Keeping it très réel en Paris…

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’.

Fromagerie, Rue Mouffetard

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.

La Tour Eiffel

 

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…

 

Mad About Oscar

Semester Two teaching is underway, which in my e-learning land means my third year undergraduate module on Fin de Siècle Writing and Culture.  Unlike my Victorians module from last semester, this course includes less online sessions (four in total rather than seven) and they are assessed to the tune of 25% of the overall mark.

The course starts with a few weeks introducing the class to ‘key terms’ of the period — namely, Aestheticism, Decadence and Degeneration.  Week 2 is on Oscar Wilde and Decadence.  Wilde is an endlessly fascinating figure and I’ve taught myself quite a lot about him since I have been teaching this course.  His presence and ‘influence’ (to cite a word so potent in The Picture of Dorian Gray) in the 1880s and ’90s are phenomenal.   This is one session where I devote a great deal of time to talking about Wilde’s life, in detail, because, as Francesca Coppa has argued, ’Wilde’s first and foremost invention [was] the performed persona of “Oscar Wilde”.  If there is one thing that makes us feel that Wilde, dead for over one hundred years now, is our contemporary, a man who would be perfectly at home in the world of Andy Warhol and Madonna, David Bowie, Baz Lurhmann, and The Osbournes, it is his understanding of the self as performance’ (Francesca Coppa, ‘Performance theory and performativity’ in Oscar Wilde Studies, ed. Frederick Rosen [Palgrave, 2004], p. 73).  

Our first online session involves using the Trials of Oscar Wilde site and the class are invited to discuss how The Picture of Dorian Gray is used in the libel trial by the Marquess of Queensbury’s counsel, Edward Carson.   The session takes a while to get going, perhaps in part because it is the first session and some are unfamiliar with such online discussions.  Each of my online sessions lasts a week, kicking off with the day of the class, and after 4 days only half the class have posted.  I send some reminder emails, and in the latter part of the week the forum really takes off, with some interesting and engaged discussion being posted about Wilde’s stance as an aesthete in the dock, about art versus life, about literature being used as a way of ascertaining biography, about the reclaiming of the word ‘shame’ by writers such as Alfred Douglas (in poems such as ‘Two Loves’ and ‘In Praise of Shame’) and much else besides.

The class also have an online ‘Salon’ forum where they can post in a general sense  about this module.  Last term having a general forum space was really taken up and ‘owned’ by my Victorians class.  It can’t ever be manufactured, and it’s up to the class, ultimately, but as a first step I invite them to submit some names for their Salon.  We had a vote this morning and ‘The Yellow Room’ won, closely followed by ‘Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder’, ‘The Fin de Semester’ and my particular favourite, ‘The Van HesINN’.  That’s the spirit!  I leave a virtual copy of The Yellow Book around by way of an image of one of the periodical’s distinctive covers.

The Yellow Book, Volume 1 (1894) I’m fortunate enough actually to own a complete run of The Yellow Book, and last week I brought in a couple of volumes for the class to see.  I’ve also this last week purchased a set of The Savoy and a facsimile edition of The Chameleon, the undergraduate magazine in which Douglas’s notorious poems appeared, and Wilde’s ‘Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young’.