Imprisoned Suffragettes and their Visual Tools of Power

WSPU Procession 18 June 1910

Copyright: Speed, R / Source: UEA Archives

WSPU ‘From Prison to Citizenship’ procession, 18 June 1910

Unboxed blogger and UEA graduate, Nicholl Hardwick, explores the importance of the broad arrow symbol in suffragette protests.

This photograph captures one of the earliest mass marches organised by the suffrage movement.

As you focus in on the picture, it becomes clear that many of the women are carrying unique staffs. Yet not many of us may know what these visual tools symbolise.

Almost 15,000 women walked together from the Embankment to the Albert Hall in London, in order to hear Christabel Pankhurst and other suffragette leaders speak. These particular staffs represented the “broad arrow” symbol which was a triple line stitched or painted on prisoners’ uniforms at the time. The women carrying these staffs had all been imprisoned for their suffragette activities, hence their use of the symbol.

The staffs make a striking image, especially when considering how many women were holding them. They honoured the actions of those women who saw the crucial need to not just leave their families, but also to risk their freedom and health in their pursuit of gender equality. These staffs represented strength, solidarity, focus and togetherness, and demonstrated that this was a powerful movement whose aims and demands needed to be taken seriously and with empathy.

The scene appears chaotic and stifling, yet it represents bravery, progress and power. The suffragette movement was not without its exclusions and indications of deep-rooted racial prejudice, but it also contained elements of revolution, effective change and radical direct action that have influenced the ways in which many women participate in politics and protest today.

Source: The photograph is held within the papers of Suffragette, Annie Kenney, as part of the Kenney Papers at the University of East Anglia. Kenney was a suffragette pioneer who contributed considerably to the movement and its inclusion of working class women. The march ended at the Royal Albert Hall, where Kenney gave a speech. To visit the archive, email archives@uea.ac.uk

View a short clip from the demonstration (BFI): https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-demonstration-of-suffragettes-1910-online

 

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Ingmar Bergman, Doris Lessing & inconsistencies of the human psyche

by Johanne Elster Hanson (Unboxed)

After the success of films such as Through a Glass Darkly, The Silence and Persona in the 1960s, Swedish director Ingmar Bergman continued to explore the contradictive human psyche in his works. It was during this period that he first read Doris Lessing’s Briefing for a Decent into Hell.

 

In 1974, Bergman wrote an admiring letter to Lessing in which he proposed a meeting between the two in order to discuss a potential film adaptation of one of her novels. The letter is dated September 1st 1974 and is held in the British Archive for Contemporary Writing at University of East Anglia. In it the director expresses deep gratitude towards Lessing, and claims to have read almost all of the Swedish translations of her works. In Lessing’s 1962 novel The Golden Notebook, Bergman claimed to have found the material for more than ten different feature films.

Lessing’s reply on September 12th matches Bergman in admiration and enthusiasm: Pleased with his letter, she tells him how he is “the film-maker I most respect and admire.” She goes on to discuss her new book The Memoirs of a Survivor that is about to be published in the UK, and asks him to read it before their meeting. She also recounts how the writing of her last book The Summer Before The Dark was almost cinematic; “This is the only novel I have ever written when this happened to me – that as I was putting the word down, it was as if I were describing a film running before my eyes.” Lessing sent Bergman an English copy of Memoirs of a Survivor, and signed off by saying how she looked forward “very much” to hearing from him. However, the enthusiastic correspondence preserved in the British Archive for Contemporary Writing bore no fruits: Bergman never made a film based on Lessing’s book, although a film of Memoirs of a Survivor was later directed by David Gladwell and starred Julie Christie.

Michael Tapper, an affiliated researcher in film studies at Lund University in Sweden, writes in his 2017 book Ingmar Bergman’s Face to Face that Bergman appreciated how Lessing gave “credibility to insanity and/or dream as a reflection of an absurd existence”. Lessing’s The Golden Notebook tells the story of writer Anna Wulf who attempts to tie together various aspects of her life through coloured notebooks. The book’s fragmented, post-modern narrative must have appealed to Bergman; his film Cries and Whispers, a psychological chamber piece about four women whose pasts are revealed through flashbacks, had premiered at the Cannes Film Festival the year before he wrote to Doris Lessing.

