Green: Historically Significant Tourist-y Places

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Sort of a funky name, but it describes this category of excursions quite well! Green pins stand for the places in London everyone at home told me I “haaaad” to go visit in order to satisfy my “inner tourist.” These places included Big Ben, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, Tower Hill, the British Library, the Globe Theatre, Parliament, and Buckingham Palace.

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The British Library

Some of the places that I visited I wasn’t sure what the significance of the place was (such as Tower Hill and Parliament), and others I visited because I felt they were important to being an English Major, such as the British Library and the Globe Theatre. In Virginia Woolf’s “Literary Geography,” she writes that some people choose to be “scientific in our pilgrimage and visit the country where a great novelist lived in order to see to what extent he was influenced by his surroundings,” and I tried to do just that by visiting these significant places in London. I took notes in the tourist-y places and tried to see what attracted not only authors but the massive amounts of tourists that frequent them.

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Taking a look at my map, I notice that the only pin on the board that’s north of where I stayed in Connaught Hall marks the British Library. Really, the only pin on the map that’s north?! Mhmm. Again, as an English major and bookworm, it makes sense that the highest point on my map is the British Library (for more about the British Library, browse through my other posts!). Since I went a bit more in depth in another post, I won’t dwell on the British Library here, but the library turned out to be a place where an immense amount of knowledge is held, yet it’s not easily accessible to anyone. You must have permission granted by a library card (which is not easy to get, believe me) and know exactly what you’re looking for. I’m looking for inspiration in this library, how am I supposed to know where to find it? Isn’t part of learning not knowing what to expect and finding it along the way?

DSC_0710Another excursion I promised myself I’d go on was to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. I’ve always been such a big fan of his work and couldn’t wait to see Macbeth performed in it’s natural habitat! I spent $40 in the gift shop alone, bought tickets for two different nights just in case I couldn’t make one of the shows, and finally took my seat in one of the balconies to the right of the stage. Thinking back on the experience, I can’t help but hear Woolf’s conclusion to “Literary Geography,” which reads “a writer’s country is a territory within his own brain; and we run the risk of disillusionment if we try to turn such phantom cities into tangible brick and mortar…No city indeed is so real as this that we make for ourselves and people to our liking; and to insist that it has any counterpart in the cities of the earth is to rob it of half its charm.” We don’t know a lot about William Shakespeare; the playbook that I bought at Macbeth explained how part of the original text of Macbeth was lost and there is only one real account of someone seeing it performed at the Globe. Why then was it so imperative for me to see the show in what I called “it’s natural habitat”? The Globe has been completely restored and isn’t the exact stage that Shakespeare and his contemporaries would’ve performed on or been around, yet it was restored to try to preserve what it could of the original theatre. How come I spent so much money to experience something that only faintly lived up to the significance it has historically?
Every place that is marked with a green pin is considered a crucial part of England and the idea of Englishness. The people filling up the space around these places were snapping dozens of photos with them smiling near the building. But how many of them really know anything about the historical significance? Do they stop and think about why these places are still so important today? Circling back to Woolf’s “Literary Geography,” these places that I’ve read about in literature or seen in a movie inspired me too take a step back and look at my surroundings, not just what’s blatantly screaming for attention. My notebook was filled with manic scribbles about how people interact with these tourist-y destinations and what that says about Englishness. Yes, I did snap some photos of myself (I had to satisfy the inner tourist, didn’t I?) but I left with much more than I expected to.

Red: Religious Buildings

Let’s begin with religion…

The red pins on the map are for religious buildings I visited. As I said before, some of the places I visited that would’ve fallen under certain categories are not shown, for they are not on my map of Central London. Some people suggested that I guesstimate where the pins would fall and plot them anyway, but I decided against that. This map is the only map that I personally used throughout my entire trip to London. It’s torn and has some highlighter stains on it (as did a pair of my shorts I had to get rid of); the places not shown, such as Highgate Cemetery, were places that I relied almost solely on the directions my professors provided the class with. I didn’t use a physical map to get to those places, so I’ve chosen not to physically map them.

