OCLW event reviews: Sue Thomas on 14 October and Lucy Hughes-Hallett on 21 October 2014

The opening weeks of the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing’s 2014-15 lecture series were of great interest to those studying the modernist period. In the first week of term we heard from Sue Thomas about her biographical work on Jean Rhys’s Creole heritage. This week, Lucy Hughes-Hallett shared excerpts from her biography of the Italian poet-turned-dictator Gabriele D’Annunzio. Both events are summarized below.

Sue Thomas, ‘Ghostly Presences: James Potter Lockhart and Jane Maxwell Lockhart in Jean Rhys’s Writing’

Sue Thomas, Professor of English at La Trobe University, Australia, is a Visiting Scholar at OCLW in October 2014. In this informal seminar, she shared some of her biographical research on the novelist Jean Rhys, whose works include Good Morning, Midnight and Wide Sargasso Sea.

In particular, Thomas focused on the slave-holding history of Rhys’s family and attempted to trace the darker family secrets throughout Rhys’s fiction. Thomas related the story of Rhys’ great-grandfather, James Potter Lockhart, who was a Scottish slaveholder in Dominica on his sugar plantation in the first half of the 19th century. Lockhart defended the rights of slaveholders throughout the conflicts over whether slaveholders should be compensated after the emancipation of their slaves. Lockhart also had sexual relationships and illegitimate children with his slaves.

Thomas then sketched out references to the sexual profligacy of slaveholders in Rhys’ fiction, as in the character of Old Cosway in Wide Sargasso Sea. Thomas read both The Black Exercise Book and Smile Please as portraits of Rhys’s great grandparents. About these works Thomas argued that ‘altered language refers to what is unspeakable through ellipsis and concealment’. Thomas showed how Rhys was subjecting her slaveholding family history to a critical lens in several novels where haunted language circles around ‘unspeakable traumas and family secrets’.

Lucy Hughes-Hallett, ‘The Poet Who Doesn’t Know: Gabriele D’Annunzio’

British cultural historian and biographer Lucy Hughes-Hallett shared excerpts and juicy details from her award-winning biography of Gabriele D’Annunzio, The Pike, which won the Samuel Johnson Prize, the Costa Biography Award and the Duff Cooper Prize.

Hughes-Hallett introduced D’Annunzio (1863-1938) by relating his own description of himself as ‘the greatest Italian writer since Dante’. D’Annunzio was a writer but he was almost as famous as a seducer of women. Hughes-Hallet described his ‘astonishing’ success with women considering he was ‘an undistinguished little man’ with a receding hairline who wore excesses of perfume.

The political dimension of D’Annunzio’s life was equally astonishing. He was a fascist and proto-Futurist. He liked driving fast cars, flying in aeroplanes as soon as they were introduced and became prominent as a pilot and orator in the First World War. D’Annunzio described democracy as ‘a rising tide of gray sludge’ but nevertheless he won a seat in Parliament as an Independent, calling himself a ‘candidate for beauty’. Thereafter his writing became more nationalist and militarist and he called for a ‘baptism of blood’. The pinnacle of D’Annunzio’s political career came when he was asked to be the figurehead for protesting Italian soldiers over the annexation of Fiume in 1920, culminating in D’Annunzio’s naming himself dictator of the city rather than allowing it to go to the former Yugoslavia. The Italian government eventually intervened and D’Annunzio stepped down.

Hughes-Hallet called her biography The Pike after a nickname a friend had given D’Annunzio, but the name is apt considering the animal’s habit of lying low in shallow water, snapping at passing prey. Hughes-Hallet repeatedly drew attention to the difficulty of writing a biography about a subject who was not a good person, and to the attention she attracted for having done so. But she emphasized that there was no reason she needed to feel she had to like an individual in order to write an interesting biography about an interesting person whose life was never boring.

Please join us for our next two events, a workshop on Quest for Materials: Life-Writing Challenges’ on 1 November (Week 3) from 9am-4.15pm, Haldane/Florey Rooms, Wolfson College. To apply, please follow the link on https://www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/event/oclw-workshop-quest-materials-life-writing-challenges.

For our next lecture, Miranda Seymour will speak on the subject, ‘The Pity of War: The Longer View of England and Germany’ on 4 November (Week 4), 5.30-7pm, in the Haldane Room, Wolfson College. Please note the change of location to the Haldane Room.

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Michaelmas Term Events 2014

Hello Life-Writers,

We are pleased to announce all our events from Michaelmas Term, we have a lot of exciting things on offer.  They are all detailed below and we hope to see you all there.  Please note that the Workshop in Week 3 and our Life Writing Lunch in Week 8 both require booking so use the links provided to avoid disappointment.

Here’s to a successful term

Lucinda

Oxford Centre for Life-Writing: Events: Michaelmas Term 2014

http://www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/clusters/life-writing

 Unless otherwise stated, all events are open to all, free of charge, with no reservation required.

 14 October (Week 1), 5.30-7pm, Haldane Room, Wolfson College

Sue Thomas, ‘Ghostly Presences: James Potter Lockhart and Jane Maxwell Lockhart in Jean Rhys’s Writing’. Sue Thomas, Professor of English at La Trobe University, Australia, is a Visiting Scholar at OCLW in October 2014. In this informal seminar, she will be talking about her biographical research on the novelist Jean Rhys, whose works include Good Morning, Midnight and Wide Sargasso Sea.

