Understanding the sisters as real people: Alex’s postcard from Brontë Country

Alex Bronte country

Why I went…

Before taking this course on the Brontës, I had never read any of their works. As the semester began and I was introduced to these incredible women, I developed an interest and an adoration for their works and for who they were as people; especially as women authors in a time where men were the predominant writers. When I found out about our opportunity to go to the Brontës’ birth place and childhood home, I was ecstatic. I had already learned so much about them but I thought that by going to these places I could develop a deeper understanding of who they were as human beings rather than famous authors.

What I got out of the experience…

I learned much more about the Brontës than I ever thought possible by visiting these literary sites, but not in the way that I expected.  What surprised me the most was the way that they are represented as commodities rather than actual people. The museum itself helped my understanding of these sisters as real people to an extent, but even at the museum there is a gift shop; they are still making money off the works of these authors. All around the town you can buy products with the Brontë sisters’ names on them, including things such as biscuits and alcohol. This gives visitors the impression that the Brontë sisters, or rather their way of life, is an object that can be purchased, but it is not. Seeing Haworth in this way made me become almost defensive of the sisters as people, not as authors. They were very real and they lived normal lives.

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Wordsworth as person and poet: Hannah’s postcard from Dove Cottage

Hannah at Dove Cottage, Spring 2016

Hannah at Dove Cottage, Spring 2016

Why I went…

I think of Wordsworth as an important figure in Romantic poetry and really enjoyed studying his poetry. I liked how Wordsworth took inspiration for his poems by walking through France and the Alps. I myself very much loved walking through Lake District to visit Dove Cottage in Grasmere. It is easy to see where Wordsworth might have gotten some inspiration from the beautiful setting. Wordsworth is known as a writer of remembrance and things past. We are alike in this way because I too like the feeling of nostalgia and that feeling is evident in his works.

 What I got out of the experience…

From this experience, I learned how complex Wordsworth was as a person. He suffered many tragedies in his life, but still created beautiful poetry. In the garden at Dove Cottage, lines from his poems are scattered throughout it accompanying flowers and it really brought everything together. I enjoyed seeing the connection between his words and the surrounding setting. Wordsworth was known for his affinity for nature and I felt the connection he had with nature while at Dove Cottage. There was a lot of inspiration to be found in Grasmere and it was cool to see how Wordsworth used that in his works. Going on the pilgrimage to Dove Cottage gave me a greater appreciation for Wordsworth as a person and as a poet.
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Lea’s postcard from Austen’s Bath

Why I went and what I got out of the experience…

I really wanted to go to Bath, because Jane Austen lived there for a chunk of her life. I felt like I could get closer to her somehow if I went and walked down the same streets that she did. Though Jane Austen didn’t like Bath that much, you can see many locations in Bath that she writes about in her novels, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. I wanted to immerse myself in the world of the characters in her novels. Maybe not time travel, but get a residual feeling of what it must have been like to live there.

When I got to Bath, I first noticed how very beautiful the city looked like as a whole. The buildings all mashed well together and the atmosphere was different from other larger towns I had seen in England, like York or Lincoln. Bath looked more modern than these medieval towns. I went to the Pump Room and the Roman Baths, both of which are exciting experiences if you like Jane Austen. I also visited the Royal Crescent and saw both the upper and lower rooms while in Bath. I was really happy that I took time out of my semester abroad to go there. It was an amazing experience, and after I went I feel a bit closer to Miss Austen.
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Revising the Author: Shannon’s postcard from Oxford

Shannon with a Mary Shelley revised manuscript page, Oxford, Spring 2016

Shannon with a Mary Shelley revised manuscript page, Oxford, Spring 2016

Why I went…

I am not the best at writing, but I do enjoy it. To know that some of the best writers also needed help revising what they wrote is something that is comforting to me. Mary Shelly became an author of one of the biggest phenomena of all time after she wrote Frankenstein. The story of Frankenstein has entranced so many generations of readers and has inspired many movie directors to create adaptations. As Mary Shelly wrote her story of Frankenstein she could not have imagined that her book would create so much interest. That is what an author hopes and dreams about, but for many that is not the reality. Mary Shelly accomplished her aspirations.

What I got out of the experience…

In the University of Oxford Library there were many books that were displayed because of their literary importance. In Mary Shelly’s case it was not a whole work that was only opened to a page, but a single page that was crossed over with scratches in revision. I found this to be refreshing because it did not show a finished product, but Shelley’s trials as she was writing Frankenstein. In literature the majority of things that you see are the beautiful finished work of an author. Authors are often put onto pedestals by literary buffs because of what the author was able to create. I often forget that the author of a great work does not just sit down one day and say I think “I’m going to write a best-selling book” and then write the whole thing is a day. To write a novel is something that takes time and this exhibit shows the time that is needed to make something great.
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‘A story really does live on forever’: Hannah’s pilgrimage to the Peter Pan statue

Hannah visits the Peter Pan statue, Kensington Gardens, in April 2016

7 Hannah visits the Peter Pan statue, Kensington Gardens, in April 2016

Why I went…

Peter Pan was my favourite story that I read in my Children’s Literature class so I decided that I would visit the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens, London. I had heard so much about Peter Pan as a book and a movie but had neither read the book nor seen the film – so encountering this in class was a new experience. I really loved the childishness of the story and the magic surrounding it. Kensington Garden was a beautiful setting for the statue. It was a peaceful area surrounded by trees and near the water. It seemed like a place in which a child could explore.

