A couple of weeks ago, in preparation for a research workshop for an upper division English class, the class’s professor sent me the three text that the class that had recently read. I like to use whatever the class had just read to generate research strategies and keywords. (There is always an uncomfortable silence, for about a minute, after I ask them, “What is [text] about?”, that I find hilarious.) So, in the two hours before the class, I quickly read a translation of “The Ballad of Mulan,” an excerpt of Aelfric’s translation of the Biblical story of Judith, and some of Chaucer’s “The Man of Law’s Tale.” My objective was to at least know what the major themes of the texts were. Part way through “Judith,” I felt a familiar mental spark. Before I knew it, I was halfway to a thesis about the role of women in two medieval societies and/or the function of religion for three different women and/or the role of women as ideal role model in medieval societies…My brain was abuzz with ideas. Then I got to go talk to an entire class that was similarly abuzz with ideas about medieval texts.
My mother tells a story about me from when I was pretty young. I’m not sure how old I was, but I was able to realize that Roxanne (1987) was a retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac (1897), by Edmund Rostrand. (Admittedly, Steve Martin’s character’s nose was a pretty big clue*.) My brain has always looked for ways to compare stories. I love looking at how different stories treat characters in similar situations; there are always differences that say something important about how cultures think about all sorts of things. Being an English major gave me a vocabulary and an arsenal of critical approaches to literature.
More than ten years after getting my bachelor’s in English, I worry that I’ve lost some of my critical edge. It might just be imposter’s syndrome or it might be that I usually don’t have professors to push me to dig deeper. Reading that trio of texts and feeling my English major brain come alive was deeply reassuring. Having all of those ideas sparking in my synapses made me wonder if I maybe had it in me to try and publish something outside of the sphere of library science. I haven’t gone that far yet, but perhaps someday, I will be able to get my two cents into the scholarly discourse about some of the books that have made the biggest impact on me.
I’ll let you all know if I do.
* Not sorry.