Worcester Art Museum: A Visit Sunday, Apr 27 2008 

Last weekend, when I visited PJ in Worcester, I stopped in at the Worcester Art Museum while he was working at the American Antiquarian Society. I had no particular expectations of what I would find there — I was just killing time while PJ worked. So, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found there. The Worcester Art Museum has a strong collection of American and European art. I especially enjoyed the amount of information the museum provides for each of the works on display — every description contained a wealth of information; indeed, this may be the most informative museum I’ve ever visited without the aid of an audio guide. I highly recommend a visit to the Worcester Art Museum.

I’ll start with an example of what I mean about the informative nature of the museum’s comments about the works of art. In a really small way, I’ve started to collect images of the Hindu god Ganesha (maybe I’ll explain why in another post someday). I also like to see if each museum I visit has any statues of Ganesha. The Worcester Art Museum does, a little sandstone sculpture from the 7th or 8th century. As the commentary states, Ganesha is the “remover of obstacles” and the “bearer of good fortune and prosperity.” So far, that’s what just about every museum says about this god. But the Worcester Art Museum goes further: “His large elephant’s head and plump body is a visual metaphor for the unity of metaphysical and worldly experiences.” The description goes on, but this is the bit that I wrote down in my notebook. I liked that this commentary moved beyond mere description to analysis. I found that this move was typical throughout the museum.

After you see the museum’s small collection of ancient and Asian art, you can go into the Medieval art rooms. I really liked a wooden crucifixion group. If you click on the link, it will take you to the museum’s image and description of this work. In the room, you could see the French influence on this Spanish work, since it hangs next to contemporaneous images from France. The next room is an example of Medieval architecture. The museum reassembled a room from a Chapter House, pictured here, which you can walk through and admire.

Usually, I’m a little ambivalent about museums taking a room from someplace else and reassembling them, but this one just amazed me. I was especially impressed by the level of detail in this room’s brick work. I can’t even imagine how much work it took to disassemble and reassemble.

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The Jane Austen Book Club: A Review Wednesday, Apr 23 2008 

Recently, Pj and I watched The Jane Austen Book Club, a film about a group of readers — five women and one guy — who meet once a month to discuss one of Jane Austen’s books. One month it’s Sense and Sensibility; the next it’s Persuasion and so on. The movie was directed by Robin Swicord, who also wrote the screenplay, and stars Maria Bello, Emily Blunt, Amy Brenneman, and Hugh Dancy. Here’s the trailer:

I don’t think the movie was a huge success or critically acclaimed, but I really liked it. I thought all of the actors were good and that the plot was endearing.

So, I asked a friend of mine to lend me her copy of the novel by Karen Joy Fowler so I could read it. I had started it a week or so ago, and I took it with me to visit PJ and finished it on my first night in Worcester. To state it bluntly, I loved the novel. It’s now one of my favorite novels, I think.

What I liked most about it is that the narrative is actually much more complicated than one might think a novel about people reading Jane Austen novels would be. It’s actually rather postmodern in its narrative form. The novel has a narrator, who appears to be one of the book club members, but we never know which one. One portion of the novel is told through a series of emails exchanged by a group of peripheral characters. And finally, the questions for book clubs at the end of the book are “written” by the characters themselves — they’re hilarious!

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Newport Mansions: A Visit Tuesday, Apr 22 2008 

While PJ and I were in Newport, RI this past weekend, we visited five of the local mansions preserved by the Preservation Society of Newport County. I had seen a documentary on TV about the Breakers (and maybe some of the other mansions) and really wanted to see them in person. I had been to Newport for a conference years ago, but the conference was in March so the weather wasn’t really right for sightseeing. When PJ mentioned a trip to Newport while I visited him in Massachusetts, I jumped at the chance.

The weather this weekend was perfect. We stayed in the Hotel Viking, which is in walking distance to some of the houses (though it’s a bit more of a trek than we had initially thought it was). We decided at the start of the day that we would purchase the five house deal — tours of five of the mansions for $31. We knew that it would be exhausting, but we only had one full day in Newport, so we figured we might as well fit in as much as possible.

After breakfast, we walked to the Cliff Walk. Here’s a picture I took along the walk.

View from the Cliff Walk

For a larger version of the picture, just click on it. I hope you can see here just how nice a day it was. It started off a little cool, but it soon got into the upper 60s. The water is gorgeous — I could see why millionaires would want to build summer homes here!

