A Brief Intro to Greek Tragedy & Comedy

Today we come to talk to you about some more classical and ancient history. This time I will be giving you a quick introduction to the subject of Greek tragedies and comedies. The arts and the entertainment industry by proxy find themselves under a lot of tension these days, particularly since the Covid pandemic has threatened so many artistic venues to close forever. With this I hope to keep you all engaged with this sad reality of events, but also to remind you that the arts have been a crucial part of human history since the dawn of civilisation.

Greek Tragedies: Origin & Development

We have evidence that Greek tragedies have been performed since the 6th century BC though record for most of these pieces don’t appear to have survived until c.472BC. Of these early plays, we do not have a lot of information, but we have some records from Aristotle in his Poetics that seem to indicate it may have evolved from choral song. Tragedies back then were not necessarily what our expectation of the same word is. Most of the Greek tragedies have varied themes, often covering things like mythology, but these aren’t necessarily sad stories: they often work to present some form of dilemma or controversies to the audience of the time; things that people could in one level or another relate to. According to Laura Swift, it seems that these pieces would have been about major or serious events, but they did not have to be catastrophic. It seems that, so long as they were describing some form of human suffering, the tragedy box was checked. Also, I think it is important at this stage to clarify that actually when we say Greek tragedies, we really ought to say Athenian tragedies. According to Simon Goldhill most of these compositions took place in Athens. The importance of these performances is remarked by the annual celebration of a kind of competition during the festival of the Great Dionysia, taking place towards the end of February/beginning of March. These plays were often specially created for this event.

Continue reading “A Brief Intro to Greek Tragedy & Comedy”

Nu History Podcast – Episode 4: Beowulf and the Anglo Saxons

The fourth episode of our podcast is here!

For this episode Lilly and Alex are joined by Elton, a historian and “nerd guy about Beowulf” (his own words), who is here to talk about some of his recent work and projects, mostly relating to Beowulf of course!

You can listen through Spotify below, or head to Anchor for links to follow on Apple, Google and wherever else you get your podcasts.

The Kite Runner- Using Literature as a source for recent times

The post will look at the historical significance in Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 bestselling novel, The Kite Runner. The novel is a coming of age story focusing on Amir born into a Pashtun family in Afghanistan. Recently, as of Monday 10th July I went to watch the stage adaptation of it with another blogger- lauraljpotter. This got me thinking as there is plenty to right about. Particularly, life in Afghanistan during the 1970s, during the Soviet occupation and the Taliban occupation. I also touch upon Afghans who immigrated to the United States of America during the late 1970s and 1980s, mainly commenting on the accounts in the novel. For starters, I will explain the basic premise of the story and provide a general historical account of the country. Minor spoilers of the plot will be announced to emphasise the historical value of this time period.

The story starts in the mid-seventies focusing on Amir’s friendship with Hassan, who is the son of the family servant and the strained relationship Amir has with his father Baba. The themes Hosseini highlights are the following; friendship, identity, love and redemption, spanning across time from Afghanistan in the mid-seventies towards California in 2001. The modern state of Afghanistan was founded in 1747 by Ahmad Shah Duran but long before this happened the area was conquered numerous times. The earliest account we know was in 330BC, when Alexander the Great conquered it. In the 700s AD, Arab armies invaded the area and the inhabitants of the area converted to Islam. Later in 1218, Genghis Khan’s army penetrated the area. This is interesting to note as it explains the ethnic mix of people that live in Afghanistan and this is still visible today, this will be explained in more thorough detail further on. Conflict did not end there as in the mid-1800s Britain and Russia clashed in order to gain control of Central Asia. There was a power vacuum in Central Asia due to the declining Ottoman Empire, Qajar dynasty and Qing dynasty in the region. This was called “The Great Game” as Britain and Russia vied to occupy these territories. Eventually “The Great Game” led to the First Anglo-Afghan War. By the end of the 1800s, Afghanistan was unwilling to allow British presence in the region and refused a mission to be set up in Kabul. This resulted in the Second Afghan War. At the time Britain acquired an empire that stretched all around the globe, it was coined as “the empire, where the sun never sets”. Before the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, Pakistan was still a part of India and in 1893, the British established an unofficial border to separate Afghanistan and British India. A third war ensued between the Afghans and the British. In 1919 the Third-Anglo War concluded. To summarise, what this short piece does is provide a background account to the complex history of Afghanistan up until when the story starts.

Now we will focus on the country of Afghanistan in the sixties until the seventies. It was a different place to what it became in the early noughties. It was a relatively safe and stable country since 1933 when Zahir Shah quelled unrest by becoming king. Before Zahir Shah, since after the Anglo-Afghan Wars there was always a power struggle in order to establish a long lasting dynasty in Afghanistan. In the twentieth century Emir Amanullah tried to rule and incorporate western influences in Afghanistan, but civil unrest in the country ousted him out. However, from what the background account tells us, this proved to happen throughout the course of history. In particular for those who had money and prominence, life in Afghanistan was very good, full of lavish hill top homes and festivities. Life was full of excitement and opportunities were abundant. This was looked at in Hosseini’s novel. Notably, Baba and Amir’s comfortable home, Amir’s schooling, Amir’s birthday celebrations and the Kite flying competition. This reveals that Amir had a stable and comfortable home life. Expanding on this western travellers often ventured through Afghanistan as a pit stop before moving on to India. This particular route was known as the “hippie trail”.