There are four red pins on the board: Westminster Abbey, St. Mary Le Bowe, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and St. Clement Danes. It was hard to find some of the churches on the map because there are so many churches in London! Jeez! Red crosses can be found every few centimeters on the map. This study abroad session has shown me that religion plays many roles on Englishness. I’m not a very religious person myself; yes, I believe in a higher power and try to live a good life and pray sometimes, but organized, institutionalized religion is not exactly governing my life. While in London, I noticed how people, including myself, were affected by the inescapable presence of religion due to the abundance of churches on every corner.

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My class went on a church tour, visiting all of the churches mentioned in The London Scene by Virginia Woolf. St. Paul’s was the first stop on our tour, where some very noticeable things happened. Michel Foucault said in an interview that, in order to understand an architectural space, one must consider “the effective practice of freedom by people, the practice of social relations, and the spatial distributions in which they find themselves. If they are separated, they become impossible to understand. Each can only be understood through the other.” While visiting the churches, I kept an eye out for these factors.

“one must take him – his mentality, his attitude – into account as well as his projects, in order to understand a certain number of the techniques of power that are invested in architecture

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The actual cathedral of St. Paul’s can be seen from miles away; the architecture is breathtakingly enormous and asserts the power of the church for all to see. How everyone was occupying the space around the building was equally as fascinating as the architecture itself. People on the steps of St. Paul’s were eating lunch in business suits, congregated in groups or taking pictures, students (both elementary and college level) and learning about the history of the cathedral; everyone was casual and seemed to move relatively freely about the stairs. What was interesting was how everyone was talking; the noise level was super quiet and respectful, especially for the amount of people around. Though from a distance it might’ve appeared that everyone outside St. Paul’s was oblivious to it, once you took a closer look (and listen) the presence is felt by all. People control their voices and keep them down to a quiet, meditative level that is unobtrusive to those surrounding. Everyone is a bit more respectful of each other here than in other places I visited.

DSC_0694St. Mary Le Bowe’s and St. Clement Dane’s were quite different from St. Paul’s; the churches were much smaller and this affected how people occupied the space. Mary Le Bowe’s has a cafe in the basement, which seemed to receive more attention than the church itself. Clement Dane’s was located in the middle of the road and the inside is no longer open to the public. The smaller sized churches were easily forgotten about; one can argue that this is because of their size and where they are in the city. Mary Le Bowe’s might be using the cafe to try to get more people into the church, while Clement Dane’s simply faded away. Either way, the people occupying the space around these two churches were almost completely unaware of their presence. Mary Le Bowe’s is a tiny little church wedged into a street; Clement Dane’s is in the middle of a busy highway and out of the way. These factors definitely contribute to the fact that they are less frequented by the public.

I won’t go into detail about Westminster Abbey (there’s a whole other blog post about that one- check it out!) but even though some of these buildings have fallen out of use to the public, they still contribute to the overwhelming presence of Christianity in London. These buildings perpetuate the dominance that Christianity has over Englishness.

Oxford, Woolf and Privilege

Writing from the basement in Connaught Hall, Bloomsbury

Visiting Magdalen College, one of the colleges in the University of Oxford, was quite different than I had expected. The buildings were breathtaking, the gardening was cultivated; what about the education? In the chapter titled “Woolf, English studies, and the making of the (new) common reader,” Melba Cuddy-Keane explains some of what Virginia Woolf felt about education and where it needed to go. Both the visit to Oxford and Cuddy-Keane’s chapter frame how I think about education and how it has progressed today.

Cuddy-Keane tells us some of Woolf’s views on education, which are expected from the way she writes about it, saying “education not be constrained or governed by class..been the domain of a privileged class, and the universities had long been formed by those privileged classes” (59). While touring Magdalen College, we were informed that it’s incredibly expensive to attend the college (and the primary school run by Oxford) and amount of students studying there is small. Someone that graduates from one of the colleges at Oxford University is perceived as exceedingly intelligent and successful; this education comes at literally a high price, which makes it available to those that can afford it. Does this keep people from certain economic positions unable to attend, regardless of their intelligence? Or are there scholarships designed to help equal out the opportunity for all students to compete for a spot on the same level? Of course, I forgot to ask these important questions while in Magdalen College (or any questions at all, for that matter) and I’m left to speculate on my own.

