In this edition:
Message from the board
by Reinou Anker-Sollie
Dear all, we hope you had a very nice Easter and that you’re enjoying the dry, sunny spells as much as you can. For the less dry and sunny spells we have prepared some reading material for you. Hope you enjoy reading it, as much as the writers enjoyed writing it! Please pay some extra attention to our Save the Dates item, it is quite interesting ;-).
Hope to see you soon, either in an online discussion about next month’s book on Literal or in real life in Diever!
Save the dates!
Shakespeare in Diever
Join us for a lovely late summer dollop of Shakepeare? We will be in Diever on Friday, 15th of September, attending Hans Jansens’ annual lecture attentively, after which we will watch the play, Anthony and Cleopatra. Tickets are still available here. Let us know if you will be there. We will bring victuals!
On 4 November 1998, the Alumni Association English Groningen was founded. Twenty-five years later, we want to celebrate this happy occasion of our Silver Jubilee. Please save the date of 4 November 2023 to join us. If you have any ideas or suggestions for this event, please don’t hesitate to let us know!
Literal – The New Book app
by Elke Maasbommel
Do you have any bookish apps? The most famous one is called Goodreads, which tracks every single book you’ve read. This app tells me that I have read twenty books so far this year, that I’ve read 457 books in total, that I have 15 friends, and the club I’ve joined has 10.000 members. Oh, and according to this app, the best book ever written is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling, with a score of 4.62 out of five, according to 3,464,013 ratings. Well, that’s quite a number overload, isn’t it? To me, Goodreads is too much about numbers, and not enough about literature. And that’s where Literal comes in.
Literal is quite a new app, and is especially designed for book lovers such as me: it’s not focused on stats, and it doesn’t care about the latest bookish trends. Instead, it shows reviews about the books you’ve read, gives you recommendations, and you can join book clubs based on your personal interests. But you can also create your very own clubs – which is exactly what we did.
Please come join us at the Alumni Club English book club at literal! Download the Literal app, write a personal profile, and use the following link: https://literal.club/club/alumni-club-english. We plan to read a book every month, which we will then discuss in the app. This way, you will gain new insights and you’ll never have to read your books on your own anymore!
This month (May), we’re reading Jonathan Coe’s latest novel Bournville, which is about Mary Lamb, who was born and raised in the Cadbury-owned village of Bournville, close to Birmingham. The book is not only about Mary, but also about an England that changed almost unrecognisably in the second half of the twentieth century and beyond. Through historic events such as the World Cup of 1966 and the death of Diana until the Covid pandemic, we learn how the English view themselves, their country, and the world.
What are your views on this book? Please join us at Literal, and let us know!
Great Eggspectations … and great disappointments…
by Ammeris Moss-de Boer
As I had a visit to the UK planned in the run-up to Easter, I got the idea to surprise the kids with a chocolate egg.
Yes, more and more stores in the Netherlands sell them these days, but nothing is more original than a propah Eastah Egg from Engerland for them. As I have quite demanding kids (… no comment, apart from: teenagers), I decided to bypass Tesco or Sainsbury’s and have a look in a more up-market department store. As I had never been to Liberty’s (it’s definitely worth a visit, if not for the architecture, then definitely for the fabric department!), I headed there first. As it had just started to rain a bit, the timing was perfect. But like at Harrods, the prices were quite eh… out of my range, really! They all looked beautiful, and they flew off the shelves (more tourists had thought of coming here to shelter from the rain) but… however much I like my chocolate, if you want to buy an easter egg as a fun gift and see that the eggs here (yes, filled with an assortment of mini eggs and lovely flavours and packagings) are upwards of 50 pounds, the effect is more eye-watering than mouth-watering…
I ended up leaving the store eggless and clueless. Was it just me, or were these chocolate eggs just ridiculously expensive? Luckily, Tesco did have some more affordable options, with a lovely Galaxy Cookie Crumble jumbo egg (500 grams) or a slightly smaller Lindt Milk Chocolate Egg with truffles for just 15 pounds…
But still, the chocolate industry, like other products, seems to suffer badly from shrinkflation. Smaller eggs, bigger prizes… The Cadbury Crème Egg Easter Egg XL — which in our house is the gold standard — has gone down in size compared to last year, from 275 grams to 235 grams, while still costing 5 pounds. The same is true for the Ferrero Rocher Egg (yumm!!!) which has slimmed down from 275 grams to 250 grams, while still costing the same…
So, what eggs will we be tapping this Easter? Your guess is as good as mine. No special Easter Eggs from the UK at any rate, but I do hear that Jamin now also has cream eggs in its shops…
Photo credits: the top picture is the Easter Showstopper Peacock Feather Egg on sale at Harrods (a steal at 250 pounds). Below the famous Cadbury creme eggs.