However, that air of stability soon collapsed when in 1973 King Zahir Shah was overthrown by his cousin. Two ideologies developed during this time in wanting to prevent gradual western ideals that occurred in the royal Afghan court. One ideology supported communism and the Soviets. This group was called the People’s Democratic of Afghanistan. Another ideology advocated for a return of religious values in society. It was the PDPA that ended up being more successful first in 1978, within a year the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, plunging Afghanistan into the Cold War as a potential satellite state. They did this to strength the communist ideology of the PDPA in Afghanistan as well as extending their on sphere of influence in Central Asia. However, war ensured as not everyone was happy with the Soviet invasion, in “The Kite Runner”, Babi, Amir’s father did not want the Soviets to take control of Afghanistan. Using Babi as an example, many affluent families in Afghanistan and those who held close ties to royalty were suspected to be reactionaries and many of them like Babi and Amir had to flee to neighbouring Pakistan and as a result became refugees and wait admitted asylum. It was from there that many families moved on to the United States of America, like what Babi and Amir did. Babi and Amir like many Afghans settled in Fremont, California. A majority of Afghans who fled Afghanistan settled in the San Francisco Bay area of California like Fresno, Los Angeles, Virginia and other major areas like Illinois, Florida and Washington. Many Afghan migrants worked in unskilled professions or in the public sector. Some Afghan professions mentioned in “The Kite Runner” were traders, teachers, policeman and gas station attendants. Life was not always easy for any particular new arrivals to the USA but what Hosseini does draw attention to is the fact that it was perhaps easier for some to assimilate into the new American culture, whereas for others it was more difficult. This was looked at in the form of father and son, Babi and Amir. Babi struggled seeing as he had established himself in Afghanistan it was bound to be difficult to pack up and start again, particularly as he was living in a comfortable hill top home in Afghanistan. In Fremont he was living in an apartment block. For Amir, you could argue that it helped him pursue his dreams of becoming a writer as he improved his English, went to college to major in Creative Writing and found love and married Soraya. In essence embracing his new opportunities and attempting to pursue the “American Dream”.

The Soviets tried their best to capture all of Afghanistan, but this did not happen, they found it difficult to penetrate the countryside and this remained relatively untouched. The Soviets eventually realised that they couldn’t continue funding a conquest they knew they could never win. The geography of Afghanistan is testing as it is a heavily mountainous land-locked country. Again, more civil unrest ensued and much of the country was being taken over by mujahedin groups. The capital, Kabul managed to quell this for three years as Najibullah, an ally from Moscow was able to control the area. Eventually, Kabul fell and Najibullah lost control. Even still these rival mujahedin only managed to control the city until 1996, when they were ousted by much younger jihadis. They were known as the Taliban and controlled everyday life in Afghan society from there on in, including the vibrant capital Kabul. Kabul changed drastically under this leadership. Kabul was once a place where men and women could sit in university together and women weren’t told what to wear. This all changed when the Taliban took control and implemented a strict regime on Afghanistan.

In more recent time, in the noughties Afghanistan garnished much negative connotations and further turmoil. Most notably, the War on Terror, Afghanistan was used as a testing ground by British and American forces. After the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre all attention went on combating Al Qaeda, the Terrorist group responsible for the heinous act and capturing their ringleader, Osama Bin Laden. The Taliban were told in “The Kite Runner” in the form of one character the antagonist, Assef who frequently tormented Amir and Hassan. He constantly made fun out of Hassan’s ethnicity of being a Hazara. Some people like Assef did not like the Hazara people as they held a belief that they were not true Afghans and how they polluted the country. This was ironic in the story as Assef himself had a Pashtun father and a German mother. Many Hazara people as a result faced widespread discrimination in everyday life. This is something that many Hazara people face even today. Harking back to what I mentioned earlier, there were two different ethnic groups mentioned in the story, one were the Pashtuns and the other group was the Hazaras. The Hazaras were said to be descended from inner Asia and more specifically around Mongolia. This makes sense considering how many times different armies came to conquer and/or settle in Afghanistan. However, this theory is not entirely confirmed and we do not know for sure where they actually descended from.

Afghanistan faced much hardship over the years and history seemingly starting to repeat itself in the form of occupation, then reoccupation, then occupation, then reoccupation an endless cycle it seems over the centuries and something that still lays bare in Afghanistan today; whether that be when Alexander the Great first captured the land or as early in 2009 when Obama increased the number of American troops to arrive in Afghanistan.

Would-be Movie Hero Writes a Book…

Now, we have this man’s story. Nice, military guy, went to Middle-East. Got shot, serious injury in a hand; captured by the enemy, spent some time in prison in Northern Africa, where he was close to being beheaded. Finally he was released, went back home, wrote a book.

Now, you are thinking. About the man, who must be a SEAL or a DELTA, or likewise. A killer by trade. About the book, which Eastwood or Bigelow could be on the brink to adapt to the big screen. A thriller, all fights and blood and guts, maybe some introspective moments to depict the anguish of the war prisoner… He must be doing great now. Famous guy, Oprah, late night shows and the like.

Now, it would have possibly been that way. Suffering, then glitter. But this is now, and that was then: the man died four hundred years ago.

This man was no nephew of the Uncle Sam either. At that time, there were no United States of America, and the fight raging on the Middle East was between the Christian European princess and the Sublime Porte Sultan. He was a Spaniard, and his name was Miguel de Cervantes.

Born to a deaf barber-surgeon, Rodrigo, he spent his early years of which little is known, travelling around Spain with his family as his father did his trade (and tried, sometimes without success, to elude his creditors). Born in 1547, we know that  by 1566 he was at Madrid, studying with López de Hoyos. Then, all of a sudden, in 1569 he fled to Italy, allegedly after a duel in which he wounded the other duelist, although the story is not confirmed.

Anyway, to Italy he went. Soon, he was serving in the Spanish Tercios as a soldier. And so he went to the sea and took part in one of the most famous battles of its time, at Lepanto, in 1571, where he took two arquebus shots in the chest and one in the left hand. After six months recovering in a hospital in Messina, Miguel had lost use of his left hand due to the complications of the wound, but was again ready to service. He kept raiding the Mediterranean shores with the Christian armies against the Ottomans for some years. Then when his ship was almost in sight of the Spanish coast, it was assaulted by a Turkish flotilla, and after a brisk fight, Miguel and his brother Rodrigo were taken prisoners among other members of the crew. Because he had in his power some impressive-looking letters of recommendation, he was believed to be a VIP (which he was not). Therefore a handsome ransom of 500 golden escudo was asked for; pity he was just a soldier. Maybe a good one, maybe he has caught the eye of the top-brass, but no way he or his family had that huge amount of cash (or connections strong enough to get it paid).

He was sent to Algiers and spent five years in captivity. There is some controversy about his days there. Seemingly he tried to escape no less than four times, but his adventures were thwarted by bad luck, traitors, a captured messenger…in between, Cervantes’ mother got some money to pay for her sons, but the money was not enough for both of them. Miguel, always the tough guy, stays in prison so his younger brother could go home…or so. Most of this we know because he himself wrote later about his years as a captive, so we may want to be…cautious about the veracity of his writings. He became, after all, one of the world’s greatest fable-spinners.

