Tag Archives: english

‘The Expatriate Myth’ – a fresh view on the OEs of New Zealand writers

New Zealand writers of the past were stuck in a colonial backwater and forced overseas to gain appreciation and a readership, at least according to conventional literary history.

But in her new book The Expatriate Myth, UC History graduate Helen Bones overturns this traditional view of the literary lives of New Zealand writers in the late 19th and early 20th century.  She questions these assumptions through her own detailed historical and empirical research.

‘Many New Zealand writers of this period travelled extensively or lived overseas for a time. But this was not a rejection of their homeland to advance their careers’, says Helen Bones.  ‘Many of New Zealand’s writers living overseas operated in a transnational way, taking advantage of colonial networks in a way that belies any notion of a single national allegiance.’

Most who left New Zealand, even if they were away for a time, continued to write about and interact with their homeland, and in many cases came back, she says.

This fascinating and clear-sighted book is being launched by Professor Patrick Evans at a function at the University Book Shop, 5pm Thursday, 15 March.  All are welcome.

Dr Helen Bones was raised and educated in Christchurch. 

She is currently living in Australia, where she teaches history and has a research position in Digital Humanities at Western Sydney University.

In Memoriam: Margaret Belcher 1936-2016

‘I held it truth, with him who sings
To one clear harp in divers tones,
That men may rise on stepping-stones
Of their dead selves to higher things.’

(Tennyson In Memoriam [1849] Henry S King, 1875/1876)

Dr Margaret Belcher taught English literature for close to 40 years at the University of Canterbury. She was regarded by her colleagues and those students who sat in her classes as a passionate and knowledgeable advocate for her chosen period and for academic standards in general. She mainly taught in the nineteenth century with a specialism in the work of A W Pugin (1812-1852), an architect, designer and apologist for medieval aesthetics.

Joining the English department in 1963, Margaret was present when it moved with the rest of the university to occupy the Ilam campus in 1975. Until she retired in 2002 she taught a variety of courses including Victorian poetry and prose, but throughout that time and despite whether nineteenth century courses were popular or out of favour, she continued to focus her research on things Pugin. While there may have been little fuss made of her scholarship at Canterbury, her steady attention to his unpublished letters and a detailed annotation of his bibliography eventually gave her a stellar reputation.

The Telegraph obituary for instance refers to Margaret as an ‘outstanding’ international scholar of Pugin for her dedication, scholarship and meticulous attention to the letters, whose five volumes she translated in their entirety between 2001 and 2015. Apparently Pugin was something of a dyslexic and Margaret’s editing came to grips with his near-unreadable handwriting in a way that no other scholar had done before. Because Pugin had a habit of not dating his letters, the editing required her to piece together a hypothetical time-frame almost before she could begin work. More, the traditional skills of literary detective she owned in abundance were called on to locate and then collate his communications, which were spread widely across the UK with numbers of letters appearing in the United States and elsewhere. Claims Catriona Blaker in The Telegraph, through this close work ‘she succeeded in illuminating not only the man himself but his world and times.’

Similar accolades are to be found in the Pugin Society’s own tribute to Margaret, also written by Catriona Blaker: “Her comprehensive work,” she acknowledges, “is now the primary point of reference for all those entering the field.”

Even that compendium of popular knowledge, Wikipedia, which academics habitually belittle while still consulting, devotes a significant entry to Margaret Belcher’s life, scholarship and passing, the only academic from the English Department at Canterbury to be so honoured. Had she known, I suspect that she would have appreciated the irony.

English Department 1973
The English Department taken in 1973 – Margaret is in the 2nd row, third from the right.

Perhaps it is the way of all research that local colleagues are less likely to respect each other’s work than those in their chosen field who may be on the other side of the world. Certainly this was the case with Margaret. While she found a degree of recognition at Canterbury, whose literary culture was combative and frequently ungenerous, it was chiefly among Pugin scholars elsewhere that she acquired her fine reputation.

The field in which she ‘grew’ (an expression that would doubtless have received the red pen if it had appeared in any of our exam paper drafts, which she regularly edited) her expertise concerned the neo-Gothic revival in which craftsmen, builders and architects of the time attempted to return respectfully to Christian medieval aesthetics and which counted A. W. Pugin among its key figures. Her PhD thesis, embarked on some years after she had returned from studying at Oxford and supervised by Gordon Spence from English and Ian Lochhead from Art History, treated one of Pugin’s most important texts, Contrasts, as a piece of rhetoric.

