Monday, 1 June 2009

Essay topics

I've been writing essay topics today.

That, and reading a selection of publications by gentlemans of UniMelb EngDept that made me feel all stupid and unsophisticated like, then having an interesting debate about them with myself in my afternoon seminar where nobody else had done the reading. I should really get a couple of sock puppets to make these one-woman debate shows a little bit more visually interesting.

Yes that, the essay topics, and writing and sending off a conference paper proposal also in the general direction of Parkville and also feeling it lacked a certain something along the lines of the clever way they talk there about spectacular discursive formations and suchlike. The good thing is I am old enough now not to mind this very much.

It's only fair to acknowledge that while I was doing these things I was using a computer, and that means yes I did look at a video or two on Youtube. Like this one for example.

Here are the essay questions I settled upon. Tell me which essay you would do, what book you would do it on (any book you like as long as it's by a woman) and what you would say. Thus you get all the fun of thinking about essay writing without actually having to write the essay itself. If you want to complete the fantasy by receiving a mark for your imaginary essay, you can give yourself 64 which is what Dorian usually suggests I do with the remaining biannual essays when I'm about two thirds of the way through and the thought of reading another one is hurting me. No, actually, just go ahead and give yourself a mark of your own choice. According to my understanding of the latest principles of educational theory, self-assessment is a very fine and totally non-dodgy thing. The highest grade gets a prize.

(NB 'wwb' is the subject code. Not some newfangled literary studies jargon. It reminds me of the PKD story "Beyone Lies The Wub.")

1. “I may tell you that the very next words I read were these – ‘Chloe liked Olivia…’ Do not start. Do not blush. Let us admit in the privacy of our own society that these things sometimes happen. Sometimes women do like women.” In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf writes that fiction by men contains very few depictions of friendships between women. Discuss how female friendship, liking, co-operation or affinity is represented in a text studied in WWB.

2. Explore the ways a WWB text of your choice thinks about being dependent and/or being depended upon.

3. Anger and aggression, and conciliation or the desire to please, are the two dangers facing women novelists, according to Woolf. Why might this be so? Discuss a WWB work of fiction that you consider to be either angry or conciliatory, saying whether you think that text is distorted or limited because of this, and explaining how you arrived at that opinion.

4. What does clothing mean in the WWB text of your choice? How does it relate to the “real” self?

5. “War shadows every gendered relationship” argues Joshua Goldstein (in War and Gender). Discuss the ways a WWB text uses war to construct relations between men and women.

6. Discuss the representation of a woman writer in a WWB text, using Woolf’s stipulations about the necessity of financial and spatial independence as a starting point.

7. Describe the stylistic, thematic, and psychological role of interruption in a WWB text of your choice.

8. Several WWB texts suggest special links – both bonds and resemblances - between women and animals. Explain how such links operate in a text of your choice. How do you feel about these suggestions?

9. Write an essay exploring how a WWB text depicts female education. What is the appeal of stories about schools and schooling? Pay particular attention to what girls are taught and to what they actually learn.


ThirdCat said...

will this be in the exam?

ThirdCat said...

actually, now I've read the questions, instead of just being a smart-arse down the back of the room - they are ace questions. Like, even just reading through them has made me heart beat a little bit fast with that tiny quiver of excitement you get when you know you're on the verge of thinking something quite interesting (and then, instead of following through with the interesting thought I usually go and make a cup of tea or play wordtwist, but that's my own problem not anyone else's).

Tim said...

Will this count towards our final mark? I wasn't paying attention...

Actually I think they're good questions, much better than some of the questions I can remember having to answer. I think I'd pick question one, although I don't know what book I'd use because it's late and I've forgotten everything about every book I've ever read.

innercitygarden said...

I'm going to do what I did as a student of UniMelb EngDept: read the novels cheerfully but be really slack about the essay. So when is this due? I will have to wait til that day to choose a topic.

Or you could just give me a 79 right now, because that would frustrate me far more than a 64 and make a far better punishment for my slackarse ways.

Pavlov's Cat said...

I choose Question 1 and I am going to write about Possession, about the female friendships, connections and co-operations (or not), and the way they focus on scholarship, literature and work, with particular reference to Beatrice Nest and her desire to protect the long-dead Ellen Ash. And I give myself 97, because I can. You said I could. *Voice gets whiny, eyes fill with unshed tears*

elsewhere said...

Ah the gentlemen of Parkville! How their speculum formations come to matter less and less over the years.

Everything used to cluster in the middle of the bell-curve around 66 from memory. Very little room in the credit category, so hard to vary the marks.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

Exit literary theory, stage left, pursued by a bear.

Ampersand Duck said...

Can I just say that I just ADORE that video (and also the bear paintings that the Baron just contributed).

Did you show it to your class? If so, what was the reaction?

I shall think upon books, BRB.

(DB = "daphy")

lucy tartan said...

The bear paintings broke my Firefox, but it was so worth it.

This is heaps better than actually reading and marking essays.

lucy tartan said...

Also, Pav has set the bar rather high with her grade of 97, but not impossibly so.

lucy tartan said...