Nevertheless, he was finally freed, almost by chance. On the verge of being transported to Constantinople itself, were his fate would have been surely gloomy, he was released after a Trinidadian friar paid his ransom, partly with money collected amongst the Christian merchants in Algiers. So, in 1580, after eleven years and a lot of adventure and stories to tell, Miguel de Cervantes was bound to Spain again. And he was yet to discover even war heroes have hardships when returning home.

A spy job (maybe). A daughter (her mother was married to another man). A marriage (didn’t go well: childless, ended in a separation as divorced was strictly forbidden in the most catholic Spain). A desired position in the New World (never came). At least, first publication: La Galatea, a pastoral romance (not that popular, if you know what I mean)…

Finally, in 1587, a proper job as for the Army, provisioning food for the Spanish Armada. Extensive travel across the land. Finally lands in Seville in 1588, but having a place to stay and a steady job doesn’t improve his life that much. To begin with, he is excommunicated after requisitioning Church goods; then, he is transferred to the Exchequer as a tax collector, living among disputes and quarrels; finally, in 1597, as his father before him, he goes to prison.

Now, we find him imprisoned in the Royal Gaol, Seville. The bank when he was expected to put the tax money has bankrupted. The money is not there, or at least not all of it is there. Allegedly, he kept some for himself. While investigated, Miguel serves some months in jail; but, lucky us, while in there, he outlines a story that is going to bring him fame and fortune (albeit, unlucky Miguel, a little too late to enjoy the fortune part).

Somehow, then, he is released from prison by the end of 1597. Maybe he didn’t keep that much money for himself. The fact is that, at this point, fifty years old, not wealthy, with his prestige marred because of his legal troubles, he definitely turned to his real passion: theatre. More or less at the same time, one William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon is doing magic in the theatrical scene in London; Miguel de Cervantes, again has no such luck. He is very keen on the classic style at a moment when not only Shakespeare, but also Lope de Vega in Spain were transforming the way theatre is written, and played, forever. Lope, by the way, is a seventeenth century rock star avant la lettre: instead of drugs and rock’n’roll there were money and theatre (seemingly, the sex was there indeed. He kidnapped his first wife, had countless lovers, and a womanizer reputation…). Even other playwrights, as for example Tirso de Molina, had the people’s favor, whilst Cervantes’ theatrical production was at the time considered quite obsolete at the time. He was probably regarded as a minor yet competent writer, but the money, the popularity for which surely Cervantes was craving didn’t arrive.

Anyway, that story he first thought of while in jail was taking shape. Some weird yet sympathetic tale about an old man and his servant. In an unexpected turn of events, the man thinks himself a knight and, craving for adventure, took the roads of deep, old, dusty Castilla in search of giants, evil-doers, bandits and the like, willing to offer his good deeds to his romantic interest, a damsel called Dulcinea. With the reluctant help of Sancho, Don Quixote goes on the loose. At some point, the tale is finished and Cervantes finally gets permission from the censors to publish it, what is done in 1605 to immediate success: only during that year the printers produced six editions, with the novel being translated into English in 1607, into French in 1614…At last, some luck for Miguel, the soldier, the adventurer, the tax collector, the prisoner, the playwright, the writer.

What a film, don’t you think? One can easily imagine say, Ryan Gosling as Cervantes, maybe even doubling as Don Quixote with some prosthetics and make-up…the Academy Award winner and all that…But this is now, and that was then. Media exposure was unknown, and there was no place for more than one big star (and that one was Lope). No Oscars then, no talk shows, no big money. Just some comfort, at long last. And more ideas coming. In his last years Cervantes also published the Exemplary Novels, in 1613, to a great success, and in 1615, the second part to Don Quixote on the wake of the publishing of the “Avellaneda’s Quixote”,attributed to a friend of Lope (again), in which Cervantes’ character was also the main one (plagiarism was a problem then as it is now. Even without Internet access). This second part is unanimously considered his best work, and his final legacy, setting the tone for the new novels all around the world, he that once was considered outdated because of his classical approach to theatre. Good joke, Mike.

Now, we have this man’s story. A tale full of adventures, search for glory, hardships, mishaps. Somewhat…quixotic, don’t you think so? And it was all for real. But he created a fiction so powerful that led us to forget the man behind the pen and paper. Miguel de Cervantes: soldier, POW, spy, tax collector, playwright, novelist. Dreamer.

 

Collett, Wenche and Holberg: Figures of Norwegian Socialism

Please allow me to say that Oslo is a very artistic city and it is full of statues. Now I think I would have to spend a life time to take a picture of every single one. However, the city has commemorated in fine bronze casting some of the most influential cultural figures of Norwegian history, and I felt it my duty to dedicate this blog to three figures who I feel deserve recognition, and whose statues compelled me to photograph them. So today goes to these Norwegians who throve and worked towards making their society a better place.

Statue of Camilla Collett at the Royl Palace grounds in Oslo.
Statue of Camilla Collett at the Royal Palace grounds in Oslo.

The history of Norway comes across as one deeply influenced by artists and writers, at least in modern times. This woman, however was not only a famous and influential writer; she is often considered as the first Norwegian feminist. Camilla came from  family with a huge artistic background: one of her brothers Henrik Wergeland was a famous author, and her father Nicolai Wergeland was a theologian but also a composer. After marrying to Peter Jonas Collett, who was not only a politician but also a literary critic, she found the support she required to start publishing her work. Her pieces were echoes of political and social criticism and realism, where she addressed the difficulties of being a woman in modern society. She was a polemic author, who wrote in a fairly casual tone, which many of her readers appreciated and empathise with. However, Camilla’s story ends on a sad note. After her husband died suddenly, her sons were sent away to be taken care of by their relatives, she was forced to sell their house and suffered severe financial difficulty until her death in 1895. Despite all the stigma and hardship that she undertook, her work has not been forgotten, and it certainly helped waking up the minds of many in the era Nationalism and Romanticism. Camilla was a pioneer, and like many she was and still somehow is undermined – hence why I could not stop myself from bringing her to the spot light.

Statue of Wenche Foss by the National Theatre.
Statue of Wenche Foss by the National Theatre.

