Hottie of the Month: Maria Edgeworth Saturday, Jun 30 2007 

Maria EdgeworthToday I finished writing my paper for the conference at which I’ll be presenting on July 10th in London. The conference is on Antisemitism and English Culture and is hosted by the University of London. My paper is about Maria Edgeworth’s 1817 novel Harrington, a work that I’m increasingly in love with. So Maria Edgeworth is my hottie of the month.

Edgeworth was born in 1767 and died in 1849. She was definitely a daddy’s girl, living with her father until his death in 1817. She penned several important novels of the Romantic period, including Castle Rackrent (1800), Belinda (1801), and, of course, Harrington. She was also the author of several books for children and young adults. At some point in the near future, I want to start working my way through her major works, since I need to put Harrington in a larger authorial context — I shamefacedly confess that this novel is the only work by Edgeworth that I’ve read. I taught it last year in my graduate class. I would love the opportunity to teach it again sometime, perhaps in a Women & Literature or Major Authors course.

In her Broadview edition of the novel, Susan Manly sums up its plot like this:

Harrington is the personal narrative of a recovering anti-Semite, a young man whose phobia of Jews is instilled in early childhood and who must unlearn his irrational prejudice when he falls in love with the daughter of a Spanish Jew.

Harrington has quickly reemerged from obscurity to assume a central place in studies of Romanticism and antisemitism. Scholars have largely studied the novel’s plot line of education and its depiction of its Jewish characters (though these are all in supporting roles). One thing I like about the novel is that it pulls together just about everything eighteenth-century writers had used in their depictions of Jews and shows how/why they were all so antisemitic.

My paper looks at the novel in slightly different terms. I am interested in it mostly as a representative text from the Romantic period, one that contradicts some scholars’ arguments that Romantic literature depoliticized representations of Jews. I am also more interested in the novel’s depiction of gender and sexuality than most other scholars have been.

I suddenly find myself very interested in Romanticism and its authors’ depictions of Jews. I’m still not sure if this is working toward a chapter in one book project or a whole other book, but it’s fascinating to return to this period after years of relative disinterest. I feel like such a cliche — the eighteenth-century scholar who intellectually migrates to Romantic lit. Before long I’m going to be teaching major authors classes on Jane Austen instead of Aphra Behn!

Or maybe I’ll teach one on Edgeworth ….

What I’m Listening To: Mika Wednesday, Jun 27 2007 

MikaIn preparation for our upcoming trip to London, I thought I would check out Mika‘s debut album. I’ve been reading a lot about him lately (and seeing an interview with him on Logo), partly because his album just came out and partly because he refused to identify his sexual orientation, which is a little weird since his music is more than a little campy. He also has a track on the album, “Mr. Brown,” about a married man who has an affair with another man.

Mika is a 24-year-old London-based singer-songwriter who was born in Lebanon. His family fled the war-torn Beirut and moved to Paris before settling in London. One might hypothesize that his reticence to come out might be because of his Middle Eastern heritage. More likely, it’s a business decision — until he’s established as a major pop star (if he ever establishes himself as such) he can’t afford to be labeled a “gay artist.” While we all like to think America is less and less homophobic, I think it’s nevertheless true that it’s difficult for an artist to move beyond the gay label once it’s attached.

Here’s a sample of his music, “Grace Kelly,” which illustrates nicely his campy style:

After seeing what Youtube and his own webpage had to offer, I decided I liked his album, Life in Cartoon Motion, enough to download it. Now that I’ve listened to it, I have to admit that I really like it. It helps that he’s totally cute, but even apart from that I like his work. He’s a more enjoyable version of Elton John, whose music I’ve rarely liked (the musical Billy Elliott being the main exception). I like the camp, the several dance tracks, and his overall aesthetic. It’s a fun pop album with a queer sensibility, regardless of Mika’s own closetedness (gay, straight, or bi).


Boston Museum of Fine Art Saturday, Jun 23 2007 

In the past month, I’ve been to three museums that I haven’t posted about yet, so I’m trying to catch up. Over Memorial Day weekend, PJ and I were in Boston for the conference of the American Literature Association. While we were there we visited the Museum of Fine Arts. Our visit was a little hurried, since PJ had to get back to the conference and we also wanted to fit in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which I’ve already blogged about. As we rushed through the museum, I kept track of which works I liked the best. Here’s a few of the highlights:

Dead Christ with AngelsI’m not usually into Renaissance religious paintings, but I really liked Rosso Fiorentino’s The Dead Christ with Angels from the mid-1520s. I really like this painting’s color pallet, the contrast between the two most visible angels’ robes with the skin tones of the dead Christ, which helps to contrast his fleshiness with their alabaster skin. The whiteness of their skin reflects their heavenly purity and innocence, while his humanity is represented in the almost sepia tones of his body (rather than in the deathly pallor of whites).

