Ms E-Mentor is currently not being very virtual, or particularly online. I’ve been doing a few of my VLE ‘demo’ visits to UK English departments, and most recently enjoyed meeting colleagues at the University of Chester. Professor Deborah Wynne, who invited me, told me she was once an undergraduate at Wolverhampton, which was nice to discover.
But Ms E-Mentor has undoubtedly been busy. Very busy. Last Friday I was part of le jury des thèses à la Sorbonne, en Paris, for a PhD candidate who had written on William Morris and the book arts and his influence into the early twentieth century on presses such as the Eragny Press of Lucien Pissarro and the Cranach Press in Germany. This involved my having to resussitate my very rusty A-Level French and I had a fortnight of quite intensive French revision.
The bonus, of course, was that I had 48 hrs à Paris. I was staying in the cinquième arrondissement, près de la Rue Mouffetard, which is fabulous: it’s a long, narrow, medieval street full of wonderful shops. I had simply forgotten how well les français ‘do food’.
Les poissons, charcuterie, fromagerie, les légumes et les fruits — tous sont merveilleux! As I wandered along this street, several times during my stay as it took me from my hotel to the Sorbonne, I thought that some things will never ever be replaceable by the virtual.
I was so trigger happy after the viva that I decided to be a complete tourist and go all the way up La Tour Eiffel. Par nuit. Me and a few hundred loved-up teengaers. There’s no doubting that La Tour Eiffel is a nineteenth-century wonder of engineering and ingenuity, and as I stood underneath it I figured that it was going to have to make an entry into my introductory lecture on the Victorians to the First Years this week.
On the Saturday morning I also made a bit of a pilgrimage to La Tombe d’Oscar Wilde, crée par Jacob Epstein in 1912. La Cimetière Père-Lachaise is well worth a visit. It’s the Highgate Cemetery of Paris, where the great and the good wish to be buried, although — having never visited Highgate — I imagine it’s a bit less gloomy. Really, it’s a kind of nineteenth and twentieth century sculptural feast of ways of remembering the dead.
I had seen a photo of Wilde’s tomb, and partly because I am just such a big fan of Wilde, and have been teaching him for several years, I knew that one day I wanted to visit. And it’s still quite a tourist attraction. There’s an official sign that says “Please respect the tomb of Oscar Wilde” … and then there’s the graffitti! It’s quite simply fabulous, and it’s hard not to think that Oscar would have loved the fact that people write quotes by him on the tomb (“either this wallpaper goes or I do”) AND that it is covered in lipstick kisses. His name had been outlined all the way round in bright red lipstick. My French PhD student told me that one of the kisses was hers.
To my shame I did not bring green carnations, or even lilies. I was slightly put off by the extortionate price of flowers in the flower shops en les environs de la cimetière. But the excessive, wasteful gesture of buying expensive, over-priced flowers and leaving them to die in a day or two at Wilde’s tomb is surely what I should have done. I’ll have to go back.
A few ‘blocks’ further on I found Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas’s grave. No one else interested in that at all except me on a Saturday morning, and it’s not a sculpturally showy grave, but I was quietly pleased they were buried together.
And now, back home, I’ve spent yesterday and this morning working up my ‘Introduction to the Victorian Period’ lecture. Paris is going to get a mention…