Another special woman in the history of the Norwegian arts – the beloved actress Eva Wenche Steenfeldt Stang (5 December 1917 – 28 March 2011). This woman rocked the stage, television, and any place where she could act. The piece that brought such a star to the centre of the Norwegian arts was her performance in To Tråder by Carl Erik Soya. Since then she became a regular of the National Theatre, with almost constant appearances from 1952 onwards. Foss was also gifted with a great voice, which expanded her shores performing in operettas, as well as doing soe voice acting in her later life – Foss was the voice for the animated character Enkefru Stengelføhn-Glad. But the reason why the Norwegians always have a soft spot for this woman is due to her activism and social support. Foss was mother to a child with Down Syndrome who unfortunately died, and in 1971 she suffered from breast cancer and endured it. She did not let these traumatic experiences to bring her down: she became an active supporter of raising awareness for the disabled members of society, to the point of founding the holiday resort Solgården (Alicante, Spain). After her experience with cancer she spoke publicly about this once again to raise awareness and to give hope to those who may share her fate. Moreover, Foss was supportive of gay rights and gay marriage and often confronted the Christian Democratic Party for their position against homosexuals. This remarkable woman earned in his life the title of Star of the Order of St. Olav (1988) as one of the few civilians who received this knightly title from the king, as well as a number of other awards for her artistic and personal contributions. Her death brought so much grief to the Norwegian population that she was granted an honoured funeral at the expense of this state – making her the firth woman in Norwegian history to receive such privilege. Her funeral was broadcasted on national television and attended by the king, queen and prime minister of the country.

I want to end this post on a completely different note though, because I have a lot of respect for this man, and as a historian, I could not miss him.

Ludvig Holberg - by the National Theatre.
Ludvig Holberg – by the National Theatre.

Holberg, the man who bridges my Norwegian and Danish adventure together. Baron Holberg, born in Bergen in 1684 shined in so many areas I could write endless posts about him, so I will try to keep it brief, but interesting. Holberg started as a theologian and then diverged into the fields of law, linguistic and history out of his own curiosity. What original made him famous, however and the importance of his statue at Oslo, was his contribution to Norwegian and Danish literature with his emblematic series of comedies. Ditching his theological background, he made it to the university of Copenhagen to develop his study in law. Holberg was a great student and soon his knowledge elevated him to the position of assistant professor for the law school, and shortly after  moving to metaphysics, rhetoric and Latin, and finally history – which he seemed to have valued most amongst his acquired disciplines. Nonetheless it was his satiric pieces that brought him to fame, and which he wrote in the period between 1719 to 1731. However, the great fire of Copenhagen of 1728 changed the mood of his audience – a public ridden by misery and despair was not all that keen on is comedies, so he moved onto writing philosophy and history again. Holberg was deeply influences by Humanism and Enlightenment, and devoted his work to urge people to build a better society, awaken their minds and educate themselves accordingly. Despite his wealth and fame he was a man who lived in a moderate manner and did not indulge in the eccentricity of Baroque society. He was a practical man and thought his money would be better of invested. This is best reflected in his physical legacy, for he did not marry or had children: Sorø Academy. Holberg bought this estate to create this institution for the education of the children of the nobility. it was this donation that earned him the title of baron, and the reason for which the king excluded him from paying taxes as his donation was far larger than he could ever pay in taxes.

And thus my brief biographical triptych of Oslo’s statues ends. I hope you join us on the next update 🙂 .

The Phenomenon of Sherlock Holmes

A couple of weeks ago I attended the inaugural lecture of Creative Writing Professor Neil McCaw, who entertained university and public people alike upon the effect of Sherlock Holmes on the world. McCaw assessed the fact that Sherlock Holmes was a world-wide phenomenon who was used in a variety of ways including increasing morale during war-time, and his presence in detective work in modern times. There are interpretations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories in nearly every country with Antarctica being the only region having no affiliation that McCaw could find. Doyle’s work came out of the end of the original detective genre popularity boom in the nineteenth century. His fictional sleuth Sherlock Holmes was by far not the first detective to gain infamy but Holmes was the first to capture a lasting effect upon peoples imagination. But of course this is a study of literature so it is necessary to acknowledge Holmes significance within history for a history blog. Holmes is one of the most portrayed movie characters in all of cinematic history and has been produced multiple times most notably in England, America, Russia and China. But Holmes’ character had specific connotations in how Doyle’s character was used during the Boer War and First World War.

Holmes first appeared in a serialised set of short stories in The Strand Magazine in 1891, which continued with overwhelming success until 1927. It consists with four complete novels and fifty-six short stories. They appeared during the time that the police were considered mistrustful and were disliked by the Victorian and Edwardian public. But Conan Doyle reflected upon a character that took on extraordinary cases and solved them through deduction and the occasional opiate induced violin frenzy.  His address was 221B Baker Street also occupied by the medical doctor Mr Watson and his rarely mentioned landlady, Mrs Hudson. His residency in London recognized a need for a detective capable of solving abnormal crimes, especially since the audience were living in the aftermath of the horrors of the Jack the Ripper murders. The inspiration for such a character Doyle stated was Joseph Bell, a surgeon at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh who was capable of solving medical mysteries from minute observations, which whom Doyle worked with as a clerk. Holme’s appearance in the books of the deerstalker hat and cane is shown in non-contemporary illustrations, mostly by Sidney Paget, but this is the image we would recognise today, even though Holmes’ outfit was not specifically described in the stories.

Holmes significance during the World War of 1914-18 was his use in raising morale. His Last Bow was Doyle’s first attempt at ending his journey with Holmes character was published in 1917 near the end of the First World War. Doyle’s portrayal featured British and German spies and could be described as spy fiction rather than detective fiction. This short story was serialised and sent out to the British troops in the trenches to raise morale with propaganda. The story was set on the eve of the First World War were a German agent Von Bork was attempting to leave England with vital intelligence on the British military stance. Holmes identified there was a security leak in British Intelligence that allowed German spies to access information and was able to trace Von Bork before he was able to leave England. Doyle referenced to the impending war by suggesting there was a ‘cold wind’ coming in from the East thus allowing the audience to interpret from whom the threat was coming from. But it also included a message for hope as shown in this extract:

“Good old Watson! You are the one fixed point in a changing age. There’s an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it’s God’s own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared”

At the point of this story ending the war was not yet over but it was an attempt to ensure the troops continued fighting in the hope to defeat the enemy. But thankfully end it did with the victory on the British side in 1918. The use of Holmes as a morale boost was strong since it continued through film in the Second World War. Sherlock Holmes was portrayed by Basil Rathbone in a series of Sherlock Holmes movies, created by Twentieth Century Fox, from 1939 to 1946 beginnings with The Hound of the Baskervilles. However Holmes was used as propaganda tool which is purely evident in Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror released in 1942. This movie was based upon The Last Bow which followed the storyline with the German Agent bearing distinctive Nazi markings. The next in the series in released in 1943 Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon featured doctors attempting to flee the Gestapo with Holmes being captured by Professor Moriarty, Holmes’ nemesis, being shown to be a Nazi scientist. Moriarty is one of the most enduring enemies in fiction also immortalised in his frequent cinematic depictions. This thread of the British and American film producers constantly portraying Holmes fighting, and beating, the German Nazi regime was to ensure the public kept going during one of darkest periods in world history. The slight problem with this ideology is that these movies were found in Hitler’s bunker, who was said to have shown these movies as entertainment to his German officials suggesting that the propaganda morale boost was felt by only Britain and America for the amusement of the other side.