What I got out of it…

London is my favourite city and Kensington Gardens is a beautiful part of it. It was nice to explore the grounds and get away from the hustle and bustle of London as a city. It was cool to see Peter Pan “in person” and to imagine him as a person rather than a character. The base of the statue features fairies and other woodland animals. I liked how those elements added to the overall setting of the statue. It felt very magical and childlike. Peter Pan on top of the statue looked like what the average size of the character would’ve been like so it was cool to imagine him as a real person. I felt better connected to the story after seeing the statue and recalling the story. Overall, this pilgrimage gave me a better appreciation for the story and I got the feeling that Peter Pan as a character and a story really does live on forever.
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Breathtaking: Sarah’s postcard from Newstead Abbey

Sarah at Lord Byron's ancestral home, Newstead Abbey, March 2016

Sarah at Lord Byron’s ancestral home, Newstead Abbey, March 2016

Why I went and what I got out of the experience…

On Sunday, 20 March 2016, I travelled to the poet, George Gordon Lord Byron’s, ancestral home, Newstead Abbey. The drive to the Abbey was absolutely stunning, the afternoon sun shone upon the road ahead of us and passing trains speckled the countryside. I chose this location because Byron was my favourite poet that was read from the Romantic period unit in my survey of British literature. Reading Byron’s “Darkness” and “She Walks in Beauty” was a new experience for me, as I had never taken the opportunity to read Byron before. Upon arriving to Newstead Abbey, it was clear to see how the landscape was able to provide inspiration for Byron’s work. His home, however, contained unexpected surprises upon touring it. As an American student on a study abroad experience, I’ve toured countless castles and Elizabethan estates. Ignorantly, when I first saw Newstead Abbey, I assumed that the interior of the abbey would be as gothic as the exterior. However, I found the tour of Byron’s home to have been an enchanting look into the bygone era of a favourite poet. From the vibrant green of the entrance hall to the intricate Victorian long gallery, Newstead Abbey showcased the true splendour of the age. The real star of my excursion, however, was the surrounding garden. There was a sparkling lake that mirrored the grandeur of the estate. There was a small footpath that lead to a stone structure that allowed a view of the house from across the water. It was absolutely breathtaking to see this monolithic stone structure, coexisting with the nature around it. Taking in the place that had housed one of my new favourite writers was a beautiful experience that will stay with me for me years to come. The house even reminded me of Lord Byron’s poetry itself. Its beauty and unending grace has the ability to inspire current and future generations of literary minds like me, just as it had inspired one of Britain’s greatest romantic poets.

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A call for creative inspiration: Lydia’s postcard from Oxford

Lydia Anvar photo

Lydia at the Shelley Memorial, Oxford, March 2016

Why I went…

On March 19th, I decided to go to Oxford to see some memorials to some of my favorite authors (both old and new favorites). This past semester I read Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, as well as a selection of poetry by her husband, Percy Shelley. I had heard of Mary Shelley before, but I did not know that her husband was a poet. Actually, I had not even read a lot of poetry before taking this class. However, I absolutely loved the poetry! I found it so interesting how the Romantic poets wrote poetry on poetry—trying to pick their craft apart and understand it in its purest form.  I admire Shelley because of the dignity with which he regarded poetry. He wanted it to be respected and if anyone (like Wordsworth?) disrespected poetry or the creative process, he was not happy. My favorite poem by him is ‘Ode to the West Wind’ where it says:

“Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:

What if my leaves are falling like its own!

The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,

Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,

My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!”

I love this as a call for creative inspiration about taking the bad and turning it into good.

What I got out of the experience…

It was so exciting to see where Shelley studied at Oxford. I find it interesting that, even though he was dismissed from the University, they still have a statue for him. I also find the nature of the statue interesting. I don’t know why Shelley’s daughter-in-law chose to memorialize him as she did—dead and naked. Our tour guide said that he thought it could be to communicate that, even though Shelley is dead, his influence is eternal. He also said that the statue had been subject to a lot of pranks from Oxford students in the past. He said one time students filled the area with water and dumped gold fish in it (hence the presence of the giant golden gate that I’m standing in front of in the picture).  Anyways, it was so neat to not only see the statue of Shelley, but walk around the college where he studied and the city where he lived. It put his age into perspective too. He was just a few years older than me when he wrote ‘Ode to the West Wind’. It inspired me to be more intentional about my writing. A lot of times I say to myself “oh I’m only 20, I still have a time to write.” A lot of the poets that we’ve read about in class, though, had done a lot more writing than I have by the time they were twenty. My trip to the picturesque town of Oxford served as a nice break from school and a motivational boost for my writing.

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