In the radio broadcast “Are Too Many Books Being Published?” Cuddy-Keane informs the reader that in the broadcast, “Virginia suggests that the need is not for fewer books but for more writers producing fewer books each…She welcomes an overall increase of publication, however, as a way to broaden the field of writing, away from its current domination by the professional class” (66). Woolf was portraying one extreme side in the conversation about the publication of books, but this excerpt seems to echo some of the themes in A Room of One’s Own. In that essay Woolf encourages women to continuously write and create so that women can develop their own writing style and voice in the literary world. Substitute the phrase “professional class” with “male authors” and it sounds like a quote taken from A Room. The production of literature and knowledge, in Woolf’s time, was dominated by men. Cuddy-Keane observes that Leonard and Virginia:

draw very different implications from the same scenario, largely because Leonard focuses on what has been lost from the past while Virginia speculates on what could be gained in the future…Leonard appears as the static straight-man, nostalgically confined to the past, while Virginia moves increasingly toward a visionary future (66-67).

If we view Leonard as a symbol of the history of male dominated literature and Virginia as the symbol of future female literature, themes from A Room are again heard. Knowledge needs to shift from being only in the hands of the privileged and become a place where everyone has access to, whether to learn it, add to or challenge it.

But what does this have to do with my trip to Oxford? That’s I’m not 100% sure of. The style of teaching at Oxford is still one on one tutoring according to our guide, Reverend Dr. Michael Piret, though there are some disciplines that have groups of two or three students tutored at a time. Once more, this echoes A Room of One’s Own, in which Cuddy-Keane explains that “A Room of One’s Own launches a radical critique of the exclusionary practices on which Oxford and Cambridge were founded, expressing Woolf’s frustration as a woman at being locked out and depicting the deformity caused by the male fellows’ being locked in” (68). The exclusion of women seems to have lessened over the years (though I cannot say that with certainty because I haven’t researched it at all; this assumption is based solely on the fact that women are now allowed to attend the college); what I’m focusing on is the latter statement, that the fellows are being locked in. Both the fellows and the students at Oxford seem to exist in a sort of seclusion from one another, at least in terms of academic work. Reverend Dr. Piret told the group that it’s typical to have an hour meeting with the professor based on discussion, then go read a novel or two and write a paper by the next week. Unlike class dynamics that I’m used to, where there is lively discussion and interaction between students and the professor, the style at Oxford seems, as Woolf put it, “locked in” and away from other happenings in the world. Circling back to privilege, it seems that the both the cost of the college and the function of the college is encased in privilege unattainable by many.

A Stroll Around London: In the Style of “The London Scene”

Writing from my room in Bloomsbury and my room in New York

Postcards, t shirts and video games have shown me time and time again an artistic representation of Big Ben; I’d been in London a few days already, it was time for me to meet him. He is, based on his fame in the States, one of the most important faces of London, though I’ve heard that his face isn’t the most reliable, and taking the Tube for a visit was the least I could do to satisfy the inner tourist inside of me.

As I beheld this integral piece of Englishness in my eyes, I suddenly felt something against my hip. Glancing down, I catch a fleeting glimpse of a white hand grasping into my pocket, hoping to come up with something of value, perhaps my cell phone or wallet; thankfully it comes up empty, for my mother taught me well and I secure all of my important belongings in zippered compartments in my bag, which is held tightly against my side at all times . My eyes disinterestedly scan the crowd for the owner of the begging hand, knowing she or he is long gone, then make their way back to Ben. He stands completely unaware; my heart is pounding, beads of sweat have congregated around my hairline, my body feels violated. Yet his face hasn’t changed. Maybe it’s the distance, but I cannot make out the second hand on the clock. There is no evidence of change in the air, not even on the face that seems to see everything from his vantage point. The personal, almost-trauma of the last minute goes unnoticed by all. I lock my eyes onto the hands that are visible from where I stand, nod at Ben, and cross the street.

How could I have been so deaf, so blind? On the corner of the street I cross onto stands a man and his fiddle; the boisterous, playful music tickles my ears and rejuvenates my walk. Music is what brings me back, even if it only stays with me for a minute or two. The comfort of the notes seems to have spread to those around me. Everyone seems to have joined together, taken a simultaneous, deep breathe in, held it for a moment, then let the breath go and continue on their individual journey.