The phenomenon of Sherlock Holmes did not and does not end with the World Wars, Russia has used Holmes to interpret communism. America’s president Theodore Roosevelt attempted to justify that Holmes was actually American but chose to fight crime in the more needy London. This came about due to America being the home of the first Sherlock Holmes Society of which Teddy Roosevelt was a secret member.  Comic books portraying Holmes as a crime fighting ninja is a popular theme and the Japanese puppet version of Holmes’ is in my opinion slightly terrifying. But the ideology of a super detective sleuth being on your side of a war that affected the people, landscape, and emotion of nation would have been incredibly reassuring in the history contemporary to the release of the Sherlock Holmes stories. There is a vast wealth of information on the use of Sherlock Holmes in recent history, I have barely scratched the surface here but McCaw’s lecture has certainly inspired me to search for more.

The History of the Little Cinder Girl

She’s been with most of us our whole lives, from watching a Disney adaptation, to the many variations Hollywood frequently churn out. And she’s been in the lives of people for a longer time still, from the French tale of little Cendrillon and the glass slipper and her pumpkin-turned-carriage, to the Brothers Grimm tale of lentils in the fire and ugly step-sisters chopping toes off to fit into a golden shoe. It’s, quite simply, a story which has lasted hundreds of years and hasn’t dulled in the minds of popular imagination. The story of the poor servant Cinderella, who finds her prince and reward in life after years of abuse, is a story that has lasted into the twenty-first century.

A common thing to hear concerning the Disney version of Cinderella is that it’s a much tamer, Disney-fied version of the ‘original’ Cinderella tale, which is actually a misconception. If comparing to the Brothers Grimm tale of Cinderella, where the shoe Cinderella leaves behind is full of blood and her step-sisters chop off their toes and heels, then yes. It is much more tame. However, the Grimm Brothers didn’t write the ‘original’ Cinderella, and although Charles Perrault didn’t either, his does pre-date the Grimm’s collection.

The version Disney based theirs on was one of the most popular versions of Cinderella, written in French by Perrault in 1697, called Cendrillon. In his version, the pumpkin, fairy-godmother and the glass slippers made their appearance. The Grimm brother’s Aschenputtel,  however, she wears gold slippers and her night at the ball is given to her, not by a fairy-godmother but a wishing tree growing on her mother’s grave and her step-sisters are not forgiven, but have their eyes pecked out by birds. But where do these stories come from?

The earliest known telling of Cinderella follows the story of Rhodopis – a hetaera in Ancient Greece. Her actual story is mentioned by Herodotus, who mentions she was a slave of Iadmon of Samos. In the story, told 500 years later, Rhodopis is bathing when an eagle snatches her sandal and flies it over the king, dropping it in his lap. Amazed by the strangeness of the occurrence and beauty of the sandal, he demands that the woman who owns it be found. When Rhodopis is found, she becomes his wife.

There’s something inspiring across the ages about a poor servant girl, abused and mistreated by family, achieving prosperity, through her kindness and good nature. It’s why it has lasted the years, been retold again and again in a number of variations – and why Disney itself has made two separate versions. Newer variations, like the 1998 Ever After, portray one step-sister as more concerned for Cinderella and nicer towards her. The 2015 Cinderella even gave some screen time, identity and motive to the Prince, although not the same motive as the Grimm’s prince, who decided to trap Aschenputtel on the steps to the palace which causes her to leave a shoe so he can find her.

The Great Gatsby: Class, Society and the American Dream

Possibly one of the most well-loved American novels, one of the most read and the most famous, Fitzgerald’s story of the booming ’20s in New York was the definition of a sleeper hit. Fitzgerald himself was long dead before he could see it appreciated and  its legacy is still being debated today. At its beginning, it seems like a celebration of the American Dream, but stick with the story a little longer and the paint starts to blister. Read over the beginning again and, beneath the surface of celebration, is also a deep criticism of American society in the 1920s. Due to its social commentary, the book feels incredibly like a warning prelude to the 1929 Wall Street Crash, which brought the decadence of the 20s to a bitter and detrimental end. However, Gatsby was published in 1925 and was very much a commentary of the time, yet strangely prophetic. Fitzgerald’s critique is of the “careless people” who “smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money”. His criticism of their self-indulged, over-the-top lives has stood the test of time, but what can it really tell us about class and society in 1920s America?

Set in 1922, The Great Gatsby follows the story of Nick Carraway, a veteran of World War I who has moved East in the search of a new life and, of course, the American Dream. This book has fascinated me from my first reading and one description of it I was given of it was that “it’s a book about rich people and their [unimportant] problems”. And this is exactly why this book, from a social commentary perspective, is so interesting. The U.S. experienced a very large economic boom in the 1920s, with expansion of business, innovation and – for those who could afford it – an increased standard of living. One big, decade long post-war celebration, which in reality left many poor and non-white citizens trailing behind. The need to fulfil the ‘American Dream’ – to achieve wealth and prosperity, no matter where you came from – was the aim of many, and the upper classes found themselves divided: those who had inherited wealth from a long line of ancestors, and those who’d found their new wealth through prosperous business ventures and stock market investments. In Fitzgerald’s novel, these two groups are distinctively divided: Daisy and Tom Buchanan are Old Money living in the village of East Egg; Nick and Gatsby and their New Money live over in the West Egg. It’s Fitzgerald’s metaphor for New Money’s incapability to live amongst the Old – the villages are both as extravagant, as affluent and as wealthy – they can look across the bay at one another. But for the West Egg inhabitants, East Egg is an allusive dream, in reach but unreachable.