I also couldn’t help but notice that this Christ has pubic hair. This touch reinforces Christ’s humanity: he is a man, in contrast to the cherubs around him, an important quality in Christian myth. Without Christ’s full humanity, his being made of carnal flesh, the salvation story doesn’t work. For me, this painting captures that duality: Christ’s divinity within his humanity. It’s a wonderful illustration of the myth.

PanniniAnother painting I admired was Giovanni Paolo Pannini’s Picture Gallery with Views of Modern Rome, painted in 1757. Perhaps because I’m a literature professor, I like works of art about being works of art. This painting’s dazzling array of paintings- within-a-painting is gorgeous when seen in person. The level of detail in the painting is remarkable. The words that stand out in the description of the painting on the museum’s website are “extravagant” and “meticulous.” If you go to the website, you can click on the image of the painting to enlarge it; you can then zoom in one individual portions of the work to see just how meticulous it is.

Slave ShipAnother amazing work, but in a completely different way, is Joseph Turner’s Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On), painted in 1840. In contrast to Pannini’s work, Turner eschews meticulous detail for broad impressionistic blurs and colors. One certainly can’t help but see the emotional content of this work, which depicts a scene from a poem about a slave ship caught in a typhoon. As the museum’s website explains, the poem is about a real event, in which “the slave ship Zong whose captain, in 1783, had thrown overboard sick and dying slaves so that he could collect insurance money available only for slaves ‘lost at sea.'” The painting definitely captures the horror of this inhuman act.


What I’m Listening To: The Magic Flute Wednesday, Jun 20 2007 

While PJ and I were on our driving trip last week, we listened to “The Operas of Mozart” Part III, a CD course from The Teaching Company. This “course,” taught by Robert Greenberg, analyzed Mozart’s The Magic Flute. We had seen the OU School of Music’s partial production of The Magic Flute last year, so we were interested in learning what the opera is really about.

Since the School of Music’s production was abbreviated and presented only select scenes with a narrator filling in the blanks between, it was really difficult to get a handle on what was actually happening in this opera. Greenberg emphasizes the opera’s connections to eighteenth-century freemasonry. He also places the work in its historical context and within Mozart’s biography. And finally, he includes excerpts from a production of the opera, translating the German into English (for those of us whose German is a little rusty!).

As an eighteenth centuryist, I was really interested by the course’s discussion of freemasonry, a subject that I hadn’t ever paid any attention to previously. Many of the most prominent men of the period were freemasons, including Alexander Pope, David Garrick, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, William Hogarth, and Laurence Sterne. I’ll have to do more reading about masons and the Enlightenment when I get a chance.

Once we got back, I started cruising YouTube to see what clips of productions it had. I found several that I’d like to share. My favorite so far is of the Queen of the Night’s aria from Act Two, in which she commands her daughter to murder Sarastro, the Priest of the Sun. Here’s the clip:

I love this clip, which is from the 2003 Royal Opera production. As this clip shows, the sets, the costumes, even the staging are wonderful. I love it so much that I immediately ordered the DVD of the production and am waiting on pins and needles for it to arrive. Diana Damrau plays the Queen. She captures the Queen’s evil magnificence so well, but there are many other divas who have played the part to great acclaim:


The Sixth Floor Museum Tuesday, Jun 19 2007 

Last Thursday, PJ and I visited three museums in Dallas. We knew beforehand that we were going to visit two of the museums, the Dallas Museum of Art and the Nasher Sculpture Center, but we were killing time until our friend Greg got off work so we decided to throw in a third one for good measure.

We started at the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, a museum dedicated to remembering the events surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. It’s a fairly simple museum consisting mostly of time-lines and, of course, the actual site of the assassination, which is certainly no small potatoes.

Three things struck me about the museum. First, it’s really weird feeling to be able to stand almost in the same spot that Lee Harvey Oswald stood when he shot the president. I really felt torn about being there. On the one hand, I couldn’t help but imagine looking through a rifle scope and aiming it at the street below. I both can and can’t imagine someone really doing that. On the other hand, I kept thinking about Suzan-Lori Parks’s play Topdog/Underdog and Lincoln’s job letting people pretend to shoot him in a recreated Ford Theater. How would people respond if they set up a rifle scope and let people pretend to shoot the president below? To make sure that people don’t do anything like that, they have the actual spot enclosed behind a clear partition.

Second, I was struck by one part of the museum’s time-lines. One of them shows the hours after the shooting, emphasizing the transition to the new presidency and the swearing in of Lyndon Johnson. The time-line centered on this picture of LBJ being sworn in:

LBJ swearing in

This picture was taken on Air Force One as it was returning to Washington. You might notice that Jackie Kennedy is present. LBJ refused to leave Dallas without her, and she refused to leave without her husband’s body. The secret service therefore took possession of the body before the local authorities could conduct an autopsy, and they all flew back to D.C.


Being Home in Aggieland Tuesday, Jun 12 2007 

Today, PJ and I visited the Texas A&M campus, my alma mater. I earned my B.A. and my M.A. at TAMU, and I’ve always looked back fondly at my Aggie days. I now know that I was way too geeky while I was here, but I learned a lot academically and personally too. So, I definitely don’t regret the time I spent here.