Review: Waiting for Godot
by Marjan Brouwers
In February we were shaken up by the news that GUTS was not allowed to perform the play Waiting for Godot in the Usva Theatre. ‘All-male play banned because only men were allowed to audition’, UKrant reported: ‘GUTS, which has been rehearsing for the play since November and was going to perform it in March, was informed of the decision last week. As far as Usva is concerned, auditioning only men is at odds with the university’s diversity policy.’
The reason only men were called to audition was that playwright Samuel Becket recorded a clause stating that the play must be performed following his strict instructions as to staging, as well as casting. He insisted that only male actors are allowed to play the five parts in the play. He enforced these rules strictly. In 1988, for instance, he sued a Dutch group for casting women for the play and since his death in 1989, his estate has rigidly stuck to his instructions. Deviating from this rule means risking a pricy lawsuit.
When GUTS decided to perform the play, the members were not happy about these restrictions but voted to perform the play anyway. After all, Waiting for Godot is a very important, influential play and although the actors are all male, the GUTS crew is a diverse lot. Naturally, the cancellation by Usva came as a big shock, but fortunately, GUTS did not give up. In April, they performed the play aboard De Verwondering and in Theater der Aa.
We (Marjan and Ammerins) went to the opening night on De Verwondering and enjoyed every minute. The actors performed on a tiny stage for some forty people crammed together, glasses of beer and wine at hand. It was funny, physical, philosophical, absurd, and sad at the same time. Personally, I am glad I got to see it. Still, I hope Beckett’s descendants will see reason and allow theatre companies to divert from instructions that are way out of time. But I fear waiting for this will take a very long time. At least till 2059.
Photo credits: Ammerins Moss-de Boer and Marjan Brouwers
In my ‘seventies
By Henk Dragstra
In this year’s issues of The Anglophile, three alumni of the ‘Seventies shared their reminiscences of that era. Here for a conclusion are some memories that focus on the end of the decade and on some changes leading into the next.
With my doctoraal completed in August 1971, I suppose I nominally qualify as an alumnus of the ‘seventies. Most of my time in that early year of the decade went into writing my final theses and into a job to pay for my fees. The efforts of those austere post-candidate years paid off: upon my graduation, the department offered me a position as a junior lecturer. With the MO training course attracting more and more students, staff were in short supply at the time. So, most of my memories of the seventies are not those of a former student, but of a former junior staff member, in the OTL (‘Oudere Taal- en Letterkunde’) section.
The Arts Building in the early ‘70s. Picture courtesy of Fred Adams.
My first teaching was in freshman courses, mostly Modern Language Acquisition, plus a bit of Phonetics and Old English. One could not help noticing that most students were reluctant to learn a language that looked and sounded like a parody of Frisian, but had lain unused for almost a thousand years. Academically, Old English was of course very interesting, but in the ‘seventies students did not particularly wish to be academic.
Most undergraduates of my own generation had not been partial to ‘Anglo-Saxon’ either, but as former Gymnasium pupils they tended to take the learning of dead languages in their stride. Those who didn’t, chose to skip classes and lectures, spending their time in pleasanter pursuits, until their grants (or Daddy’s patience) ran out.
In the late ‘sixties, students of the M.O. course started to outnumber the ‘academic’ students. In 1972, they continued to do so, but no longer with the M.O. badge: their secondary school diplomas now entitled them to a place in the ‘academic’ curriculum. Which, together with other shifts in the social fabric of the country, introduced a new and often quite rebellious spirit to it.
Students whose aim was essentially to become secondary school teachers or translators felt their time could be used to better purpose than Old English verb forms. Middle English, which I was soon also assigned to teach, offered more accessible entertainment like the Canterbury Tales, and, perhaps, Sir Gawayn. But the teaching style current in the OTL section did little to capitalize on this appeal.
Professor Johannes (Hans) Gerritsen around the time of his retirement, 1985. Photo from his Festschrift Historical and Editorial Studies in Medieval and Early Modern English, ed. Mary-Jo Arn and Hanneke Wirtjes, with Hans Jansen (Groningen: Wolters-Noordhoff, 1985).
