What is a monster? Tracking the evolution and reception of monstrosity in literature from the nineteenth century to modern day

│ By Tania Chakraborti, Gale Ambassador at Durham University │

The idea of what is monstrous has perhaps metamorphosed somewhat since the nineteenth century. Nowadays audiences root for the vampire (Netflix’s The Originals) sympathise with the werewolf (Twilight) or even cheer on the Devil (Netflix’s Lucifer). But in the time of Shelley, Verne and Stoker, monstrosity was far more complex (and far less American high school-orientated!)

Read moreWhat is a monster? Tracking the evolution and reception of monstrosity in literature from the nineteenth century to modern day

The Myth of the Rhinoceros

By Lyndsey England, Gale Ambassador at Durham University
I am a second-year student at Durham University, studying a joint degree in English Literature and History. My main areas of interest are African history and post-colonial literature, but when I’m not tucked away behind a stack of books in a corner of the library or promoting Gale, I’m busy with Durham Student Theatre, working backstage and on the production team for a number of performances each year. In amongst all this, I also try to find the time to write, because I am currently juggling a shamefully large amount of works in progress.

In 1769, writing his ‘Description of Three Hundred Animals’, a document included in Gale’s Eighteenth Century Collections Online, Thomas Boreman presented the rhinoceros as follows:

“He has two girdles upon his body, like the wings of a dragon, from his back down to his belly … his skin is so hard, that no dart is able to pierce it, and covered over with scales, like the shell of a tortoise.”

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Harry Potter: a world of new imaginings

By Tania Chakraborti, Gale Ambassador at Durham University
Tania is a Gale student ambassador and final year English Literature and History student at Durham University. During her time at Durham she has engaged with student journalism, student theatre, and is currently President of the English Literature Society. She finds Gale’s resources invaluable to her studies and is currently using them to explore a dissertation on Winston Churchill’s rhetoric towards India.

Since 1997 when Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published, the Harry Potter series has sold over 500 million copies across the globe, making it the best-selling book series of all time. Of course, I don’t need to tell you this, the wide-reaching influence of Harry Potter is apparent enough for all to see: with a multi-billion-dollar film franchise, a West End Show and even a theme park at Universal Studios Florida, this magical world is clearly subsumed into a mode of popular culture. Any attempt at a brand new interpretation of Harry’s exciting venture into the world of wizardry seems old news, even impossible. Yet, through utilising Gale’s impressive wealth of resources, novel, innovative and informative interpretations of the well-known books can still provide fresh takes on the series.

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‘This is Not A Coup’: Reflections on the Political History of Emmerson Mnangagwa

RIP Robert Mugabe

By Lyndsey England, Gale Ambassador at Durham University
I am a second year student at Durham University, studying a joint degree in English Literature and History. My main areas of interest are African history and post-colonial literature, but when I’m not tucked away behind a stack of books in a corner of the library or promoting Gale, I’m busy with Durham Student Theatre, working backstage and on the production team for a number of performances each year. In amongst all this, I also try to find the time to write, because I am currently juggling a shamefully large amount of works in progress. 

On the 18th of November 2017, the people of Zimbabwe took to the streets of Harare. Men, women and children walked alongside armed military vehicles, shaking hands with soldiers and standing in solidarity with strangers. In a mass demonstration, members of the public marched united through the capital, calling for the resignation of President Robert Gabriel Mugabe. The march was treated as a ground-breaking moment in Zimbabwean history; an unprecedented declaration of the public’s antipathy towards Mr. Mugabe, the war hero who had ruled since the country’s independence in 1980.

Read more‘This is Not A Coup’: Reflections on the Political History of Emmerson Mnangagwa

The Only Way is Wessex: Thomas Hardy’s Cultural Impressions

By Daniel Mercieca, Gale Ambassador at Durham University
Daniel Mercieca is an English Literature finalist, and President of both the English Literature Society and Bede Film Society at Durham University. His main research interests are Film Aesthetics and Screen Adaptation, with further interests in twentieth-century poetry and Romantic poetry. Dan enjoys the independence of thought, interdisciplinary and experimental aspects of studying English and aims to achieve a Master’s in Film and/or Literature. Dan enjoys lyricism and landscapes in the works of Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charlotte Smith and Toni Morrison. His favourite directors include Alfred Hitchcock, Darren Aronofsky, Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan for their suspense, soundtracks and cinematography. If he is not reading books or watching films then he is probably writing, running or trying something new.