However, another metaphor for the lack of opportunity – the real truth of the ‘American Dream’ – is underlined by Fitzgerald’s description of the Valley of Ashes, a dumping ground between the high-living, party-going upper classes of Long Island and the vibrant, blooming, economic centre of New York City. This dumping ground is, literally, what sits beside the rich and their pleasures, only passed through and given any attention because of necessity – the wasteland it has become means nothing to the upper classes who have bigger things to do and better places to be. Can the American Dream, Fitzgerald asks, be achieved by the people in the Valley of Ashes – can you really achieve the highest goals no matter what background you come from?

Fitzgerald wrote Gatsby in a time of change, a time when many were climbing social ladders. In reality, it was a time of eugenics and white supremacy. Race is an issue in his novel, and not just in the commentary of white rich people enjoying the riches of Black jazz music. Tom Buchanan acts as the voice of racism in Gatsby, which is evident from the very beginning of the novel when he claims, “it’s up to us [white people], who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control over things”. Tom embodies the ideals of white intellectual superiority and fears that other races take more control. Through this Fitzgerald suggests this was not an uncommon fear among upper-class white Americans. In one heated argument with Gatsby, Tom exclaims “Nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions, and next they’ll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and white.” At first, it could seem like another racist line from a very racist character, but it’s a point he’s trying to make – and a point he seems to be making against Gatsby. Theories of Gatsby’s race have been discussed, and arguments of him being a white-passing black man have been put forward. When Tom says this, Jordan Baker, a character known for being a liar, retorts, “We’re all white here.” Gatsby as a black man, in Fitzgerald’s world, would in all respects make complete sense. The Old Money of East Egg are not just suspicious of Gatsby because of suspicions he’s a bootlegger or because he was once poor and somehow climbed into the Upper Class, but because of doubts about his race. With Gatsby, Fitzgerald truly underlines the impossible nature of equality in opportunity. Gatsby is the definition of New Money and he fails in every effort: to marry the woman he loves, to be considered respectable by the Old Money, to have any one turn up to his funeral. The achievement of wealth and prosperity was not a sign  of its openness to all, Fitzgerald is saying, but a sign of ever-increasing inequality within even New York alone.

This book is about rich people and their “unimportant problems”, and those “unimportant problems” underline other issues of 1920s America that Fitzgerald puts alongside them. As the hundreds enjoy Gatsby’s raucous parties, the Valley of Ashes lies not so far away, left to be destitute. As the rich enjoy their bootlegged alcohol in a time of prohibition, they condemn Gatsby for making money from it – they condemn the bootleggers who are getting rich off crime, while simultaneously indulging in it. As Tom Buchanan rages on about how other races will try to control the white population, the other races live without any rights, while their music and culture is appropriated by the upper classes who can afford to. As Jay Gatsby stretches out and tries to reach across to East Egg – a society that will never accept him on any more than a surface level – he is killed, and that gives away precisely what Fitzgerald thought of the American Dream that dominated the 1920s: a dream which could only be half achieved and at the expense of others. Fitzgerald’s novel gives an incredibly interesting insight into 1920s American society and how it should not just be seen as a period of economic prosperity and parties.

Jane Austen as a Source for Eighteenth-Century and Regency Women

Jane Austen’s famous works have transcended the past two centuries and are as well-known now as they were when they were first published. Her novels on the lives of the Bennett sisters, the Dashwoods, and the famous Emma were popular in their own times and today, with film and TV adaptations especially popular since the mid-1990s. However, Austen’s novels are also a commentary of the time they were so set, and written in. The two novels I’ll be looking at in this post in particular will be Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. These novels take place during the Regency Period of 1811-1820, when the Prince Regent ruled the country. Although none of her novels strike as particularly feminist – an ideology, in fact, that wasn’t really established until nearly a century after the Regency Period – they are about women: their relationships with one another, the situations they face and their place in society. Pride and Prejudice, deemed to be one of the most famous love stories, is itself more about the Bennett sisters and their positions in society. Austen’s books are not just detailed in the lives of her characters, but also in the polite and leisure society of Georgian England. Her books are a commentary and highly descriptive text on the ideals this polite society was supposed to have – how women were supposed to behave, how courtship occurred, and how a woman in society was seen through the way she acted.

Polite Society

Hugh Thomson's illustration of a scene from Sense and Sensibility
Hugh Thomson’s illustration of a scene from Sense and Sensibility

The late eighteenth century and early nineteenth brought with it the advent of polite society. A society where etiquette was of up most importance, a sign of your class and standing. It’s no surprise the idea of polite society was on the rise just as a true class consciousness was building in Britain. During this period, who you knew, how you acted and what you could afford was a sign of your importance, driving huge wedges between those with wealth, and those without. Austen’s works were usually focused on middle classes of no great wealth, and their positions compared to the higher status aristocracy, who took part in the cycles of leisure society. However, although class consciousness was on the rise due to the advent of the middle classes; the furthering poverty of the labouring classes and the events of the French Revolution, Austen’s novels do not generally discuss labouring classes. Her work is mostly focused on middle class women. The rise of a ‘middle class’ in the eighteenth century was due to a booming commercial society, and a rise in real income of professionals who were not elite or landed gentry. Merchants, tradesmen and schoolmasters all became capable of affording luxury products and were therefore able to become a part of the polite and leisured society.

In her work Women in the Eighteenth Century: Constructions of Femininity Vivien Jones discusses why this focus on polite society was evident in literature of the time. She claims  women had a large influence on emphasising the private experience in novels, and more particularly, on the subject of ‘sensibility’. The idea of ‘sensibility’, which means appreciating and responding to surrounding influences, dominated fiction in the latter half of the eighteenth century and early nineteenth, as well as playing a role in the emergence of Romanticism: themes that are both evident in Austen’s work with sensibility playing a major role in the aptly titled Sense and Sensibility.