In the nineteenth century, much progress in the study of historical texts had been made by scholars specialized in language history, viz. historical grammar and historical phonology. Germany especially had produced many specialists, known as Junggrammatiker (or ‘Neogrammarians’). Young they may have been in the 1870’s, but a century later they were dead, and most of their field of research had been thoroughly cropped. Professor Gerritsen, the head of the OTL section, was an admirer and follower of them: the major part of his and his staff’s teaching consisted of historical linguistics, with some textual scholarship, and very little else.
Gerritsen, in a word, was a philologist, a scholar dedicated to establishing facts and refuting fallacies about historical texts. His exams typically involved the reading aloud of, say, The Miller’s Tale, with all the vowels pronounced and explained according to set rules, followed by translation into modern English, and concluding with some questions about the text’s background. To the OTL staff, Old and Middle English texts were essentially historical documents, and ‘Oudere Taal- en Letterkunde’ really meant Oudere Taalkunde.
Eduard Sievers, a prominent Neogrammarian. His Angelsächsische Grammatik, updated as Altenglische Grammatik by Karl Brunner, was the uncontested standard work in its field for over half a century. (Picture from Wikipedia).
In the MLK (‘Moderne Letterkunde’) section, ‘Letterkunde’ was another thing altogether. Professor David Wilkinson, the head of that section, did not profess himself a philologist, Heaven forbid, but a literary critic, in the great tradition of Samuel Johnson, Matthew Arnold, and F.R. Leavis. Critics do not pursue solid fact, but sound judgment: Wilkinson discarded the scholarship that Gerritsen represented as inessential to his students’ appreciation of literary texts. Like E.M. Forster, he thought of all the good English novel writers as coexisting in a timeless room where historical differences were negligible. Like Leavis, he was a strong believer in the ability of his students to comprehend and enjoy great texts by their own—though soundly tutored—lights.
Professor David Wilkinson giving his farewell speech, late ‘80’s. Photo probably by Kees Hartmans.
As a result, there was much literary criticism and little textual scholarship going on in the MLK section. This helped students like myself to have more sorely needed confidence in our own intelligence and taste. But it did not provide much training in the writing of literary studies according to academic standards. If you wrote a thesis for Gerritsen, and got his approval, the result might with some extra work be publishable; if Wilkinson liked your work, as he often did, it was not likely to go anywhere beyond his praise and your satisfaction. Apart from ‘close reading’, there did not seem to be much formal method to the Leavisite approach; nor did Leavis claim that there was.
Samuel Johnson, portrait by Joshua Reynolds. From Wikimedia commons.
Two chairs; two Professors; two totally different approaches to literary scholarship. A student who had been parsing the Old English Seafarer in a nine to ten class and followed it up with a discussion of The Ancient Mariner in the next hour experienced a sea change, stepping from one world into another that had nothing in common with it, methodically or otherwise. Even the Wife of Bath’s Tale, entertaining as it might be, was never presented to students as a work of literary art in the OTL section. A chance of presenting the English literary heritage as one coherent whole, which could be studied wholly, was being passed up, deliberately, because two professors did not see eye to eye. The continuity of the curriculum fell between two chairs.
Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: The beginning of the Wife of Bath’s Tale. Ellesmere Manuscript, source Wikipedia.
My Harting year at Sheffield University had taught me that the Groningen way of teaching Old and Middle English culture was not the only way. Historical linguistics played only a minor part there, while lecturers like young Jeff Lester, with his colourful slide shows and witty comments, proved that even the austere world of the Anglo-Saxons could be made fascinating. Unfortunately, the chasm between the chairs there was as deep as it was in Groningen. The Modern Literature department was headed, sort of, by William Empson, a former celebrity now hopelessly given to drink, and to repeating what he had done decades before.
As a lecturer teaching and examining Chaucer in Groningen, I became convinced that his work could be made so much more enjoyable if literary evaluation was given its due. And since no other staff members seemed to concur, I decided to start looking for instruction in this matter, so that I could pass it on to my students. I figured I had to become a student again, and to study abroad.
At that stage, the department had not yet been able to offer me tenure; I would be in a stronger position if I could provide teaching that was not otherwise available. So, I looked around for places where Medieval literature was taught qua literature, inquired about grants, and in 1975 found what I wanted. Remarkably, I found it in the US, not the UK.