2018 marks the centenary of the Swedish filmmaker’s birth. The British Film Institute is celebrating the filmmaker, who died in 2007, with its very own Bergman-festival. Stretching across three months from January through March, the festival involves screenings of classics such as The Seventh Seal, Scenes from a Marriage and Fanny & Alexander, as well as some if his lesser-known films. Given Bergman and Lessing’s overlapping interest in the inconsistencies of the human psyche, any collaboration between them would no doubt have been one of the headlines at the British Film Institute’s Bergman-festival.

 Johanne Elster Hanson is a second year undergraduate at the University of East Anglia, currently studying English Literature with Creative Writing and working as a volunteer blogger for the British Archive for Contemporary Writing’s Unboxed programme. A native Norwegian, she is particularly interested in translation and cases where Scandinavian and British culture overlaps.

Doris Lessing’s archive of correspondence is held at the University of East Anglia’s British Archive for Contemporary Writing. To visit the archive please email: archives@uea.ac.uk

 

 

What’s the key to a brilliant piece of writing? Revisions – lots of them

Yin Lim uncovers the editing process behind the short fiction of award winning UEA MA graduate, Tash Aw, and his reluctance to alter the ending of his debut novel.

Authors will tell you that good writing is the product of countless edits and rewrites as they polish the work until they deem it ready for public consumption. For instance, Neil Gaiman recommends putting away a completed manuscript until the author can read it with ‘new eyes’ to be able to fix it, while Kazuo Ishiguro spends an average of six hours a day on his later drafts and revisions – twice the time he takes to work on his first drafts. Recent Booker prize winner George Saunders says that the artist ‘tweaks’ what is already there.

For award-winning author and UEA alumnus Tash Aw, it would take many revisions before he was happy for his short story Sail to be published in A Public Space, an award-winning literary and arts magazine. Annotated drafts that form part of archival material loaned by Aw to the British Archive for Contemporary Writing (BACW) at the University of East Anglia provide a fascinating insight into the all-important practice of revision. Through these documents we can see Aw’s process of writing the piece which tells the story of Yanzu, a Chinese businessman who despite his financial successes, still struggles with a sense of insecurity and failure following the end of a love affair. It’s a rare opportunity to peer into the author’s mind as we read his handwritten notes about the different ideas he had for the piece as it developed; for example, whether a specific section would eventually become the main set piece of the short story.

Going through these drafts, it’s not hard to be curious about the thought processes that prompted Aw to make his revisions; why he replaced certain words and sentences, moved around sections or omitted them altogether, deleted secondary characters and developed a new ending. Some of these revisions would have been responses to comments made by fellow author Yiyun Li, who is also a contributing editor with A Public Space. In a 2011 e-mail exchange with Aw, Li noted how one of the characters felt flat, and suggested that some cuts and revisions could help heighten conflict in the story. The final draft of Sail reveals that Aw also took into consideration Li’s feedback about shortening or changing a book club scene in the story, with the end result being a tighter and subtler version of the earlier drafts.

Not all editors’ feedback are necessarily as well-received however. Aw believed that revisions suggested by editor Cindy Spiegel of Riverhead Books, the US publisher of his debut novel The Harmony Silk Factory, could potentially alter the very essence of the book. A letter exchange between Aw and Spiegel reveals how Aw spent a month working on Spiegel’s edit notes and ‘agonising’ over them before finally making the decision to stand by his original ending instead of modifying it as Spiegel recommended.   As important as the process of editing and revising is to improving a manuscript, equally crucial is the author’s conviction of what works and what doesn’t.

This correspondence can be found in Aw’s archive within the BACW, which also includes typescripts, editorial comments and correspondence with agents and publishers for the critically-acclaimed The Harmony Silk Factory, whose draft manuscript was completed while Aw was on UEA’s MA Creative Writing (Prose Fiction) in 2003.

Yin F Lim is an MA student in Biography and Creative Non-Fiction at the UEA. A former journalist and editor, she is writing about her grandparents’ migration from China to colonial Malaya from her perspective as a recent immigrant to the UK. 