The Cult of Sensibility

Hugh Thomson depicts Marianne crying over Willoughby
Hugh Thomson depicts Marianne crying over Willoughby

Sense and Sensibility was written during a time where feelings were meant to be repressed. Originally, it was to be an epistolary novel, a novel comprised completely of letters, as letters were valuable tools to observe thoughts and feelings that would be frowned upon in public. Austen’s social commentary on public and private life is told through the two Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne. Marianne, the youngest, is a romantic, and the embodiment of ‘sensibility’. Elinor, therefore, takes the opposite role of ‘sense’. Sense was also a definitive term in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, alongside sensibility, meaning not only common sense, but restraint and social responsibility.  Austen was certainly writing about highly relevant and socially charged subjects of the time, indicating that her work would have been a very topical and provoking read. The ideas of sense and sensibility were discussed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the eighteenth century, when he criticised how society corrupted men and women by distorting and holding back their emotions and urges. Writing and publishing for women in this period was not just part of a pastime or way to achieve status, but also an act that went against the moral and social boundaries contemporary women were constrained by. By discussing such a highly topical, philosophical and provoking subject as sense and sensibility, Austen was, as a woman, taking a bold stand on remarking upon the values of Regency society. Vivien Jones emphasises this by demonstrating that women’s writing was defined as a threat to the existing social order, and at its most extreme was seen as a loss of chastity and an act against femininity. For Jane Austen, her writings were often ways of commenting on the values of society.

Women and Marriage

Tinted Line Drawing by H.M. Brock: Lady Catherine de Burgh question Elizabeth about her relationship with Mr. Darcy
Tinted Line Drawing by H.M. Brock: Lady Catherine de Bourgh questions Elizabeth about her relationship with Mr. Darcy

Austen’s works can tell us a lot about women and marriage in this period. In his work on the eighteenth century, Jeremy Black highlights how it was social and economic pressures that drove women towards matrimony. In Austen’s works, Mrs. Bennett wants to marry at least one of her daughters off to someone rich; Charlotte Lucas marries Mr. Collins because, at twenty-seven she’s on the verge of forever being a spinster; Marianne Dashwood cannot marry Willoughby because he does not have enough money and wishes to marry Miss Grey, who has £50,000 a year; Elinor Dashwood is seen as an unsuitable match for Edward Ferrars because of her low funds and status; Jane Bennett is under the same situation with Charles Bingley. The underlying importance that is stressed in all these cases is that these women need to marry in order to achieve some sort of wealth, and the fact that they cannot inherit from their fathers once they die. The Dashwoods’ father dies at the beginning of the novel, and their estate and possessions are left entirely to their half-brother. The Bennett’s father is alive and well, but Mrs. Bennett is all too aware that once he dies their home and belongings will not pass to any of his five daughters, but to his male cousin, Mr. Collins. In this period, women could not inherit from their fathers, and her property, once married, was her husband’s. Through her depictions of marriage in these works, Austen underlines how achieving a marriage was about achieving stability, in wealth more so than for love and companionship. Of course, her major characters marry for love, but the way marriage is treated by many of the surrounding characters and by the narrative assumes that it is a device in which women can find a home and a husband to provide for her once her father can no longer, while also, for the upper classes, a way of creating and maintaining ties with important families. The Bingley sisters oppose of Charles Bingley’s affection for Jane Bennett, because she is of a much lower class and has little standing of her own; Lady Catherine de Bourgh refuses the idea of her nephew, Mr. Darcy, from marrying Elizabeth Bennett because of her family’s reputation; and the same narrative, although in a completely different setting, is apparent in Sense and Sensibility in the case of Elinor Dashwood and Edward Ferrars. It would appear that in society, marriage was a case of propelling one’s status or achieving some wealth, and for the upper classes especially, about maintaining high status in society. It should also be noted that, according to values of the eighteenth century, women who remained unmarried were social failures, as Austen highlights in the case of Charlotte Lucas and her marriage to Mr. Collins. By the end of  the century, with declining employment opportunities once available in business and commerce, it was implied the only means to exist was marriage.

Drawing by C.E. Brock, 1895 Macmillan edition of Pride and Prejudice: One of the Bennett sisters, Lydia, shows off her wedding ring
Drawing by C.E. Brock, 1895 Macmillan edition of Pride and Prejudice: One of the Bennett sisters, Lydia, shows off her wedding ring

Desertion and Divorce

Bridget Hill discussed how no divorce was possible unless the marriage was proved invalid, that is: adultery or bigamy had been committed. However, it was practically impossible for a woman to divorce her husband even if she did prove he had committed adultery. Deserting husbands was incredibly difficult because a woman had no claim to property and, worse still, could not claim custody of her children either. Austen discusses this painful reality in her story of Eliza Williams in Sense and Sensibility. Eliza, forced into a marriage with a man she could not stand, seems to be trapped. A plan to elope with her husband’s brother, whom she truly loves, is thwarted when a servant gives the plan up to her father-in-law. Driven by her unhappy marriage, she sleeps with another man and is divorced by her husband, left with nothing. In the story told, it is referenced that after her divorce ‘there was every reason to fear that she had removed from him [her first seducer] only to sink deeper in a life of sin.’ This is possibly an implication of her prostitution in order to survive. This is heavily implied by the fact that many poor women, with nothing else to turn to, turned to prostitution in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the end, she lies dying in a sponging-house (a bath or spa) of tuberculosis, leaving an illegitimate child in the care of her ex-husband’s brother, who tracked her down in her dying days.

Therefore, although Austen’s work is heavily focused on the middle classes and polite society, it is also a heavily critical commentary of what this sort of society causes, and what marriage for women could mean. Although Austen’s main characters end up with their happy ending in love-matched marriages with wealthy men, the other side is underlined in many other of the women characters engagements – Eliza’s being one example. Less extreme examples are that of the Bennett sister’s parents, whom the sisters themselves comment as being a loveless marriage, if at least a content one; Charlotte’s marriage to Mr Collins is one that merely helps her circumstances, though she also claims to be content with the situation; Marianne marries Colonel Brandon and because she ‘could never love by halves’ she became ‘as much devoted to her husband, as [she] had once been to Willoughby.’

Hugh Thomson's Illustration of a scene in Sense and Sensibility
Hugh Thomson’s Illustration of a scene in Sense and Sensibility

What Austen Cannot Tell Us About Women

Essentially, however, Austen’s books focus on the middle and upper classes who played a larger role in polite society and the sort of social values she was making such a commentary on. In both Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, servants are mentioned and given small speaking roles, but their lives are not looked into nor are their ideas, thoughts and emotions described. This is most probably due to the fact that Austen was a member of the lower orders of landed gentry, and the society she was commenting on was not that of the labouring classes. The lower classes rarely would have taken part in polite and leisure society. Although poverty is touched upon – the Dashwoods are considered to be poor but their strong connections keep them afloat – Austen’s novels remain concerned with the middle classes and the landed gentry. Labouring women of the eighteenth century, apart from appearances as servants, make up very little of  these two particular novels.

