have been “dismissed by the left-wing media establishment.”

    Despite Harden’s claim that “the fictitious flyer wouldn’t be so troubling if it weren’t so true to life,” Wilma Dickfit did not appear on campus on Thursday, casting a shadow over Harden’s fiery concerns over Yale’s sexual mores.

  6. Buying the flowers yourself

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    Screw April — January is the cruelest month. February’s pretty cruel, too. They’re boring and cold. This morning was ordinary. I woke, finished a problem set, thought about blogging, decided not to blog, showered, dressed, went to Thai Taste. As I stared dumbstruck at an enormous plate of drunken noodle, I remembered something that makes today extraordinary: today is Virginia Woolf’s birthday. Were she alive today, she would be 130.

    Virginia Woolf is super important to me, and everyone. Whenever I am studying and feeling unmotivated or dumb or both, I watch clips from “The Hours” and “Orlando” to get my gears grinding. I owe Virginia Woolf some major thanks. Today, I celebrate, and you can too. But how? First, like Mrs. Dalloway or Clarissa Vaughn, I bought the flowers myself. Pink ones, to be precise, from G-Heav. Second, I emailed English Prof. Margaret Homans ’74 GRD ’78, who teaches a seminar on Virginia Woolf, who recommended the following:

    We could celebrate by reading what Woolf wrote to celebrate her own birthday in 1920:

    Jan. 26, 1920

    The day after my birthday; in fact I’m 38. Well, I’ve no doubt I’m a great deal happier than I was at 28; and happier today than I was yesterday having this afternoon arrived at some idea of a new form for a new novel. Suppose one thing should open out of another[here she details the pros and cons of the new method of writing she has begun to devise for her third novel, Jacob’s Room]. My hope is that I’ve learnt my business sufficiently now to provide all sorts of entertainments. Anyhow, there’s no doubt the way lies somewhere in that direction; I must still grope and experiment but this afternoon I had a gleam of light. Indeed, I think from the ease with which I’m developing the unwritten novel there must be a path for me there.

    (From The Diary of Virginia Woolf, 5 vols., ed. Anne Olivier Bell and Andrew McNeillie (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1977-84), vol 2: 13-14.)

    A path, indeed – Jacob’s Room was her breakthrough novel, her first great contribution to pioneering modernist form. Happy Virginia Woolf’s birthday to all who love her novels.

    All seconded. Happy Virginia Woolf’s Birthday, Yale! It’s already kind of close to Spring Break.

    CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this article neglected to name February as a cruel month. It is just as cruel as January, if not moreso.