writing


Since my children returned to school the push has been on to complete the final stages of my book manuscript.  It’s due to go to the publisher at the end of September, so I’ve been doing all the tedious things that come with completion.  Things like making sure all the images that I am using were sorted out.  Unfortunately, I my application for a grant to pay for several broadside images was declined, so I’ve had to think very carefully about what I was going to use as illustrations.  I couldn’t afford to self-fund as many broadside images as I would have used if I’d been given a grant, because as well as the cost of paying for high quality digital images, there is the payment of permissions to consider.  So I’ve settled on two high quality images of broadsides from the British Library, one of which illustrates my first major case study about the production of broadside ballads and the other is the first English broadside ballad to appear with music. On the plus side, the fact that there won’t be so many bought-in images means that I can concentrate on scores. I’ve always wanted to include as many musical examples as possible, so I’ve been able to use those extra images to provide settings of several more ballads, including a couple of conjectural settings.  These show that some of the broadsides which look like ballads but don’t include a tune direction could easily have been sung.

There are other tedious things that I’ve been doing.  I’ve had to check that all the entries in the footnotes and bibliography are consistent; that spellings which aren’t uniform in the period are nevertheless uniform in the book text; that the spacing between paragraphs and quotations is correct; and even things as simple as renaminng image files with their figure numbers.

Then I reached a bit of a dead end.  I could continue to tinker with the text, because it’s there and it’s easy to do.  But I’m not convinced that it’s getting any better!  I can’t send it off to the publisher yet, because I’m waiting for a friend to read through the whole text and get back to me with any howlers, typos, repetition, ugly prose, confusing bits – all the sorts of things that when you’ve been working on the same text for several years, you can no longer see!  So I’ve put it to one side and I’m looking at a couple of other things, and there will be more on those later.

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Last Friday saw the publication of my first full length, peer-reviewed article, Verse Epitaphs and the Memorialisation of Women in Reformation England, commissioned by Liz Oakley-Brown when she was editor of the Renaissance section of Literature Compass.  I’m happy to say that it comes with its own teaching and learning guide, as well as supporting materials such as a ballad recording and a video abstract, although when I try to access the video abstract from the Literature Compass page, it takes me not to my abstract but to one by Jolyon Thomas.  Not that I’m not interested in the religious policy of modern Japan…  And frankly, I’d much rather watch someone other than me…

Anyway, it’s a nice way to start what promises to be an eventful week, because on Thursday I will be speaking at the Early Modern British History Seminar at Oxford University.  The title of my paper is ‘Text, Truth and Tonality in Mid-Tudor Ballads’. 

I’m also enjoying getting to know a bit more about twentieth century history, both for my tutoring of GCSE history pupils and my teaching at Holy Cross College for Liverpool Hope, although juggling all my different roles is proving interesting.

I’ve been doing a lot of work on ballad epitaphs in recent months, inspired by a William Elderton ballad entitled A proper new balad of my ladie marques, Whose death is bewailed To the tune of new lusty gallant. The first thing that caught my attention was the fact that the epitaph had a named, known tune; the second, nowhere in the ballad does Elderton name his Lady Marques.Back in November last year, Notes and Queries published online my article identifying the lady in question as the Marchioness of Northampton, Elizabeth Parr.1   The ballad also features quite heavily in my. forthcoming piece for Literature Compass. What I’d like to talk about over my next few blog posts are a few aspects of the ballad that didn’t make it into the final cut of either article, but that I. nevertheless think are very interesting.   Elderton’s ballad fits into a tradition of verse eulogies and topical song, utilising the familiar sixteenth-century theme of female piety. But frankly, it’s odd that he didn͛t include the Ladie Marques’s name, because the purpose of an epitaph is to keep the deceased in the minds of the  living. That Elderton chose to leave out her name is fascinating, not least because the marchiones’s character is central to the song. In fact, when we know the marchioness͛s name, a multivalent reading of the ballad is possible. The song is not simply an epitaph, it is a genre-defying chimera. It speaks to different audiences about different things. It’s a ballad containing universal themes that everyone encounters; it reflects changes brought about by the Reformation; it is clearly intended to raise money through sales but it also directly begs for charity from the ladies of the court! In addressing audiences both at court and on the street, the song demonstrates the overlapping markets for cheap print. Finally, knowing the marchioness͛s name helps to explain why the balladwas published in 1569, some time after her death.

