Research and Academic Writing
This section of the Blog will include excerpts and reflections from third-year Research Projects and postgraduate dissertations. Please do get in touch with other ideas as well!
When we consume literature, can we be so immersed in it that we end up being consumed? This question and more specifically its affirmative answer is the starting point of the story of Miguel de Cervantes’s “Don Quijote”. Among other things, the author addresses the theme of literature and plays with the negative consequences it can have on its consumers.
Don Quijote, a poor inhabitant of the countryside, is so immersed in his chivalric romances that he comes to construct his own reality based on these inspirations. Thus, he cannot distinguish the real world any more and all his interactions are centred around his new identity as a knight who has the duty to save his beloved and help poor people who have suffered under unjust conditions along the way. Spread across more than 1000 pages and two parts, the reader witnesses his three journeys filled with peculiar adventures.
Although Don Quijote is trapped in his made-up world, many of the people he encounters play along with his story and thus make him even more confident in his consciousness about reality. This comical element contributes to the fading of the lines between appearance and reality. The character of Don Quijote himself is another constant element of comic relief throughout the plot: he is an old, frail man riding on ‘Rocinante’, his even more fragile and bony horse, and he is accompanied by his friend Sancho Panza whose last name is a reference to his big belly. The latter rides on a small donkey and helps Don Quijote through the sometimes dangerous situations his master puts them in.
The novel was published in 1605 and the second part appeared ten years after the first one, following the initial success of Quijote’s story. In this second part, Cervantes uses a truly modern and revolutionizing narrative technique for his time: the characters that the protagonist encounters in the second half have read his story and thus know of him. Thus, the author deeply interferes with what the reader can interpret as the reality of the plot and what Don Quijote makes out to be his own reality: in a way, the fictional plot becomes real throughout the novel.
The entire story, in addition to its timeline and its narrator(s), is also a rather complex matter: the narrator of the first part addresses the fact that the text is translated from the Arabic and makes numerous references to its original author Cide Hamete Benengeli. Moreover, in the second part, Don Quijote and Sancho Panza make remarks about the accuracy and faults they judge in the novel which has been published about them. Here, Cervantes, again, adds another layer of meaning by making in-text comments about what it means to write about other people, as well as what the act of translation truly entails.
To judge the poor old adventurer as mad based on his crazy beliefs and actions would be too simple and naïve of an assumption to make. In fact, his odyssey deals with numerous other deeper questions about real everyday life that make an analysis of the story a deeply complex one. Apart from being the first “modern” novel using the beforementioned narrative techniques, as well as the most famous piece of literature in the Spanish canon, it also proves to be a very funny read, making numerous ironic references to Spanish traditions, life and State affairs. So, in conclusion, the tale of Don Quijote and his friend Sancho Panza are part of an exciting and fantastically rich piece of literature which I would recommend to anyone looking for a funny and unconventional longer read. And who knows, maybe you will find yourself just as consumed by this novel like I was and like Don Quijote himself is in the beginning?
Laura Ruiz Viejobueno
For my final year research project, I chose to focus on women travel writers from the nineteenth century. I then narrowed this down to Korean writer Kim Keum-Won and British writer Isabella Bishop to see how these particular writers broke gender conventions of the time and explore their motivations for travel.
My interest in nineteenth century Korean literature stems from my year abroad at Seoul National University in which I was introduced to a variety of new works. After returning to the UK, I found it difficult to find East Asian literature which was translated into English: this was especially true for texts written by women. From then onwards I became determined to focus my dissertation on women’s writing and to uncover some of these lost voices.
'The Laundry and the Mangle: "Woman's Weapon"': Horace Allen, Things Korean, (New York: F. H. Revell Co, ), p. 109.
I selected this image from Horace Allen’s Things Korean as the front cover for my dissertation as it perfectly encapsulates the gender expectations of Korean women – and arguably women across the world – at the time. Women were forced to remain in the domestic sphere and taught that their power stemmed from their domiciliary duties.
During the research project module, we were asked to prepare an abstract which briefly summarised our dissertation and identify keywords which were used throughout our papers. These abstracts were really useful in illuminating the main points for our project and highlighting our thesis.
This project is an examination of the ways in which Isabella Bishop and Kim Keum-Won use travel to reclaim their narratives by redefining what it means to be a nineteenth century woman. Research often depicts women travellers as travelling with the purpose of escaping the household; however, this study seeks to challenge this conception and present women as active agents in their lives. Building off the research of Susan Bassnett and Dunlaith Bird, Adrift Women asks: How does the works of Isabella Bishop’s Korea and her Neighbours and Kim Keum-Won’s ‘Ho-Dong-Seo-Nak-Ki’ reveal the figure of the empowered travel writer?
Based on a review of Bishop’s Korea and her Neighbours and Kim’s ‘Ho-Dong-Seo-Nak-Ki’, I found that, despite the many differences women across these two contexts face, their experience of dismissal, suppression, and rejection remained the same. Likewise, the comparison between the two highlighted that the figure of the empowered woman travel writer is universal and should be normalised. Further research on women travellers who supposedly travel for escapist purposes are needed to further challenge the notion of the woman ‘in-flight’ of domesticity and strengthen my argument.