I must’ve been a bit preoccupied trying to absorb what just happened, for I practically missed Westminster Abbey. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t know exactly what to expect; Westminster Abbey is a bit less famous in the States. I’ve seen a photograph once or twice, but not enough to be familiar with it. Oh, there it is! Beautifully lush trees obstruct my view quite a bit, and that’s not the only thing keeping me from properly appreciating this piece of London; bells have begun to chime. I search the buildings around me to try to find the source, but the trees have kept me from the bells. Hoping to escape the cluttered streets around the abbey, I follow the group and walk under an archway.

Air: fresh and new, unlike the oxygen-depleted air the streets outside Westminster provided. Standing in a cluster of human beings to just stare at an old building seems to have made me a bit lightheaded. Thankfully, the English have found a cure for this proximity and provided the people with open spaces to replenish. A few moments of sitting on the grass make it easier to focus on my surroundings; neat buildings all connected surround me, not a single tourist from down the street, staring up at the abbey or Ben can be heard. But my mind can still not totally piece together everything I saw and experienced within the half a mile walk from the Tube station to my place on the grass. My pleasure and pride in London was not instilled by the buildings themselves, for those seemed to be detached and unaware of anybody coming to experience and appreciate the wonder that surrounds those historical, tourist ridden buildings. The London that struck me was the London that cared; I may be a mere American individual, having my existence acknowledged what I’m longing. Staring into the face of Ben, one only receives a blank, unfazed stare back: these immense structures of Englishness stand proud to be unaware of one’s minuscule existence.

Dead in Woolf’s Dalloway

Writing from my room in Bloomsbury

I hadn’t realized how strong the presence of the dead is in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway until I was asked to write a blog post about it specifically. Looking back through my notes in the margins, I’m shocked I missed it; countless quotes about death and the interaction between the living and the dead pop out throughout the text.

Death is quite prominent in of the most famous scenes in the novel, where everyone on the street is fascinated with the car passing by. People are struck by the thought of being in such close proximity of royalty:

Ordinary people who might now, for the first and last time, be within speaking distance of the majesty of England, of the enduring symbol of the state which will be known to curious antiquaries, sifting through ruins of time, when London is a grass-grown path and all those hurrying along the pavement this Wednesday morning are but bones with a few wedding rings mixed up in their dust. (16)

Why with all the excitement of royalty and a celebrity around would thoughts of inevitable death and wasting away come up? This section defines Englishness in two distinct ways. The class divide between royalty and the others is prevalent here. Just the thought, the possibility of being near royalty, yet still separated by groups of people and a car from the possible royal, sets everyone’s heart aflame. It feels like an accomplishment to the people in the street, for they must’ve chosen the right time to go shopping to have been given this incredible opportunity (that again, no one will ever know if it actually was a person of importance or not). Expanding on this, there is a definite tie between death and nationalism.

While being instilled with this sense of importance and pride of being so close to the English royalty, the crowd is contemplating their own individual deaths. Historians will remember the royal sitting in the car that passes them by, but will not remember them. They will always be insignificant. Part of Englishness is the powerful and impressionable monarchy, and the commoners (the people in the street) will all be forgotten. The next pages reads that “strangers looked at each other, and thought of the dead; of the flag; of Empire” (17). The nationalism these people feel is tied directly to death. Englishness cannot be without royalty and death. Clarissa Dalloway has an interesting thought while walking around London, which was “Did it matter then, she asked herself…did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her; did she resent it; or did it not become consoling to believe that death ended absolutely?” (9). Based on her reaction and everyone else’s reaction in the street, it seems that the proximity to the everlasting presence in history that the English royalty will have is enough to comfort the commoners in their inevitable meaningless death. As long as something with great importance lasted, their insignificant deaths were accepted. Nationalism and pride in their Englishness have given them this idea that death is necessary and they must accept it.

