Within two days last week, three projects came to a happy conclusion. Not mine, alas, though I did manage to send off my draft of the Piers Plowman essay to my long-suffering editor.
No, I went to two book launches, and had the pleasure of ringing a PhD student to say her examiners' reports had arrived, and that all she had to do was make a handful of tiny changes.
The booklaunches were of two friends, and what a contrast they made! First was Paul Salzman, launching Reading Early Modern Women's Writing; and the second was Ken Gelder, launching Subcultures: Cultural Histories and Social Practices. Paul's launch was held in a lovely room at La Trobe University, with the sulphur-crested cockatoos flashing white through the soft greenery of the bushland campus against stormy grey skies. Speeches were thoughtful, modest and heartfelt; food and wine were plentiful; but the hardback Oxford volume was very expensive. The next night was Ken's turn. The launch was held in a Carlton bookstore (in fact, see Whitebait's terrific evocation of the event): more crowded; less food and wine; longer, cleverer, more self-referential speeches. Two immortal lines: a sentence from Justin Clemens, the launcher, beginning "My tattooist's sister... "; and another from Ken affirming that reading the book was a bit like a slap for the reader (for the record, Ken said he thought this was a good thing). The Routledge paperback was half the price of Paul's.
This is the divided world of scholarly publishing, then. It's not completely schizophrenic, though you don't need a degree in semiotics to decode the contrasts here. What is particularly wonderful about these two events is that Ken and Paul are friends and collaborators. They've already produced a study of Australian fiction, The New Diversity, and are at work on a sequel. Both their careers are models of versatility and productiveness. Paul's, in particular, I find instructive, as he balances work as a specialist in early modern literature with his work on Elizabeth Jolley and Australian fiction. For better or worse, it's pretty hard, in most Australian departments of English, to focus just on one research and teaching area. Most of us medieval and early modern folk have very few colleagues in our immediate areas, and often end up teaching and supervising in other areas. Which is why we travel so much; and why we love blogs and conferences so much. I say this with some feeling today, having just given a lecture on D. H. Lawrence to the first-years this morning...
On the other hand, last night we had about eighteen folk gathering for the monthly Medieval Round Table, hearing a wonderful paper from Kathy Troup on the patterns of marriage amongst medieval brewers. This group has been meeting for over ten years now. It's a very diverse group, but meetings are always fascinating, and people are always friendly, interested and supportive of each other's work.
In my graduate supervisions, I usually have about a third of my students working on modern women's writing, which brings me to the third moment of closure last week. At Melbourne the PhD is a thesis of 80,000 words written under the supervision of one main supervisor and an auxiliary supervisor whose main role until recently has been to step in at the end of the probation period, whenever the principal supervisor is away, and at the end of the candidature. On completion, the thesis is sent away to two anonymous readers who can't have had anything to do with the supervision process. With any luck, they'll agree the thesis is ready to be passed, but they can sometimes send it back for re-writing and re-submission. They are supposed to take only about six weeks to do it, but it's often a much longer wait until the candidate gets a phone call out of the blue with the good, or the reasonably good news. This was a part-time enrolment, so it had been a long haul project. Larissa had had two children over the course of her candidature, and more than her fair share of health and other kinds of interruptions to her work. The reports are in, now; and say lovely, positive things about her work: an analysis of Foucauldian heterotopic spaces in Australian second wave women's writing. We met last night to look at the reports together, and a mutually satisfying exchange of congratulations took place. Congratulations again, Larissa!
My own work now is to sit down and puzzle out what I need to take and do before I climb on the plane to London on Saturday. I'm off to the fabulous-looking London Chaucer conference on Chaucer and Time, and will spend some time in the British Library, the College of Arms and the Public Record Office in Kew.