21 October (Week 2), 5.30-7pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College

Lucy Hughes-Hallett, ‘The Poet Who Doesn’t Know: Gabriele D’Annunzio’. British cultural historian and biographer Lucy Hughes-Hallett will be delivering a lecture on her award-winning biography of Gabriele D’Annunzio, The Pike. The Pike tells the story of the poet-turned-dictator who wrote ‘One must make one’s life as one makes a work of art’. It won the Samuel Johnson Prize, the Costa Biography Award and the Duff Cooper Prize. Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s previous books are Cleopatra and Heroes.

1 November (Week 3), 9am-4.15pm, Haldane/Florey Rooms, Wolfson College

OCLW will hold a full-day Workshop on ‘Quest for Materials: Life-Writing Challenges’. Led by Hermione Lee, Elleke Boehmer, Lyndall Gordon, and Clare Morgan, this workshop will focus on the challenges that life-writers face in finding, dealing with, selecting, and using materials. It is intended for postgraduate students working in life-writing as well as professional and amateur life-writers, irrespective of the stage of their research. Among other issues, the Workshop will deal with how materials and data shapes the writing; how to work with archives (and archivists); and what to make of ‘gaps’ or contradictory clues. To apply, please follow the link on https://www.wolfson.ox.ac.uk/clusters/life-writing/events

4 November (Week 4), 5.30-7pm, Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College

Miranda Seymour, ‘The Pity of War: The Longer View of England and Germany’. Literary critic, novelist and biographer Miranda Seymour will be talking about her recent book Noble Endeavours: The Life of Two Countries, England and Germany, in Many Stories. The Anglo-German relationship is explored through the lives of kings, painters, soldiers, charlatans and saints.

11 November (Week 5), 7.30-9pm, Haldane Room, Wolfson College

Rosie and Ellie Lavan, Wild Laughter. Albert James, D’Oyly Carte stage clown, is brought back to life in an innovative performance devised by his great-granddaughters, which fuses biography and cultural history. Join us for an after-dinner performance over wine.

14 November (Week 5), 5.30pm, Haldane Room, Wolfson College, EXTERNAL

The first of two seminars organised by Joanna Neilly (Wadham, Oxford) on The Author in the Popular Imagination, features Tom Mole (Reader in English Literature and Director of the Centre for the History of the Book at the University of Edinburgh) on memorials to Romantic writers in nineteenth-century Britain, and Sandra Mayer (Erwin Schrödinger Research Fellow, Vienna) on the connections between Benjamin Disraeli’s public personae as literary celebrity and celebrity politician. The seminar series is supported by TORCH and OCLW, and is one of many collaborative projects between OCLW and TORCH.

26 November (Week 7), 2-6pm, Buttery, Wolfson College, EXTERNAL

‘Life Times: Temporality and Narrative Seminar’, organised by Lee-Von Kim (Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Autobiography in Comparative Perspective in the
Faculty of Medieval & Modern Languages and Faculty of English Language & Literature, University of Oxford). Temporality is a central preoccupation of contemporary narrative, from literary fiction to life-writing to cinema. This seminar will consider how time and its relationship to narrative, self-representation and memory are explored in writing. Please direct all queries to Dr Lee-Von Kim, lee-von.kim@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk

27 November (Week 7), 5.30-7pm, Haldane Room, Wolfson College

‘Reclamations: Writing on the Lives of Shirley Hazzard and Hannah Lynch’. This informal seminar features Brigitta Olubas, Associate Professor in English at the University of New South Wales, Australia, and a Visiting Scholar at OCLW from November-December 2014. Brigitta will be joined by Kathryn Laing (Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick) and Faith Binckes (Bath Spa) to discuss the lives, work, and reception of different women authors. Brigitta will be talking about her biographical research on the Australian author of fiction and non-fiction Shirley Hazzard, whose 1970 novel The Bay of Noon was shortlisted for the Lost Man Booker Prize in 2010, and whose 2003 novel The Great Fire won the US National Book Award for Fiction. Shirley Hazzard is celebrated in Australia and the US, but is perhaps less known in other parts of the world. Kathryn Laing and Faith Binckes will be speaking on their experience of working on the neglected author Hannah Lynch. Kathryn’s paper is entitled ‘“I am an unexplained enigma.  I live alone.  I follow art”Textual Traces, Literary Recoveries and the Irish writer, Hannah Lynch (1859-1904)’. Faith Binckes will be talking on ‘“What we no longer know we have forgotten”: Canonicity, Gender, and the Lives of the Obscure’.

2 December (Week 8), 1-2pm, Haldane Room, Wolfson College

Life-Writing Lunch Seminar: Michelle Kelly, ‘J. M. Coetzee, Autobiography, and Confession’. Michelle Kelly, Departmental Lecturer in World Literatures in English, at the University of Oxford, will discuss the relationship between J. M. Coetzee’s autobiographical writings and his career-long engagements with confessional forms in his fiction. The Life-Writing Lunch is a termly lunchtime seminar series, in which practising auto/biographers discuss their work in an informal, friendly setting, over a buffet sandwich lunch. There is no charge, but you must register well in advance, as these seminars often sell out. To register online, please go to http://www.oxforduniversitystores.co.uk/browse/extra_info.asp?compid=1&modid=1&deptid=244&catid=2263&prodid=9039