Nationalism and death play another role in the character of Septimus Smith, for it seems necessary that there be dead in order for there to be nationalism. By far one of my favorite characters in Dalloway, his role in Dalloway is tragic, and his path to suicide another place where I felt the presence of the dead in the novel. His view on the world is warped due to his experience fighting for the country; his pride in England led him to signing up to fight, but sadly it leads to his suicide. Though he suffered immensely to defend his country,”it was cowardly for a man to say he would kill himself,” even after doing something courageous for his country (22). Septimus is haunted by the dead, both with the idea of his own death and the ghost of Evans.  In the middle of the park, Septimus is convinced that he sees Evans, and exclaims “‘For God’s sake don’t come!’… For he could not look upon the dead,” and this passage ends with Septimus “smiling at the dead man in the grey suit” (68-69). His trauma has caused him to see the dead in his daily life, yet his individual condition must be silenced for the good of the England. Septimus has served what is defined as the only appropriate way to have pride for England: he put his life on the line in battle, but is not allowed to battle his own depression and suicidal thoughts publicly. Again, the life of the commoner, the individual, is irrelevant as long as Englishness is preserved. London is a “city of tombs” because in order for London and Englishness as a whole to continue to function, many have to die, whether it’s in war, by silencing their mental health issues, or just quietly for the sake of those in power.

A Room of One’s Own: Applying “Virginia Woolf and the Public Sphere” and “Locating Woolf”

How many times can we revisit Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own?! Every time I revisit the text I discover something new and inspiring or frustrating and confusing, bringing me back to the text yet again. I was asked to use this blog entry to focus on Melba Cuddy-Keane’s article “Virginia Woolf and the Public Sphere” and “Locating Woolf” by Anna Snaith and Michael H. Whitworth, but I’d like it to circle back to the larger context of my experiences in London and how they enrich my understanding of how Woolf’s piece matters in contemporary society.

“Virginia Woolf and the Public Sphere” was a crucial piece for me to read; this is my second time studying A Room of One’s Own and both times I’ve studied it as a “central canonical text” to my feminist studies. Cuddy-Keane brings to light the gap between contemporary readers and Woolf’s works continues to grow, and the thread of spatiality is continued throughout. One of the questions Cuddy-Keane poses, “what lack of knowledge, what prejudice even,…might set up a barrier between the student’s and Woolf’s work?” Cuddy-Keane takes us through how she teaches A Room to her students, where they are the ones that are lead to understand the text in their own manner.

I found it interesting how challenging it is for both students and scholars to figure out what the equivalent of £500 would be in today’s world. Cuddy-Keane also has students figure out how Woolf spent her money during her lifetime to attempt to shed some light on the amount in A Room. Ultimately, at the end of the task it becomes apparent that the exact monetary amount Woolf gave wasn’t as important as the freedom and opportunity it provided the woman writer with. The point of the exercises shows us that trying to completely rewrite the text in the contemporary setting is too complicated and strays away from Woolf’s purpose. This helps my reading (and continued revisiting of the text, I can assure you) by explaining that Woolf understood that certain aspects of the essay would be lost. Applying “Woolf’s approach…her focus of reading as an active process, her way of presenting dynamic accounts of her reading rather than settled explanations of literary works” to A Room, we must then actively read and engage with the text instead of getting bogged down by the minute details that do not really further our understanding.
Briefly, Snaith and Whitworth focus on Woolf and relation to space,  and consider “the question of women’s relation to the city, particularly public spaces.” Cuddy-Keane asked her students to consider “what young writers today might buy today if they had that amount of money,” and in many cases this includes how they occupy and exist in public spaces. Taking a little creative liberty, I’ll use some of my experience in London to try to connect the two. Riding around all of London in the Tube brings to light just how much one has to experience in the city. Museums on every street, theatres showing both the latest show and the classic production, and countless places with dense historical significance. But think of the monetary cost of these intellectually enriching endeavors. How can one truly absorb these inspirational, important places without adequate funds?