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Worcester and Newport: Brief Update Saturday, Apr 19 2008 

I’m visiting PJ this weekend. On Thursday, I flew to Boston, where he picked me up to take me to Worcester. Worcester is kind of cute. Nothing terribly special, but it looks like a pretty nice place to live–especially in its proximity to so many other locations in New England. While he worked in the library yesterday morning, I walked around downtown Worcester and visited the Worcester Art Museum. PJ left work a little after noon, and, after eating lunch, we drove to Newport, RI, where we are now.

Today, we’re planning on seeing some of the Newport Mansions, the grotesquely-decadent summer homes of rich industrialists from the nineteenth century. We’ll stick around Newport tomorrow morning, seeing a few more sites (like the Tennis Hall of Fame), and then we’ll drive back to Worcester. I fly home on Monday morning.

So far, it’s been a lot of fun. I’ll have lots to blog about when I get home.

Guest Blog: PJ’s Notes from New England Monday, Apr 14 2008 

As you probably know, I’m away from Athens for a month doing a research fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts. I’m having a lot of fun with my research, getting to know the other fellows and the staff of the library, and staying in this big house across the street where some of the fellows live. Here’s a link to some pictures of the library, especially the pretty amazing reading room. Anyway, at the end of this month, I should have the raw material for a pretty good chapter for my book in progress. But enough about work!

One of the things I have been most looking forward to about this month in New England was being able to travel around the area seeing the literary sites that I’d read lots about but had never had the opportunity to see before. This past weekend I began that process on Saturday with a drive to Amherst, the college town where Emily Dickinson spent most of her life. It’s just a little over an hour away from Worcester. I began the pilgrimage at West Cemetery, where she is buried. In the picture of the grave here, you’ll see that Dickinson didn’t die, she was only “called back.” (Just click on the picture to enlarge it.) The rest of her family, buried in the same plot, merely “died.”

After, paying my respects, I drove around the block to the site of her house (where she was born and where she died–or got called back) and the house next door where her brother Austin and his family lived. It was wonderful to get some sense of Dickinson’s daily life (everything from the view from her window to the kind of plants in her garden). I especially liked the image the tour guide kept giving us of this little red-headed woman, walking her huge dog Carlo, a Newfoundland, around Amherst. It was a nice departure from the silly image of the house-bound recluse wearing a white dress that’s so often presented to students.

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A Room with a View: A Review Sunday, Apr 13 2008 

I just finished watching ITV’s new adaptation of E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View in PBS’s Masterpiece Classics. Here’s the trailer:

In the interest of full disclosure, let me start with a couple of confessions. First, E. M. Forster is one of my favorite writers. I haven’t reread his novels as recently as I have Jane Austen’s, but I’ve loved them for almost 20 years now. Second, the Merchant Ivory film adaptations of A Room with a View, Maurice, and Howards End are all among my favorite movies. I’ve loved each one ever since I saw them. In sum, I love E. M. Forster.

Given that love, I suppose I could predictably have had one of two reactions to this new adaptation — either I would dislike it for not living up to the novel or the earlier adaptation or I would love it despite any reservations about it not living up to the novel or the earlier adaptation. So, I’m a little surprised to report that I loved this version on its own terms.

ITV adaptations are (in)famous for always coming in under 90 minutes, which means that they cut the heck out of a novel in order to make this time limit. In this case, the cutting didn’t bother me as much as some of the excisions in the recent Jane Austen adaptations. Likewise, these productions tend to rewrite portions of the plot. I think these changes seem to be part of an effort to make them more appealing to modern audiences. Again, the changes in A Room with a View worked for me.

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It’s Been a Weird Week Saturday, Apr 12 2008 

It’s been a week since PJ left for his month-long fellowship in Worcester, Massachusetts. At least in part due to his absence, it’s been a weird week.

PJ left last Saturday morning. I’m a little surprised that I didn’t immediately go into some kind of mild depression. Before he left, I imagined that it would only take a couple of hours before I would be curled up on the floor in the fetal position or something like that. While I definitely miss him, this first week hasn’t been too bad. At times, I’ve even kind of enjoyed having the house to myself.

It probably helped that the first thing I did when he left was indulge my culinary whims. On Sunday, for example, I made gazpacho, which I ate over the next three dinners. I also bought the stuff to make fish or grilled cheese sandwiches to go with the soup. I think eating well for much of this week has helped my metal state.