On this quest much help and guidance were given me by the Netherlands America Commission for Educational Exchange, which steered me towards various tests such as TOEFL and GRE, presented me with a choice of American universities, and even awarded me a Fulbright-Hays travel and insurance grant.
The place they recommended was the State University of New York at Binghamton, not long-established, but all the more ambitious and up-and-coming. Its Medieval and Renaissance Centre busily organized conferences and published papers. It had a Medieval Society with an annual festival where members came dressed à la médiévale (most of them as reincarnations of lords and ladies, very few as common labourers, so I was to notice later). Most importantly, SUNY was willing to take me on for a year, waiving my tuition and paying me a small stipend in exchange for teaching assistance.
Trying to look my medievalest; the building in the background is the graduate dorm.
Meanwhile, Professor Gerritsen had come to appreciate the usefulness of importing some new expertise, prompted by Zack Bowen, the head of the English Department at SUNY. If I was going to vacate a teaching position in Groningen, Bowen suggested, what about replacement? Would a recent SUNY Medieval Studies Ph.D. be eligible for that position?
This proposal proved very attractive to Gerritsen, especially after looking at the c.v.’s of three candidates recommended by Bowen. One of them had some experience teaching at sub-university level, including Writing and Composition, or Rhetoric as it was called at the time. Writing skills had become a weak spot in our department: apart from most Gymnasium-bred students, freshmen tended to be poorly trained. Essays were of course regular requirements for various subjects (vakken), but the writing of them was never taught as a craft in its own right. A skilled coach, and a method of teaching, would be most welcome, Gerritsen thought, so an arrangement with SUNY was proposed. This person was to receive three fourths of my salary throughout the year, with one fourth continuing to be paid to me.
The person chosen by Gerritsen for this job was Mary-Jo Arn, a lady with good credentials and, as it turned out, plenty of spirit. I came to an agreement with her that she and her husband would go to live in my house during the year while I stayed in a ‘dorm’ on the SUNY campus.
The SUNY-Binghamton campus, 1976-77.
My life on and off that campus would be too long a story to tell here, so I’ll stick to the most academic facts. The teaching I had to do was minimal, but fun; and with the campus rather isolated from the rest of the world, I got a lot of studying and writing done. As far as Chaucer was concerned, the course I found most helpful was Professor Francis Newman’s ‘Literary Criticism of the Canterbury Tales’—just what I needed, and very helpful both for my later teaching and the dissertation I was writing. A major discovery for me was Charles Muscatine’s Chaucer and the French Tradition, a book not only untaught in Groningen, but unheard of in almost all Dutch university libraries. And thanks to a fellow graduate student who offered me a ride and a bed, I was able to attend the annual Medieval Conference in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a major event in the field.
Undergraduates at SUNY seemed to spend most of their time having fun, like these conga players who on warm days kept up their drumming from morning till evening. Graduate life was more austere: the only rhythms coming from their dorms were produced by typewriters.
Much general insight into relations between literary and linguistic studies was provided by Professor Joe Graham’s courses ‘Linguistics and Literature’ and ‘Literary Theory’. It introduced me to challenging views like Roland Barthes’ S/Z, and Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology; stuff that gave me a thrilling sense of exploration while its newness lasted. Young and inspired, Graham organized screenings of French avant-garde films and took us in his car to Cornell to hear Noam Chomsky speak, and to Stony Brook for a conference.
My SUNY student ID. Aviator glasses and beards went out of fashion in the ‘eighties; but they seem to have made a comeback.
So, after a year abroad, I came home with several mailbags full of books and a head full of ideas for Medieval Literature courses to teach, ready to dumbfound students and colleagues alike. Did I have news for them!
The reality was quite different. As soon as I was back at the Institute, everybody had news for me, and all of it centered around my replacement. Her name was the new buzz-word. Mary-Jo had taught Middle English literature from an exciting new perspective. With the grounding she had received at SUNY, Mary-Jo had promptly started a Writing Course, which had been bearing fruit from the start, giving students a new sense of capability. Needless to say, Gerritsen was very pleased with Mary-Jo’s achievement. Mary-Jo and her husband had led a tour of Medieval sites in England to match Anthony Davies’ Old English and Prehistoric excursion. And in the place where I lived, Mary-Jo had taught an English conversation course, as every local I met kept telling me.
Warming up in a pub during the 1977 excursion. Clockwise Mary Jo Arn, Popke van der Zee, Mary-Jo’s husband Ken Heinrich, and Fred Adams. Photo courtesy of Fred Adams.
