Time Out

There is finally some space to breathe this week. After several weeks of lengthy texts in The Grand Remonstrance, Areopagitica, The Kings Cabinet Opened, we move to two weeks’ respite with poetry. This may prove rather a false dawn. The tasks and reading for the Early Modern Material Text MA Seminar I am shadowing are quite demanding. Prof. Anthony Mortimer will be speaking at our fortnightly Doctoral Workshop next week, with heavy preparatory reading. Earlier this year, Prof. Mortimer asked me about the paper I gave at the Origins Conference in April. Marvell’s elegy was placed within a collection of three (with Sprat and Dryden), and then replaced at a late stage by Edmund Waller’s before publication. The title of my paper, ‘One of the Three’, had been ambiguous for that reason. As the workshop applies most directly to me, it is important that I make the most of it.

It is always fascinating to see the rise and fall of different components of this kind of occupation. Submitting the first section of my PhD two weeks ago, after the ongoing problems, saw an unimaginable catch-up. My research saw a gradual rise in intensity (combined with teaching the prose texts) over the first half of this semester. I have submitted an extract for an exciting history conference in January, and committed myself to presenting a draft at the final Doctoral Workshop in December. No easy route home to Christmas.

Teaching has continued to be important. The turn to poetry should allow my students the time they need to complete a short portfolio of research assignments. We will return, however, to Hobbes’ De Cive, Charles I’s Eikon Basilike and Milton’s Eikonoklastes before the end of the course. The MA Seminar I am following is time consuming, but it is directing me in new ways. With Marvell, I am suggesting an unorthodox sui generis model of authorship considering the private writer.

Outside of that, there are numerous teaching tasks to be done: maintaining the course database and website; answering student queries; and trying to find out when the remaining students from the spring Andrew Marvell seminar plan to submit work. There is work to be done for Noted, including an article circulating in my mind. And, I’ve been tasked to organise and meet the majority of eligible students for our Study Abroad Scheme in the second half of this semester, in an effort to encourage more of our students to spend time improving their English. So, the weight of these components changes week on week; the overall workload changes week on week.

Normally, my compromise has been on a Friday afternoon. This week, unusually, there has been some rare room to breathe as I have gone along. I have needed it, certainly. Facing up to the future, as difficult and potentially poignant as it may be, is the order of this time.

The amount of support for the troubles this year has been overwhelming. I have become so distant, private, and insular, I could only ask for understanding. Being here, there have been weekends where I have gone from Friday to Tuesday without leaving my apartment and without speaking to a single person. If one wonders why the Stockholm syndrome exists, clearly there is some kind of adaptive behavioral process to the extreme kinds of company that are kept – even emptiness. It is a stasis that is manageable some or most of the time. But, whether this is any cause, effect, by-product, other or none of the above, the personal problems here have made it unsustainable. The list of sacrifices keep growing, and has now become profoundly significant.

Last week, this took a very positive step forward. I had believed that the final few months would be extremely awkward at the office. Having read through my submitted work, Lukas came to speak to me about potential future options, and to solidify my reasons for leaving. I scorn my previous doubts, especially about the supervisory relationship. We settled a grimace I held concerning the difference between keeping something concealed and not telling the truth. Having seen illness used as an excuse so many times, I remain bitterly sceptical about admitting defeat. The submitted work made something click. I now hope to keep ties as a student from distance. The gulf between the Masters dissertation and the work submitted feels vast, and I am glad to accredit this to Geneva. The tide has gladly changed, and my supervisor wishes to stay involved.

The quality of the work that emerges when the time and opportunity are there is exciting. But the main question remains: where next? I have been waiting to ask. How do I look elsewhere whilst serving notice? This was made easy for me in the end, with advice too. The obvious choices are Royal Holloway, with its supervisor, location, and strong social possibilities; or Bristol, because of the excellent PhD thesis by John McWilliams that emerged from there in 2003. If I work unsupervised until next September, how long should I need? 18 months from September 2009 would be the limit of what I could afford if paying postgraduate fees. This will be a difficult prospect. There are strict postgraduate regulations in place, and universities can be territorial about their PhD theses. ‘Transferring’ is possible, so I understand from research into these postgraduate regulations, but it will be at that department’s discretion.

Lukas asks ‘what about joint-degrees’? I had never contemplated even the possibility of a PhD being awarded by two separate institutions, but I am pleased that the suggestion has arisen. Out of what has felt like a chain of nightmares, this would be a dream solution. It would lessen the sense of failure at leaving. It would make the 18 months feel worthwhile if the PhD was also granted by Geneva. It would keep ties open here whilst retaining Prof. Erne as a supervisor. If this was possible, the language requirement may be covered by the certificates I acquired over the summer (which would make that hellish time worthwhile as well).

This exchange idea would suit perfectly well. It would rightly accredit Geneva’s department for the progress I have made here, but it is unlikely that a UK university will agree to this.

The time can fleet. Into November we trail. I need to make inquiries and set things in motion. Next month, I am planning to attend a John Milton conference at the British Academy. My potential new supervisor will be present, alongside a spectacular elite of mid-seventeenth-century scholars, and most of my academic idols. How wonderful it would be to see my old dissertation supervisor from Bristol, Prof. David Hopkins, heading the bill (it is refreshing and nostalgic to remind myself of the final sentence here). I could line up a collection of books to be signed by these scholars, not least Blair Worden’s book that I reviewed this summer. I need to have made contact before this conference happens, and for all the amazing possibilities that could befall, I am more worried about them crashing down and burning. The future has to be faced; the steps need to be taken. I certainly needed to steady the mind here first.


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