Another thing I’ve done is watch a couple of dvds from Netflix. Early in the week, I watched was The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, an independent Filipino movie about a 12-year-old gay boy who is torn between loyalty to his family of petty criminals and his desire for a new police officer. Here’s the trailer:

I have to admit, however, that I really didn’t care for this movie. It was well reviewed by other members of Netflix, but I thought it had A LOT of problems, not the least of which was the young actor’s inability to act convincingly. But I’m glad I watched it — usually when PJ’s out of town I just end up watching my favorite movies, which I’ve seen over and over again. (In that vein, I did finish watching The Best Years of Our Lives, one of my all time favorite movies on dvd and saw part of Star Wars: Episode III on Spike.)

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The Bubble: A Review Sunday, Apr 6 2008 

One of the students in my Lesbian & Gay Literature class last quarter recommended that I see The Bubble, a film by Eytan Fox. Fox in an Israeli director. I’d previously seen his films Yossi & Jagger and Walk on Water. Here’s the U.S. trailer for The Bubble:

I wrote about Walk on Water when I saw it last September. As I wrote then, I really disliked Fox’s Yossi & Jagger, but I enjoyed Walk on Water. With such mixed opinions about his previous work, I wasn’t sure I would like The Bubble, especially since it stars one of the lead actors from Yossi & Jagger and uses a song from Ivri Lider, who provided a key song for that movie too. Despite my misgivings, I really liked this movie. It’s a very good, thought-provoking film.

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Visiting the Portland Art Museum Thursday, Apr 3 2008 

While in Portland for the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies Conference, I took an afternoon off to visit the Portland Art Museum with my friends James and Nicole. As part of the conference, we were able to get into the museum for free. After eating lunch in the museum cafe, where I had a great tomato and cheese panini with a cup of roasted squash soup, we spent about an hour and a half walking around the museum’s exhibits.

As usual, I’ll spend this post rambling about my favorite works from the museum. The first is Jean Baptiste Greuze’s “The Drunken Cobbler:”

The Drunken Cobbler

I particularly like this painting’s use of light and color. While the eye is obviously drawn to the central action, I also like the details on the various pieces of woodwork. Not surprisingly, given my tastes and scholarly interests “The Drunken Cobbler” is an eighteenth-century painting. The museum notes that this is one of the most important works housed in the Portland Art Museum.

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Back from ASECS Tuesday, Apr 1 2008 

Hilton PortlandI got back from the meeting of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies in Portland, OR, on Sunday. This is a picture of the hotel from the ASECS website. I arrived on Thursday afternoon and starving for something to eat. It was a great conference. I enjoyed all of the panels I attended, and the little sightseeing that I did while there was also a lot of fun.

Let’s start with the important part: the panel I organized on “Representations of Jews in the Eighteenth Century.” I had received a large number of proposals for the session but could only accommodate four papers. Ultimately, I chose to include scholars from four different fields: one from an English department, one from history, one from religious studies, and one from a modern languages department. All four papers were excellent, and I was really proud to have brought them all together.

The only problem with the session was that it was scheduled for the final time on Saturday evening, 5:30 to 7 pm. Since this was the last session of the conference and since people were either leaving to go home or going out to dinner, etc., we had a relatively small number of people in our audience: only about 8. Despite the low turnout, it was a really good session, and I hope we can put another one together for next year.

Maria EdgeworthMost of the other panels I attended ended up being about late eighteenth-century women novelists. On Friday morning, I went to the 8 am session on “Locating Maria Edgeworth.” I’m extremely pleased with myself for going to an 8 a.m. panel! The session was really good. I especially liked Emily Hodgson Anderson’s paper, “Maria Edgeworth’s Helen and the Limits of the Eighteenth-Century Novel.” (I think she might have changed the title of her paper, but I forgot to write down the new title if she did. This is the title in the program.) Her paper was a brilliant neo-formalist reading of Edgeworth’s last novel. Really smart stuff. (The picture to the right is a portrait of Edgeworth from Wikipedia)

On the flight out to Portland, I started reading Marilyn Butler’s biography of Maria Edgeworth. It’s been a fascinating read. (I haven’t finished it yet, though I also read it on the flight home.) Reading the biography made the panel even more interesting. I’m also working on an article on Edgeworth right now, so it was really stimulating to hear such good work on this novelist. I feel inspired to get my article done so I can join the ranks of Edgeworth scholars!

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