Take a Tube pass for instance. My visitor’s pass for zones 1 and 2 was included when I paid to study abroad, so I looked up how much the pass actually costs. For adults 16 and over, $48.50 buys you a week of unlimited travel within zones 1 and 2 for a week. I haven’t done enough research to hypothesize how much it would cost one to have some sort of freedom on the Tube when actually living in London, but it’s clear that there is a cost. This is one possibility among thousands that a young woman writer like myself can come up with to answer Cuddy-Keane’s question. I budgeted myself $1000 for my two weeks in London, and felt that getting a chance to take part in certain parts of the English culture, such as seeing a show at the Globe Theatre or going for afternoon tea, was an integral part of being inspired to write. Cuddy-Keane concludes her piece with invaluable insight on Woolf’s message in A Room, and that is “Woolf’s dream for young women:…that they not be answerable to someone else about the way they spend their money, not agonize about small purchases because they don’t trust their own judgement, not be subject to the economic authority of father or husband.” We can merely speculate on what exactly Woolf would want us to spend our money on, but must remember that the crucial point is that we have the personal autonomy and opportunity to choose for ourselves: then and only then will we be able to write.

Transitioning Back Home

Writing from the plane to Newark

Transitioning back feels equally alien and effortless. My mind adjusted to the streets of Bloomsbury after a few days; the storefronts and people working inside of them began to look familiar, Connaught Hall began to be referenced as “home.” My body felt that it became part of the city. The ebb and flow of the traffic navigated me down and across the streets.

I’ve always been fascinated with cities and how you can walk around for hours and forget your identity. At the crosswalks, the ground tells you which way to look for oncoming traffic and the lights tell you to “WAIT,” the green man tells you when to go. Familiarity with the streets makes thinking about where to go or if you’ll get lost obsolete. One of the excursions we went on, the Mrs. Dalloway Walk, helped me understand Clarissa’s journey and just how far she traveled throughout the novel. Right in he beginning of the novel, Clarissa is walking down Piccadilly, where “she would not say of any one in the world now that they were this or were that. She felt very young; at the same time unspeakably aged,” and then later on,” did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her; did she resent it; or did it not become consoling to believe that death ended absolutely?’ Throughout her she feels she embodies different ages and contemplates identity in the singular and the plural.  She passed by many areas that were filled with people (I’d say crowded, but that sounds like there were big clumps of people. In some places there were, but for the most part the areas were simply populated) which fascinated both Clarissa in the novel and myself during the walk. I identify with Clarissa because walking has been one of the ways I’ve dealt with my anxiety and general stress in the world, for it helps me escape unwanted thoughts and situations that I cannot handle. Walking in London allowed me to forget everything going on at home and let go of my identity, at least for a little while.

Now on the plane going home, my identity is becoming increasingly present. The anonymity London provided me with is slipping away as we get closer to Newark and the weight of my identity at home is returning. And as my identity begins to pressure me, the routine of my daily life at home runs through my thoughts. I contemplate whether or not I’ll be too jet lagged to wake up at my usual time of 9:30, did my mother remember to buy me a new gallon of 1% milk, should I throw in a load of laundry before my morning shower or after? Realizing that routine is consuming my thoughts during this transition, I make the connection to Henry Perowne in Saturday transitioning from watching a tragedy (having a life changing experience) to moving right back into the routine of daily life. Perowne watches a plane crash on its way to Heathrow airport and while contemplating the horror of the occurrence, begins to wonder if he will be called into work and has flashbacks of his previous week at work. Regardless of the incredible, traumatic experience in front of him, the monotonous routine of daily life takes over. We discussed how peculiar it is that Henry almost instantaneously considers his monotonous daily routine during and after the plane crash, but now I catch myself doing something similar. Granted, my mind is returning to the routine after an incredible journey, not a horrific plane crash, but the connection is still evident.

One of the main lessons I learned in London that has become evident during this transition is not directly tied back to the topic of the course, yet is still important. My mind and body almost instantly identified with London, from understanding the Tube to crossing the street, to being aware of various historical and modern sites and becoming one with the group. I won’t say that I became a true Londoner or fit in completely, but for a brief two weeks, my mind and body felt that I did. And now, how easily my self is transitioning back home isn’t that shocking based on how easily is transitioned to London. Maybe that’s how this all ties into transnational identities. I sort of feel at home in London and I sort of feel at home in Smithtown, New York. Why is that? What does that say about the spaces and how my mind and body occupied them? Possibly it has to do with the fact that cities definitely have some familiar qualities, maybe it’s because I could understand the language in both areas. I’m still working on understanding it though.