William Elderton is probably the best known of the mid-Tudor balladeers, but, like so many of his popular song-writing contemporaries, we know very little about his life. An Elderton is known to have been at court during the reign of Edward VI, when he took part in the 1552 Christmas festivities as an actor.2  His first known ballad, The panges of loue and louers fits, was published in 1559.3  By the late 1560s, William Elderton was an experienced and apparently successful balladeer. The eminent ballad scholar, Hyder E. Rollins cites John Stow and Henry Machyn as evidence that duringthe 1560s Elderton was also an attorney in the sheriff’s court at the Guidhall.4

Nevertheless, it appears that the Ladie Marques had been Elderton’s patron, someone for whom he could “spend the time to speake and writte”. As she was the daughter of George Brooke, baron Cobham, Elizabeth was also a niece of the court poet, Sir Thomas Wyatt. It is possible that this relationship accounts for her interest in Elderton. Although Elderton’s doggerel verse and Wyatt’s lyric poetry are hardly comparable in literary terms, Elizabeth Goldring commented that “There seems little reason… to doubt that Elderton was well known in Elizabethan literary circles, even if his contemporaries found his capacity for alcohol more noteworthy than his poetry”.5 But Elderton clearly had more than one string to his bow if he were an actor as well as a balladeer, so maybe it was in the position of acting that he had been, in some way, Elizabeth Parr’s client.
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1 Jenni Hyde,’William Elderton’s Ladie Marques Identified’, Notes and Queries,  260:4, pp. 541-2. 

2 Elizabeth Goldring, ‘Elderton, William (d. in or before 1592)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online ed., ed. Lawrence Goldman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), accessed November 19, 2013; http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/8614.

3 William Elderton, The panges of loue and louers ftts, (London: 1559), STC (2nd ed.) / 7561.

4 Hyder E. Rollins,’William Elderton: Elizabethan Actor and Ballad-Writer’, Studies in Philology 17:2, pp. 205-6.

5 Goldring, ‘Elderton, William (d. in or before 1592)’.

 An interesting headstone is caught by the evening sun. Beedon Manor behind. © Copyright Graham Horn and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

An interesting headstone is caught by the evening sun. Beedon Manor behind.
© Copyright Graham Horn and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

It’s almost a year since I handed in my PhD thesis, even though it’s only 6 months since it was all done and dusted. Since then, I’ve written some local history and investigated my family history; sent off an article and a book proposal; attended a couple of brilliant conferences; given some advice about ballads to the BBC; had a short article accepted by Notes and Queries; and I’ve been commissioned to write an article on epitaph ballads for Literature Compass. It’s this last item that I’m working on at the moment, and I’ve spent the last few days updating the secondary reading that I did a couple of years ago when I was working on William Elderton’s ballad about the dead Lady Marques. I’ve by no means finished the reading – I’ve still got a shelf-full to be getting on with – but I wanted to share some initial thoughts, not so much about what I’ve read as about the way it was expressed.

