Summer Travel Tales

The beginning of the fall semester means that members of our department make their way back to Berkeley from many corners of the globe. Though many students and faculty stay around campus in the summer, there are just as many that jet off to far-away places to learn, study, research or, sometimes, just to have fun.

In fact, two grad students from the English Department spent this past summer in Europe doing preliminary research for their dissertations. Ruth Baldwin, currently a fourth year in the department, won a grant from the Center for British Studies to do summer research at the British Library in London and the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. Ruth is beginning work on a dissertation that investigates the way that the early nineteenth-century novel re-imagined criminality by poaching on “real life” biographies of famous criminals. She spent her days elbow deep in criminal biographies and crime novels of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Back in Berkeley now, Ruth is turning this research into important insights about the the way the novel form enabled the mythologization of criminal figures.

At the same time, John Lurz, another fourth-year graduate student was wading through the bureaucracy of the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris to find an ever deeper morass in the manuscript notebooks of Marcel Proust. Having won a Summer Research Grant from the Graduate Division, John was examining Proust’s unconventional treatment of his manuscripts, the way he liked to paste in long extensions to the tops and bottoms of his notebooks pages to add a passage or give himself more room to write. While Proust doesn’t exactly fall in the middle of the English-language canon, John’s dissertation focuses on the way the modernist novel started to conceive of the materiality of print and writing as something that could influence a writer’s and a reader’s relationship to a literary work. Though he reports spending hours looking at microfilms of Proust’s indecipherable handwriting, he also was able to request to examine a few original notebooks, a thrilling experience to be sure. Back in Berkeley, John is trying to conceive what to do with his pages of notes but says he has confidence that something will come of it.