“She was not an existence, an experience, a passion, a structure of sensations, to anybody but herself. To all humankind besides Tess was only a passing thought. Even to friends she was no more than a frequently passing thought.” [i]

The well-trodden Dorsetshire heathlands, bustling rustic communities and evanescent ghosts from Thomas Hardy’s folkloric world, Wessex, continue to impress memories of English rural heritage. Hardy’s sensitive capturing of ‘mere impressions of the moment’ in prose and poetry; the cascade of raindrops on a gate, hazy warmth of a barn dance or ghostly silhouette of a horse rider in sea mist, reinvigorates our appreciation of ordinary experience [ii]. This year marks the 90th anniversary of Hardy’s final collection of verse, Winter Words in Various Moods and Meters (1928), whose sombre cadences echo amongst later generations of modern poets and can be found in The Times Historical Archive. The continual resurgence of Hardy’s works in dramatic and televisual adaptations, modern poetry and National Trust Heritage fosters a Wessex mythology which remains vibrant today.

Read moreThe Only Way is Wessex: Thomas Hardy’s Cultural Impressions

Horror and Censorship Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Art of the Cinema’

By Daniel Mercieca, Gale Ambassador at Durham University
Daniel Mercieca is an English Literature finalist, and President of both the English Literature Society and Bede Film Society at Durham University. His main research interests are Film Aesthetics and Screen Adaptation, with further interests in twentieth-century poetry and Romantic poetry. Dan enjoys the independence of thought, interdisciplinary and experimental aspects of studying English and aims to achieve a Master’s in Film and/or Literature. Dan enjoys lyricism and landscapes in the works of Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charlotte Smith and Toni Morrison. His favourite directors include Alfred Hitchcock, Darren Aronofsky, Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan for their suspense, soundtracks and cinematography. If he is not reading books or watching films then he is probably writing, running or trying something new.

Since the March 2018 Facebook and Cambridge Analytica controversies, censorship and data protection have come under an intense spotlight in today’s digitised society. While we become increasingly sceptical of surveillance, and cautious of what we post online, it is important to appreciate those who have struggled to be fully seen and heard. The efforts of writers and filmmakers to overcome issues of (in)visibility have consistently featured in my study of literature at university; Elizabeth Gaskell’s serialisation in Charles Dickens’ Household Words magazine, 1850-51 (she was restricted from publishing independently because of her gender), the Brontë sisters’ use of male pseudonyms, and the 1918 posthumous publication of Gerard Manly Hopkins’s poetry due to his Jesuitical vow of obedience, are all examples of nineteenth-century censorship.

Read moreHorror and Censorship Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Art of the Cinema’

‘Sporadic riots’ and ‘false reports’ – British Reporting of the 1929 Igbo Women’s War

By Tom Henderson, Gale Ambassador at Durham University
I am a second-year Durham historian, research scholar and Treasurer of Durham University History Society. I use Gale’s archives to enhance my work and interrogate historiography, as well as browsing for fun in newspapers and advertisements (yes, really). My main interests include intellectual history, religion, feminism and music. In the world outside the library I enjoy choral singing, football, and excessive quantities of tea.

In December 1929, British newspapers reported on ‘sporadic riots’ taking place in the British colony of Nigeria, targeting Warrant Chiefs and Native Courts across several districts. This was the Ogu Umunwaanyi or ‘Women’s War’: a coordinated insurrection of Igbo women against British colonial rule, ignited by a fear of taxation.

Read more‘Sporadic riots’ and ‘false reports’ – British Reporting of the 1929 Igbo Women’s War

Fashion and the Eighteenth-Century Public Sphere: from Tatler to Twitter

By Daniel Mercieca, Gale Ambassador at Durham University
Daniel Mercieca is an English Literature finalist and President of both the English Literature Society and Bede Film Society at Durham University. His main research interests are imagined spaces in film and screen adaptation, with further interests in memory and motion in twentieth-century and Romantic poetry. Dan enjoys the independence of thought, interdisciplinary and experimental aspects of studying English and aims to achieve an MA in Film and/or Literature. Dan enjoys lyricism and landscapes in the works of Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charlotte Smith and Sylvia Plath. His favourite directors include Alfred Hitchcock, Darren Aranofsky, Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan for their suspense, soundtracks and cinematography. If he is not reading books or watching films then he is probably writing, running or trying something new.

‘Since t’is the intent and business of the stage,
To copy out the follies of the age
To hold to every man a glass,
And show him of what species he’s an ass’.[1]
– John Vanbrugh

The sharp, epigrammatic wit of John Vanbrugh’s preface to The Provoked Wife (1697), reflects the theatricality of eighteenth-century audiences and exposes the wider hypocrisy of the ‘Public Sphere’[2]. After the Restoration of Charles II, the New Printing Act (1662) led to a watershed of publishing and print culture in Britain[3]; a society in which political sentiments and private identities bled into each other. The torrent of periodicals, pamphlets and magazines circulated gossip and popular opinion, cultivating a highly self-conscious and extravagant nation.

Read moreFashion and the Eighteenth-Century Public Sphere: from Tatler to Twitter

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