In returning to the classical understanding of rhetoric as persuasion, the thesis convincingly demonstrates that there is no other way in which one can make sense of this strategic neo-Gothic document. While younger members of staff found themselves embroiled in discussions on Barthesian textuality and Haden White’s rhetorical understanding of ‘metahistory,’ Margaret’s approach was in some respects in sympathy with the slippage that the new theorists ‘discovered’ between fiction and non-fiction. More importantly, however, the thesis, which she completed in 1987, was argued with finesse. Reading it today, one finds a beautifully written and compellingly rigorous argument shaped in the best of Oxbridge tradition. It must have been another kind of irony for Margaret to find herself having to vacate one of the city’s few neo-Gothic buildings to transfer to a brutalist, modern campus in the city’s blank-faced suburbs.

Students today could be forgiven for assuming that nineteenth century literature isn’t worth reading. While one or two courses do teach material from this period, it is scattered throughout and taught, not as it once was, as a period of historical and literary significance, but rather as part of a cultural moment or an example of intertextuality or what may broadly be described as a ‘theme’. The goals of scholarship have changed and so has the climate of the research community in English and Cultural Studies, this latter for the better.

Yet Margaret will be remembered by those who knew her as a woman who fought hard for respect in a fundamentally masculine world of letters. She could be pugnacious; she took no prisoners; and she was a most modest scholar. Retirement gave her the opportunity to pursue what she loved best. In her last years, friends witnessed both her delight at the attention her scholarship finally received, relief at the completion of a huge project and an inner radiance, which was a pleasure to see.

Requiescat in pace

Anna Smith
School of Humanities and Creative Arts; English

This writer is grateful for advice and information from Helen Debenham, Carole Acheson, and David Gunby.

Call for expressions of interest to be an IELTS examiner

UC is opening a new IELTS test centre. We are asking for expressions of interest to join our team of IELTS Examiners. You will need:

  • An undergraduate or Master’s degree or equivalent.
  • A recognised qualification in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
  • At least 3 years’ full time TESOL teaching experience. The majority of this teaching experience must be to students 16 and over.

Please apply with a cover letter, contact details, brief CV and details of availability on Saturdays and Thursdays. Clearly outline how you meet the requirements. Suitable candidates will be contacted to complete a formal application.

Email your expression of interest to the IELTS centre administrator karen.walker@canterbury.ac.nz

The closing date for expressions of interest is 3 March.

IELTS Test Centre to open at UC

Support for students who require English Language Proficiency Certificate for programme entry:

The Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM)  in the College of Education, Health and Human Development  is delighted to become part of the IDP global network of IELTS test centres by gaining approval to open an IELTS test centre at the University of Canterbury.

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) measures the language proficiency of people who want to study or work where English is used as a language of communication.

The IELTS testing centre is a natural extension of the other services offered by CEM, which was established in 1999 and provides high quality assessments and surveys for NZ schools. IELTS testing will initially be offered twice a month. CEM will become the second IELTS test centre in Christchurch.

Dr John Boereboom, Director of CEM, is  presently fully engaged in preparing the infrastructure to open the IELTS Test Centre and assessment is expected to commence in April 2017.

Professor Gail T. Gillon, PhD
Pro-Vice-Chancellor College of Education, Health and Human Development | Amorangi Ako me te Hauora

Poet & Harvard Professor to discuss Transgender Literature

Stephen (Stephanie) Burt, Professor of English at Harvard and Canterbury Fellow at UC for the summer term 2016-17, will discuss the transgender experience in a free event entitled ‘Transgender Literature (and Life) – an introduction and conversation.’

Steph will explore the topic with UC Lecturer Karen Saunders at the Shilling Club on 14 December.

Date: Wednesday 14 December 2016,
5:30PM -7:00PM

Location: The Shilling Club, Ilam Campus, University of Canterbury

Details here: www.canterbury.ac.nz/events/active/uc-events/transgender-literature-and-life—an-introduction-and-conversation.html