As a clever schoolgirl, trying for the university, she discussed To The Lighthouse with one of the dons. Virginia Woolf as much as Eliot presides over this novel: long stretches of rich, intense description evoke Woolf's "moments of being", even as they mesh with Eliot's dryer musings about time past and time present. Adding to Elizabeth's unease are her complex feelings about meeting her old tutor again, 30 years after her first intellectual crisis. There is eerily little change in Professor Edward Hunt or his rooms, beyond the disappearance of his Joy Division albums. But reigniting their edgy relationship, and being among rampant students, has a painful effect on Elizabeth.
There is not much humour in this earnest book, but her approach to alleviating sexual tension raises a smile: "Usually a brisk walk dispersed it, or a hot bath. If all else failed a translation of Gower could be counted upon to do the trick.
The narrative is richly subjective, conveying the excitement of ideas rather than of action. The thrill of her Eliot mission is well evoked, though as a critic Elizabeth is at one remove from the white heat of creation. Occasionally, McCleen's rapturous prose blurs and collapses, and there's an odd scene in a tutorial where Hunt and his supposedly brilliant English students discuss Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" under the impression that it's a sonnet. Sometimes McCleen's strenuous effort to make things strange backfires.
The young Elizabeth describes her mother's classical music records as "spheres". A more correct term would be "discs" — which is what they're usually called. The text contains a peculiar self-contradiction: just as Elizabeth has buried her emotional life in her work, McCleen disguises her purpose by writing about the surface rather than the depths.
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So if Elizabeth has wasted her life, then much of the novel is concerned with an irrelevant quest. But it's hard not to be swept up as McCleen guides her characters to a conclusion that is at once deeply conventional and intensely strange. You can find our Community Guidelines in full here. Want to discuss real-world problems, be involved in the most engaging discussions and hear from the journalists? Try Independent Minds free for 1 month. Independent Minds Comments can be posted by members of our membership scheme, Independent Minds.
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The Professor of Poetry by Grace McCleen – review
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Please update your billing details here to continue enjoying your access to the most informative and considered journalism in the UK. Under Council Regulations 3, an academic and academic-related employee should be retired by the Employer Justified Retirement Age EJRA , meaning that under normal circumstances all staff should retire by the 30th September preceding their 69th birthday.
However, some of those opposed to the move have suggested the Professorship should not Poets raise concerns over new Professor of Poetry age limit be treated in the same category as full-time teaching work. The position has previously been held by poets in their seventies. Christopher Ricks, who was Professor of Poetry between and , was 70 when he was elected, while Geoffrey Hicks took on the position aged In a letter to the Guardian , Horovitz called on the University to change the policy. Nominations for candidacy closed on Thursday afternoon, with the final list of confirmed candidates including Alice Oswald and Andrew Macmillan.
The results of the election will be declared at a meeting of Convocation on 21st June. Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment. Sign in. Log into your account.