First, we toured the offices of the Melborn G. Glasscock Center for Humanities Research, which my dear friend James directs. The center’s office space is really quite large, and I’m completely jealous of his two — yes, two — offices: one for the center and one for his work as a history professor! I know James does a lot of good work on behalf of the center, and it could not have a better spokesperson and cheerleader. When we were at GEMCS earlier this year, for example, he impressed several of the scholars we met with descriptions of the center’s work and programs. So, while I’m jealous, I certainly don’t begrudge him his immense office space!

After we went to lunch with James and a professor from the English department, PJ went to tour the College Station bookstores while I went to the Cushing Memorial Library and Archives to read a manuscript of a Richard Cumberland play. I’m not sure how or even if this play fits into my current research, but I figured I had to go see it since it’s here. I’m still so giddy to see in person the handwriting of one of the eighteenth-century authors I study and love. I was also impressed with my ability to read his handwriting. I don’t have much archival experience, and I definitely had a lot of trouble reading the texts┬áI looked at for my first book. So, I’m happy that I could fairly easily read at least 85 or 90% of this one. Cumberland’s hand is relatively easy to read, so that certainly helps!

The Cushing Library’s staff was very helpful and friendly and the┬áreading room is spacious, comfortable, and user-friendly. None of these can be assumed in non-circulating libraries and special collections. Librarians can be grouchy, and it can be difficult to gain access to manuscripts. I definitely appreciated the Cushing Library’s accessibility.


East is East: A Review Thursday, Jun 7 2007 

East is East is a 1999 film about an interracial family set in Salford, England, in 1971. Some two decades before the start of the film, George Khan, played by Om Puri moved to England seeking better prospects and married an Englishwoman, Ella, played by Linda Bassett, who had a part in Kinky Boots, an English film I liked a lot. This movie is about Khan’s relationship with his family now that his seven children are growing up.

The movie begins with the oldest son’s marriage, a ceremony that goes awry when the groom refuses to go through with it and runs out of the building. As this comedy’s plot unfolds, we learn that George is attempting to force his family into observing increasingly strict Muslim religious practices. Most of the children resist.


This picture of six of the Khan children and two of their girlfriends says it all: these children are British, not Pakistani. They wear English clothing, refuse to learn Urdu or study the Koran, and date English girls rather than Pakistani ones.

At the heart of this movie is George’s hypocrisy: he expects his sons to marry according to Islamic traditions, which include arranged marriages with women the sons have never met, despite the fact that he left Pakistan and found love with an Englishwoman. Members of the Anglo-Pakistani community now judge him for his family’s westernization, and he increasingly attempts to force them to adopt the traditions that they find foreign and antiquated.


Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: A Review Monday, Jun 4 2007 

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is amazing! Isabella Stewart Gardner created the museum “for the education and enjoyment of the public forever,” as her will reads. She collected more than 2,500 objects for her museum, which opened in 1903. The museum has remained virtually unchanged since Gardner’s death in 1924. All of the images here are from the ISGM website. If you click on the picture, it will link to the museum page that contains information about the image.

PJ and I visited the museum while we were in Boston last month. Above is a picture of the courtyard, which contains a magnificent garden designed so that different plants bloom and flower throughout the year. In many ways, this museum is like the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London but on an even grander scale. Gardner planned every aspect of the museum, from the flowers to the architecture to the paintings, sculptures, and furniture.

RembrandtGardner’s collection began with three important paintings: a Self-Portrait by Rembrandt (pictured here), Titian’s Europa, and a portrait of Philip IV by my favorite painter, Diego Velazquez. The Gardner’s purchased these three works in 1896. They soon realized that their collecting ambitions would require that they build a new space in which to exhibit their acquisitions.

In 1898, however, Jack Gardner died suddenly of a stroke, leaving Isabella to design and fulfill their plans. She purchased the land and designed and oversaw the building of what would become her home and the museum, Fenway Court.

I really like the Rembrandt, which hangs in the Dutch Room. This room has had some unfortunate history. In 1990, thieves dressed as Boston policemen stole 13 works of art from the museum, the most important of which come from this room. Among the stolen artworks were two additional Rembrandt paintings and a Vermeer (another painter I love).

Lady in YellowMy favorite genre of painting is the portrait. The ISGM has many excellent portraits. My favorite is A Lady in Yellow by Thomas Dewing (1851-1938), which appropriately enough hangs in the Yellow Room on the first floor of the museum. This is the painting to the right. The intricate detail of the woman’s dress, which you can see when you examine the painting up close, is wonderful.

There are several other paintings that I really liked, including The Omnibus by Anders Zorn, Mme. Gautreau Drinking a Toast by John Singer Sargent, El Jaleo also by Sargent, Hercules by Piero della Francesca, and Christ Carrying the Cross by the workshop of Giovanni Bellini. I wish I had time to write about each painting and explain what I like about it. One thing that clearly stands out in this list is my fondness for brown colors, a common trait found in Velazquez’s work as well.