Eighteenth-Century Wigs Sunday, Jan 7 2007 

I just finished reading Lynn Festa’s article entitled “Personal Effects: Wigs and Possessive Individualism in the Long Eighteenth Century,” published in Eighteenth-Century Life volume 29, issue 2 in 2005. It’s an excellent essay on what wearing a wig meant in the eighteenth century.

William Wycherley I read the essay in part because I’m looking for an article to begin my eighteenth-century class with next quarter. My course is going to focus on “The Making of the Modern Self: Writing Identity in the Long Eighteenth century,” so I want to begin with an article about identity that is kind of fun too. What could be more fun than wigs? Maybe I can help bring back wigs as a male fashion necessity! Here’s a portrait of William Wycherley — wouldn’t I look great in big, curly wig like his?!

Eighteenth-Century Life has become one of my favorite journals. I like that it publishes high quality articles about a wide range of interesting subjects. The most recent issue, for example, has articles on the significance of Venice for Scots in the Age of the Grand Tour; Violence, Virtue, and Politics in the Visual Culture of the French Revolution; displaying curiosities; and entomology. This article by Festa is typical in its ability to construct a complex argument that is of interest to general eighteenth-century scholars.

In this essay, Festa “addresses the shifting relation between personal possessions and personal identity, the objects one owns and the characteristics individuals are deemed to possess” (49). She’s interested in how wigs marked, but also obscured, individuality at various points in the long eighteenth century. It’s a fascinating study.

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What I’m Reading: The Great Fire of London Thursday, Jan 4 2007 

I’ve started reading several Restoration-related books with the intention of reviewing each of them once I’m done. However, since I seem to keep starting new ones before finishing the old ones, I thought I’d go ahead and write about some of them as readings-in-progress.

Fire of London The first is Stephen Porter’s The Great Fire of London (Sutton Publishing, 1996). The Great Fire occured in 1666, “raged for our days and destroyed 13,200 houses, 87 churches, and 44 of the City of London’s great livery halls.” It is one of the most important disasters in British history and had a profound effect on the subsequent development of London as a city. Most students of Restoration literature are familiar with Samuel Pepys’s narration of the fire in his Diary.

Porter’s The Great Fire of London begins by surveying the dangers of fire in 1660s London and recounting the precautions people took to avoid these dangers. One of the things I’ve already learned from reading it is just how prevalent fires were in the seventeenth century. Like so many disasters throughout history, this one was not unforeseen nor did it come out of no where. I’ve also been interested to learn about fire fighting techniques (if that phrase isn’t a misnomer) in 1660s London — let’s just say that they were surprisingly rudimentary and chaotic compared to those of the other great cities of Europe at the time.

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Lesbian Fiction: Curious Tea Tuesday, Jan 2 2007 

Over the past week, I’ve read two novels that I enjoyed very much: Katherine Forrest‘s Curious Wine and Michelle Tea‘s Valencia. I’m making a concerted effort to read some lesbian fiction over the next several weeks in preparation for my Lesbian and Gay Lit class in the spring.

When I read my evaluations from last winter recently, a few of the lesbian students mentioned that they thought we should read more works by women than we did that term. I usually include Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues as an honorary lesbian text, but at least one student thought that wasn’t right: she argued that this novel was really about being transgendered, not about being a lesbian. That’s kind of debatable, but I take her point. Last year, we read Feinberg, Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, Isabel Miller’s Patience and Sarah, and a few poems by lesbian writers. (One of these poems, by the poet Chrystos, is one of my favorite poems ever: “I Suck” is the title. I highly recommend it. I also love Susan Griffin’s “In Response to a Man’s Question ….”) We also read a chapter from Song of the Loon, a chapter from Andrew Holleran’s Dancer from the Dance, Larry Kramer’s Faggots, and Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. So, the number of texts by women and by men were roughly the same, but the amount of class time spent on “lesbian texts” and “gay male texts” favored the men a little.

Ultimately, there are three problems that make this favoring difficult to address. First, OU is on 10-week quarters. This means that we simply don’t have time to read as much as I would like. So, I tend to change the reading list from year to year to address the changing demographics and tastes of my students. Of course this means that I’m always a year behind: this year’s class will address last year’s suggestions for improvement. Second, I know less about lesbian writers and texts than I do gay male authors and their works, and the lesbian texts I do know about don’t always stand up in quality and importance to the male-authored ones. I recognize my own bias in making that assertion — to some degree, I’m sure that I think some of the male texts are better and more important than some of the female-authored texts because I’m a gay male, but it’s not just that inherent bias. As much as I like Rubyfruit Jungle (a novel that I teach from time to time), it’s simply not in the same league as Angels in America or Stone Butch Blues. And finally, I am the only member of my department that teaches this course. If someone else taught the course, students would undoubtedly get a different take on Lesbian and Gay Lit, one that might include more (or at least different) knowledge and discussion of lesbian works.

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