However, Austen’s works give us a very particular insight into the lives of women and their roles in polite society. In a society that was based on hierarchy and where subordination was everywhere, in manners and in speech, Austen’s work was driven by class, and were a social and economic commentary of the period and of the women in that period.

Alfonso Boix & El Cantar de Mio Cid: An Interview

Today I bring you an interview/self-reflection that I acquire from Alfonso Boix, a Spanish scholar, writing from Valencia, about his true love and passion: the epic Iberian romance El Cantar de Mio Cid. I met Alfonso some years ago and had long deep discussions about medieval literature, but he always manages to bring it all back home. It’s all about El Cid: El Cid here, El Cid there, he just can’t help himself. And that passion is what has driven him to become and international, knowledgeable mind about this topic. With a PhD and several awards for his excellent work, here I present you a fantastic piece of research.

So, what is your research about?

I usually doubt if I deserve to be called a ‘medievalist’, as sometimes I believe ‘cidaist’ would be the proper adjective to describe myself as a researcher. I have been researching on the Cid’s life and legend for almost twenty years and, though I have also written articles and books on other literary fields –the Romantic period, or women in the Middle Ages–, these works have been nothing but daring intrusions which I enjoyed though I always knew they were just short ‘love affairs’. I have mainly dealt with the Cantar de Mio Cid, its structure and its inner symbolic code, and then spread my activity to other aspects such as the Cid’s real life or other texts –Historia Roderici¸ Crónica Particular del Cid…–. My most ambitious project is focused on a research to find a second manuscript of the Mio Cid –only one has been identified up to now, which is guarded at the Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid–.

Why this obsession with El Cid?

 

I began researching the Mio Cid when I was 21, after reading a text from an Arthurian book which reminded me of some lines of the Cantar I had read when I was 8 or 9 years old. I want to believe it was not just something ‘at random’ and that my destiny was written since I was a child. This research led to others and, after finding Alolala –a castle which had remained lost for almost a thousand years–, I decided to develop more ambitious researches, combined with some ‘minor’ ones which would help me to reach the main targets.

This is the reason why, when I began my PhD studies, I decided to work on the Cantar de Mio Cid again: I had already been working on it for almost a decade and I knew the essential bibliography quite well. On the other hand, I did not want to get my PhD thanks to a different literary work of art: I began my career with the Cantar so, for me, my thesis was not just a research but also an homage to the epic Castilian poem.

After the compulsory courses to obtain my DEA –‘Diploma de Estudios Avanzados’, the Spanish equivalent to the MA in those years–, I developed my thesis dealing with the structure and literary gender of the Mio Cid, which I finished almost four years ago. It allowed me to reach some of those ‘main targets’ I had decided to undertake, as it proved that some ‘traditional’ concepts related to the Mio Cid which had been considered ‘unique’ were not so. Thus, the structural scheme of the poem, which resembles a ‘W’ (fall of the hero – rise – new fall – new rise) is indeed the famous Doppelwegstruktur identified in many chivalric works such as Chrétien’s Perceval; the poem itself had been compared to those of the French ‘rebellious vassals’ but, as Menéndez Pidal observed, the Cid is not a rebel against his lord, so the famous researcher believed the Cid was a unique character which showed features belonging to the Spanish ideal of a male hero. However, this ‘non-rebellious hero’ also exists in a minor group of French poems, a fact which allowed me to classify the Mio Cid as a chanson d’aventures, breaking some topics traditionally accepted by researchers and opening new perspectives on the epic poem.

Why do you think literature studies is so popular amongst medievalists, and other historians?

 

We should bear in mind something as simple –and sad– as the fact that no one who lived in the Middle Ages has survived to explain us how life was in that period. I have always believed that texts –not just Medieval ones, but from every age– are the messages people wrote and put in bottles (i.e. books) that crossed oceans of time till we found them to know they existed, what they did, their legends and everyday life. Archaeology is another crucial science to know how the past times were, but the importance of written texts is obvious: they’re not just the remains of civilizations, but the people who lived in past times explaining those remains. And it is our duty as philologists to read and understand those texts, helping historians who, on the other hand, also allow us to understand the texts better thanks to their researches and findings. So, this circle of mutual influence allows us to understand a period which, on the other hand, seems fascinating thanks to Romanticism, a movement which offered an idealized view of the Middle Ages, and which evidently makes us feel especially attracted by the so-called ‘Dark Ages’.

Now, tell us, what is your favourite part of El Cid?

 

It would be very easy for me to say I enjoy reading the whole Cantar de Mio Cid: it is true indeed! But I have a favourite episode, of course: the moment in which the Cid meets this young girl in Burgos who tells him the king has forbidden the citizens to help him. She is the first spark of hope in the poem, the first light in the Cid’s way to exile, and the contrast between the warrior and the child is extremely powerful. Battles, love and comradeship scenes are usual in the poem, but this episode is absolutely unique. I love it.

What advise would you give students getting into this sort of specialisation?

If I had to give some advice to new medievalists, I would tell them the only one that can make you ‘survive’ when you become a researcher: love what you do. It does not matter if it is the Cantar de Mio Cid, the Nibelungenlied or Beowulf; you can choose the 5th, the 10th or the 14th century… the only important thing is to choose it because you love it. Becoming a medievalist –or a researcher in any scientific field– is something similar to a marriage: you are going to spend long hours with your love, so you better feel real passion! And, if you ever decide to get divorced, your books are not going to ask you for some compensation while you leave them for another intellectual love. So, indeed… it’s better than a marriage!

After you decide to ‘get married’, you should attend conferences and meet people with common interests, especially those researchers who are well-known by their influential careers and that will give you advice for your specific interests. Don’t be shy to ask them, the wisest are always humble and open to give any suggestion if you are ready to listen to them.

And, finally, and most important of all: stay hungry! Never lose your passion to learn, discover new things, feel thrilled to know you are the first in centuries to read / know / understand whatever you discover. And let this passion become a drug that makes you crave for more. And, if you ever lose that passion… look for a new one. But never stop learning and feeling surprised by the path you follow: it’s got lots of treasures for those who accept them.

We hope you enjoyed Alfonso’s story and we would like to thank him for taking the time to share his passion with us!