Beginnings, Swem Findings, and Penguin Cartoons

After moving back to campus two days ago and settling in, I spent the morning of my first work day exploring the stacks of Swem Library to find all the books I could possibly need to begin my research. I had previously searched the online catalogue to get an idea of what materials Swem already had, and had saved all the call numbers I might need.

The result is these 36 books I now have on my desk. I have to admit, at the moment they tower over me a bit dauntingly. I can only hope they do not develop a will of their own and start their own British Empire (the first one did not end well).

Swem Finds

Now, my goal is to find the best way to sort through all these readings to find the ones that will be most applicable to my project. I want to make relevant connections between specific stories and specific cultural phenomena, so I will spend the rest of the day identifying key stories within the collections so that I can analyze them in depth. I’ve read Roald Dahl and E.M. Forster stories before, but the rest of the authors I’m looking at are completely new to me, so I’m looking forward to delving into their fictional worlds (if anyone reading this is familiar with 20th century English authors and has short story recommendations, I’d love to hear them, as well as any general research advice you swear by).

My findings are not particularly substantive yet, but I found two pretty cool things today, so I’ll share them here. The first is that I discovered that Ronald Dahl wrote a short story called “William and Mary,” which I will definitely make a priority on my reading list.

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The other finding is this cartoon I stumbled upon by Tom Gauld while looking up The Penguin Book of the British Short Story, which I will end this entry on. Good luck to everyone else beginning their projects!

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Comments

  1. This sounds like a wonderful project! I lived on Roald Dahl when I was younger, so I’m extremely interested to what you’ll find! The most pertinent question that comes to mind is in the history and development of the short story in England. Today, of course, many of these authors are well-known, but during the years where these writers were still producing content were they just as popular? Did short stories really take off as a genre from the beginning with these oftentimes absurd narratives? I ask this because when one thinks of typical English literature, a dense tome written by Dickens or Austen springs to mind, so it would be interesting to know if this departure was welcomed or more fringe. Looking forward to it seeing the rest of this project pan out!

  2. cskessler says:

    By just the sheer number of books piled on your desk, I can tell this is an ambitious project! What I’m most curious about is how you are going to apply these authors to the timeline of 20th century Britain. Do you associate each author with a particular period or emotion in history, or will you use their overlapping lifespans to compare and contrast their treatment of the times? For this purpose, I imagine the Penguin anthologies must be helpful as long as the stories contained within are chronological.

    Additionally, because you have authors that span so large a timeframe, it would be interesting to note the stylistic or thematic differences (or, perhaps, to make it even more interesting, to note the characteristics that stay the same) over the course of the century. What perspectives could Joseph Conrad and Ian McEwan share with almost a century between them? You might also compare how a historic event is treated by authors writing contemporaneously versus authors who address the same time period through historical fiction. Or, in the case of Aldous Huxley, I wonder how his speculative fiction might compare with the later history of Britain and the works of more modern authors. Wherever your research leads you, I am sure you’ll have no shortage of material to learn from, and I’m very interested to see what conclusions you reach!

  3. Leonor Taylor Grave says:

    The authors I looked at really published in quite distinct ways, and that’s one of the aspects I found most interesting in this project. Some stories were originally published in experimental modernist magazines that weren’t really widely read. One of the most fascinating magazines I found is Blast, which published stories as well as manifestos and experimental literature. Other authors published in collections, and others even in more mainstream magazines. However, from the 1950s onward, it became less commercially successful to publish stories in magazines and the short story landscape changed pretty dramatically in the later decades of the century. Some English authors, like Roald Dahl, found success publishing in American magazines like The New Yorker, but the short story as a whole fell out of favor.

  4. Leonor Taylor Grave says:

    I definitely had to dial down my ambition a little bit for the project. In the end, I focused primarily on the first half of the century so I could analyze a half dozen stories more in-depth. One thing that I found particularly interesting was the different ways authors approached writing about war. “Someone Like You,” by Roald Dahl, “Mysterious Kor,” by Elizabeth Bowen and “Good Evening, Mrs. Craven,” by Mollie Panter-Downes, were all stories in some way related to WWII, but explored different aspects of war. Dahl’s story was from the perspective of two fighter pilots, Bowen wrote about a soldier visiting his girlfriend in London while on leave, and Panter-Downes explored the perspective of a general’s mistress. I learned that there really is no one way to write a story about war, and that no way is inherently more powerful than the other.

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