I didn't show the video to my class, because there is no way of doing that in most of the teaching rooms, and also it has nothing to do with anything....I think. But on the other hand relevance has never been a criterion that counted for much with me.

It reminds me a bit of the art teacher's film in Ghost World.

Zoe said...

I am going to do the one about the cats but I need an extension please miss because my foot hurts.

db: ditywqbo

innercitygarden said...

Surely every class should start with five minutes of Cool Stuff I Saw on the Intertubes?

dogpossum said...

I'm going to do number 8 and I'm going to do it on an Anne McCaffrey dragon book. I will hand it in a week or two early, but I will make sure I come to see you before hand, and get you to affirm me and reassure me and tell me that I am, actually clever. I would also have been the only student in your tute engaging with your engagement with gentlemens of parkville, but there'd have been only a 50% chance I'd actually done the reading. Then I would have followed you to your office after class for some more affirming.
Because that's what I used to do as an undergrad. God, how annoying was I?

M-H said...

I would do, like, No 1 and I would, like, use Doris Lessing's Golden Notebook. (I like Dr Cat's idea about Possession, though.) I would, like, need you to be available to me for, like, an hour a week until it's due. I need, like, to talk through my ideas and, like, share my drafts with you. If this isn't possible I will, like, bombard you with emails, drafts attached, and, like, demand responses within the hour. Like, what else could you have to do? And if Dr Cat can, like, have 97 then so can I. At least. Maybe 98 even.

cristy said...

My first thought after feelng a little intellectually challenged was that I'd do question nine about Enid Blyton's Naughtiest Girl in the School. Of course I would eventually come up with something more literary, but I think this says a lot about me.

I also think that I'd get a 67.

librarygirl said...

Question 4.
The Children's Book.

(I'm only up to page 64 so I'll need longer. Thanks).

Mindy said...

I'd do no. 2 and I'd choose Helen Garner's "The Spare Room". I think I'd get 63 the not 'quite good enough to not quite get a credit' mark.

jac said...

I would do no 8 on "Surfacing" by Margaret Atwood - which I actually did study in uni, and would quite like to dig out and read again. I would write it entirely in the last week and I would venture none of my own thoughts, thereby failing the "how do you feel about" part of the question.
76 - good enough, but confirmation I could have done better.

Suse said...

Clearly Cristy and I are the two students giggling in the back row together cos I like totally plan on doing the last question, only my Enid Blyton of choice is the Mallory Towers series.

But I need an extension too cos I must like go and write my very own non-virtual UniMelb EngDept essay that is due in oh, 6 days. Ahem.

Helen said...

WWB = Wonderful World of Books?...

I would do no. 1 and it would be titled "The Bechdel-Wallace Test: Women talking about women, 1800-2009."

Anonymous said...

64 is such a mean mark. A 1970s professor at a university not unlike or distant from the one you work at gave everybody in his sociolinguistics class 82, which seemed very fair to us.

lucy tartan said...

It's true Anon.

Helen, we are actually studying an excerpt of Alison Bechdel's memoir Fun Home. I would have liked to set the whole thing but couldn't quite make it fit.

There's no Enid Blyton but there is a short story from a 1950s schoolgirl annual called "The Fourth Form Treasure Hunters." It was a toss-up between that and "Loyal To The Sports Mistress."

M-H said...

Then again, the clothes in Fun Home were wonderful. Exactly right in every frame. Maybe Number 4, on Fun Home.

ThirdCat said...


It seems I showed some interesting insights and have an obvious flair for words, but failed to deliver a cohesive argument. Also, consistently awkward placement of commas interrupts the flow.

A disappointment after the last effort.

Ann oDyne said...


option 1.
"Dear Ms Woolf, I managed to achieve a room of my own and 500 pounds per annum, yet still I cannot write - what now?"

b) bless the heart of thatso very 70's marker mentioned above by Anon.

c) re option 9 about women and schools: this week Sarkozy and the headscarf ban issue has made me wonder about those poor muslim girls whose parents will now NOT let them GO to school at all. just like the regime they fled from.

d) see how clever I am to leave my tiny comment till after all the brilliant people have been and gone?

F.G. Marshall-Stacks said...

If you only had to read and mark 140-character essays -
' Wednesday 24 June 2009 Is there no end to Twittermania?
Fans of the classics will either be delighted or appalled to learn that the New York-branch of Penguin books has commissioned a new volume that will put great works through the Twitter mangle. The volume has a working title that will make the nerve ends of purists jangle: Twitterature.

In it, the authors will squish the jewels of world literature - they mention Dante, Shakespeare, Stendhal, Joyce and JK Rowling - into 20 tweets or less - that is 20 sentences each with fewer than 140 characters.

The book is the brainchild of two 19-year-old first-year students at the University of Chicago who claim to be starting a cultural revolution from their college dormitory. Bashing their heads together one evening in their university digs, Emmett Rensin and Alex Aciman asked themselves what defined the grandest ventures of their generation, and best expressed the souls of 21st century Americans?"