14 Nov

Hullo folks. It’s been one crazy evening. I got home to discover the egg whites I had been (mentally) saving to turn into a beautiful meringue extravaganza to take to work tomorrow for our country-themed bake-off had been appropriated by the mum and sis in order to make dinner. Alas! If I were my mother or my brother this might have been a much bigger problem than it actually was, but as I have grown up in a house with them, I was able to circumvent this minor setback with minimum raging. The day was saved by the arrival of the shopping and I was able to make a mango and strawberry meringue roulade with lemon curd and extra thick cream, and all before 9pm. Winning at life. I have also packed my bag and organised myself to go straight from work tomorrow evening to the X5, whereupon I shall journey forth to Oxford in readiness for the trip to Wales on Friday. And then it’s time for a WEDDING. At a CASTLE. YEAH. So excited. Which reminds me, I must pack my camera. Thanks, blogger.

Right. Before all this palaver occurred, I was thinking about Classics and about reception, as is my wont. I had been reading – on the bus to work, in my lunch break, and in the bus from work – various articles about reception theory; the point, the techniques, the dangers. All very interesting (and frequently verging on the really quite contradictory, but no matter). I had also been thinking about why *I* want to study reception, and what reception actually has to offer us, because I have various applications to write and people to persuade that I deserve money/a place at their Noble Institution.

So. There I was, pondering the reception of the Classics. When, like a bolt from the blue, I realised that reception is not, of course, limited to Classics. Once you have a theory, you can apply it to – well, whatever you like. So you can study the reception of Shakespeare in Keats, or the reception of Virgil in Tacitus (actually I had this idea in about February, but whatever. Don’t steal it, I might use it some day) OR – and this one I really quite like – the reception of Austen in contemporary literature.

Now the last one especially appeals to me because, yes, there are some pretty shocking takes on Pride and Prejudice et al around, but there are also some EXCELLENT ones. Bridget Jones is an example of the latter. So is The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides. The Marriage Plot is really interesting because it uses the idea of literary criticism (which in this case includes but doesn’t specifically refer to reception) as a plot device; the heroine becomes obsessed with Barthes’ The Lover’s Discourse after a nasty breakup with her bipolar boyfriend and later on she seeks intellectual refuge in studying the construction of female heroines in Victorian literature. This leads to the end of the novel which is itself explicitly a subversion of a female Regency/Victorian literary motif. And of course in Bridget Jones, the heroine is extremely aware of the fact that the guy her parents are trying to hook her up with is called Mr Darcy and how ridiculous this is. I think early on she comments   something along the lines of ‘it’s utterly ridiculous being miserable at a party when your name is Darcy. You might as well be called Heathcliff and spend all your time on the moors wailing ‘Cathyyyy, Cathyyyy!’. Added to this is the heroine’s own awareness of the current serialisation on television of Pride and Prejudice, and her love of Colin Firth (taken to bizarre lengths in the films, of course, by having Colin Firth play Mark Darcy). So in both these cases, the reception of the source texts is by no means a straightforward affair.

It occurs to me that perhaps this sort of analysis and awareness of what you can really do with a bit of clever reception and intertextuality goes far beyond what many Classical scholars are currently looking for. In these examples, we can see just from the merest glance at the storylines and characters that the authors of the texts are using their sources as entities within the new texts, entities externally influencing the texts, controlling plot devices and conceptual tools to explore relationships and even literary theory. If we turn back to our Classical texts and their receptions, why should we look at them any less critically? This is beginning to happen, of course (see Steven Yao, The Languages of Modernism, especially on H.D) but Classics seems, as ever, to be woefully behind. It’s time to apply some current thinking to our old texts, so we keep them fresh and don’t lose the chance to use them in the future.

Perhaps that’s a bit academic for you all, oh lovely readers. Sorry. You should see what I inflicted on my poor colleagues today in my ‘office’ blog. You can, in fact. Here’s a link. It’s the one with the title on a theme of pirates:


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