I have spent a couple of days with Scott Newstok’s Quoting Death in Early Modern England (Basingstoke, 2009). It was, in many ways, a really interesting read. Newstok is particularly concerned with place: that is, locating the dead through an epitaph and especially the epitaphic phrase ‘Here lies’. Quite rightly, his book has been praised for its ‘sharp analysis’ and ‘insight’ into the way early modern playwrights and poets used epitaphs to ensure that the dead were placed by a text in the minds of the living. It was well worth reading, perhaps especially for the unexpectedly touching content of the epilogue, which described how the need to commemorate the dead continues into the twenty-first century, even when crisis undermines the social norms. As he comments, the writing of an epitaph ‘fulfils something deeply human within us, noted throughout this study as the desire to locate the body, to put it to rest beneath a text. The text itself – that core epitaphic phrase, in particular – goes beyond merely covering the corpse…; it recovers the corpse as having been a human body’. But although the content of the book opened new ways of looking at epitaphs, I had a big problem with the way in which it was written. As you can see from the quotation above, Newstok’s prose is littered with dashes, italics and (though there aren’t any in that short extract) quotation marks that made it incredibly difficult  for me to read. It’s not all that unusual for me to have to read things more than once in order to make sure that I’ve understood what the author was trying to say, though I much prefer texts where the author is able to write clearly enough for me to ‘get it’ first time. It’s very unusual for me to have to read a single sentence over and over again to work out what the significance of the italics or the quotation marks was, and how it might change what I thought I’d read. Nevertheless, I’d like to reiterate that I thought what he had to say was not only useful and insightful (as I hope you’ll see when I finish the piece for Literature Compass), but also that it might change the way we think about the early modern epitaph, and that would be no bad thing.


William Elderton, A proper new balad in praise of my Ladie Marques,whose Death is bewailed to the Tune of New lusty gallant (London, 1568).
Reviews of Scott Newstok, Quoting Death in Early Modern England: The Poetics of Epitaphs Beyond the Tomb (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) by Philip Major, pp. 838-839, in The Modern Language Review, Vol. 105, No. 3 (July 2010), p.838 and by Sarah Covington, pp. 338-339, in Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 63, No. 1 (Spring 2010), p.339.
Newstok, Quoting Death, p.190.

Today I started a new phase of my life: I am officially an independent researcher.  It’s not a role I’d have chosen, if I’m honest, and, so far at least, it’s not one I’m particularly enjoying.  In fact, after one day on the job, I’m finding it incredibly frustrating. My institutional access ran out last week, while I was away on holiday, so I’ve got no database access, but that isn’t the main problem at the moment. All I’ve been trying to do is access Jstor via my alumni access.  After several attempts at logging in via the alumni portal on the Manchester Unviersity website, I managed to carry out a search that didn’t instantly return to the ‘you are not logged in’ screen.  I downloaded a few articles, none of which told me what I wanted to know, then I did a bit of writing on my epitaph ballad article.  Then I logged back in to Jstor, tried to carry out another search and again, as soon as I hit ‘search’, the results screen told me I’m no longer logged in.  I have repeated the process, repeatedly, but to no avail.  This evening, Jstor isn’t having any of it.  It’s tedious, time consuming and trying, and I’m not happy.

The good news is that Notes and Queries have taken my short piece identifying William Elderton’s Ladie Marques, and it should appear in the December 2015 issue.  That makes me very happy indeed.

Yesterday I logged in to my Manchester University library account and discovered that I can no longer renew my books.  This came as a bit of a surprise.  There’s nothing urgent, you understand, it just brought home to me the fact that, slowly and surely, I’m being set adrift in the big, wide world again.  I still sit here at my desk and get on with my work, but Chicken Licken keeps telling me that the sky is falling in, and he’s right. One day soon, I’ll attempt to log in to the State Papers Online or EEBO, only to find that access is denied. It’s not a day I’m looking forward to at all.  I no longer count as a student in the eyes of the university – I haven’t, actually, since last October.

I am academically homeless.

I think the proper, or at least more normal, term is ‘independent researcher’, and maybe ‘academically homeless’ sounds a bit needy, but it reflects quite accurately how I feel.  There’s security in a big institution and not just in the shape of database access.

Research and writing at the moment comes in fits and starts, broken by rounds of job applications and fellowship applications.  I have a book proposal to write (who warned you about needing to learn that new skill when you started out?) and I am haunted from day to day by the ever-present spectre of John Roberts.  Sometime in the next few weeks I’m going to decide whether to write the article again from scratch or knock him on the head for good.  It might well be the latter, in the interests of the book.  Maybe dead horses should not be flogged, as my Fiend once said.  The trouble is that I never was very good at giving up on things.

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