There it was: my thunder had been stolen in my absence—or indeed before I left, by Bowen’s and Gerritsen’s arrangement. The new Medieval know-how I had gone off to gain was exactly what my replacement had been brought in to provide. It took me a while to get used to this state of affairs, until I started to see that Mary-Jo’s exertions had smoothed my path toward the future. The medieval literature curriculum became less focused on language and more on literary traditions. I was assigned a course of medieval background lectures. And I was authorized to teach the Chaucer Criticism seminar I had set my hopes on.
So, no doors were closed to me; on the contrary, a new one opened, unexpectedly. In the MLK section there had been some consternation when the Faculty ordained that by the year 1977-78 English Lit., like French and other Lits, must include a General Literary component. Wilkinson and his staff were horrified by this idea, not only because they disapproved of theory as such, but because an obligatory General Linguistics course had notoriously misfired.
Having heard about my recent forays into Literary Theory, Wilkinson wondered if I could teach a course on literary thought that would include much reading of primary literary texts. I jumped at the suggestion: here was another chance to bridge the gap between disparate disciplines!
Let me summarize the rest, which is history. My American adventure had a profound influence on the course of my academic life: by the 1980’s, the balance of my teaching started to shift more and more from OTL to MLK, a change I welcomed. As I mentioned above, there certainly were students who liked Old and Middle English culture, but those who preferred more modern literature far outnumbered them. And I preferred teaching students subjects they preferred.
My particular contribution may not have had a lasting influence on the departmental curriculum; as a retiree, in my seventies, one is only too aware of that. It took a change of heads of departments, which did not happen until 1986 and 1991, to bring about fundamental adjustments in the coordination of the curricula.
But at the time, the Medieval courses did change for the better, or at least for the more attractive. And giving credit where it is due, our writing course was for years, and perhaps still is, one of the jewels in the departmental crown.
Mary-Jo Arn, being lavished with praise or admonishments (I forget which) by Sinterklaas, in the late ‘seventies. Photo probably by Kees Hartmans.
Chatting about ChatGPT
by Marjan Brouwers
On Saturday 1st of April, we met for our get-to-gether in De Stadstuin. The main event consisted of a lecture about a very modern topic: ChatGPT. Tim Kassenberg, alumnus and lecturer at the English Department, impressed and frightened us with a very interesting lecture about this new tool, which is scary as well as helpful. Especially the rapid way ChatGPT is evolving is cause for concern. Especially for teachers who are now unable to check whether their students do the work themselves or get ChatGPT to write their essays. Tim kindly provided us with his slides, which you can find here.
After a discussion about the use, abuse and opportunities of this new AI, we proved we still need our own brain during the Pub Quiz. Some members wished they had the courage to ask ChatGPT the names of famous fashion designers, the right amount of the fine Boris had to pay and the right order of royal first names. Fortunately, everyone was honest enough to rely on their own and their team members’ minds.
During drinks, we spoke about many things, looked at the old photographs Annie had with her, and shared memories about English professors of long ago. A great way to spend a rainy afternoon!
by Ammerins Moss-de Boer
When you say Easter, you say Eggs. And when you say Easter beverage, you say Eggnog. But ha, no, in our home, we have another creamy favourite, which I like to whip up for guests to enjoy after (or during) a copious brunch — or later on in the day, while enjoying a fun game of Cards against Humanity (which leads to another story, which will be told one day…). Oh, and it is also a great as a gift. In most home stores, you can find those small flip-top (beer) bottles that are perfect for it!
- 1 tsp instant coffee
- 250 ml cream (non-whipped slagroom is fine)
- 1 can of sweetened condensed milk (397 g)
- 400 ml Irish whiskey (preferably Irish, so Jameson’s of Bushmills, ahhh… Black Bush… yet another story, Tullamore or whichever small distillery you once visited and got a souvenir from)
- 3 tbsp chocolate syrup
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- First dissolve the coffee granules in 2 tbsp of boiling water and allow to cool completely (this step is optional – but recommended for a smooth result).
- Place all ingredients (including the coffee liquid) into a blender.
- Very slowly increase to medium/low speed and mix for 20 seconds or until just combined (see notes).
- Pour into glasses or sterilised bottles, seal and place into the fridge.
- Keep unopened in the fridge for 2 months. Once opened, keep refrigerated and consume within 1 week.