Tash Aw (1971-) a prize winning author and graduate of the MA in Creative Writing (Prose). Aw has produced three novels, all to critical acclaim: The Harmony Silk Factory (2005), Map of the Invisible World (2009) and Five Star Billionaire (2013). He is winner of the Whitbread First Novel Award, a regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and has twice been longlisted for the MAN Booker prize. His short fiction has won an O. Henry Prize and been published in A Public Space, the landmark Granta 100, and elsewhere.  His non-fiction book, The Face: Strangers on a Pier, was a finalist for the LA Times Christopher Isherwood Prize for Autobiographical Prose. 

More on the The Tash Aw Archive at BACW (UEA)

To visit the British Archive for Contemporary Writing, email archives@uea.ac.uk

www.uea.ac.uk/bacw 

Jessie Kenney and the Battalion of Death

Adam Baker, third-year History undergraduate student at the University of East Anglia delves into the 1917 Russian diary of suffragette, Jessie Kenney, and an account of a  military procession on the 13th of July when Kenney and Emmeline Pankhurst met the ‘First Women’s Battalion of Death’, a newly formed group, led by the non-commissioned officer Maria Bochkarëva.

During Emmeline Pankhurst’s 1917 Russian expedition, Jessie Kenney met with the First Women’s Battalion of Death. The newly formed group, led by the non-commissioned officer Maria Bochkarëva, participated in a procession on the 13th of July. But why did a country in the grips of a bitter conflict decide to host such an elaborate event, and how did a women’s battalion come to exist in a country where many of its soldiers weren’t even full citizens?

Though Bochkarëva may have formed the first women’s battalion, this was certainly not the first time women had fought for Russia during the First World War. Russian women dug trenches, served as nurses and mechanics, and drove military vehicles. A few became pilots. Not all were satisfied with these roles, however. Some women secretly joined the front lines by enlisting as men. A select few (such as Bochkarëva) became officers, but those who promoted them were usually aware that they were women. Female combatants often outshone their male counterparts. Female soldiers were by definition enthusiastic volunteers, as only men were conscripted. Furthermore, women who had joined disguised as men had to display better discipline in order to avoid discovery. Bochkarëva carried this strictness over to her regiment, leading to 1700 of her original 2000 volunteers quitting. Her battalion was forbidden from showing ‘feminine’ qualities, such as having long hair or giggling.

The patriotism of the Russian women was admired by Kenney. In her unpublished memoir, she went as far as to call it “one of the greatest patriotic demonstrations being held during the revolution”1 – and Kenney had seen plenty of them during her tour. Kenney also noted the presence of a wounded soldier’s battalion, showing that the women were not the only patriots itching to get back to the war. The presence of the wounded battalion shows that the Russian spirit was uplifted by the Women’s Battalion, something that Alexander Kerensky had hoped for when they formed in March 1917. The Provisional Government decided that volunteer groups would reinvigorate front line troops who were becoming tired of the defensive war they were waging. Their patriotism would not have been lost on Emmeline Pankhurst, either. Her mission to Russia was also a patriotic one, encouraging the Russian people not to accept German treaties and to continue to fight alongside Britain. By 20 July 1917, just 7 days after this procession, all Russian women had gained the right to vote.

In October 1917, the Women’s Battalion was called to defend the Winter Palace. The 1000-strong battalion was unable to overcome the 40,000 Bolshevik soldiers, and they surrendered.

Further Reading:

  • Jessie Kenney Archive, Kenney Papers, University of East Anglia: KP/JK/4/1 Russian Diary available at the UEA Archives KP/JK/4/1 [Specific sub-files: KP/JK/4/1/1 Desk diary, 1917; KP/JK/4/1/6 The Price of Liberty, c. 1966 (unpublished memoir)]
  • ‘They fought for Russia: Female Soldiers of the First World War’ by Laurie Stoff. (From: A Soldier and a Woman. Edited by Gerard J. DeGroot and Corinna Peniston-Bird)

This blog is submitted as part of UEA’s Unboxed programme.

Battling for recognition: the suffragettes’ struggle with revolutionary Russia

Helen Williams is a first year undergraduate student at the University of East Anglia, currently studying History and working as a volunteer blogger on the University’s archives.

The events of 1917 forced a total revision of Russian society and governance, including to no small degree the status of women. From the beginning, female initiative had helped drive the revolution, the catalyst for which had been International Women’s Day; amid already heated discontent in Petrograd, women helped streamline protest by organising groups and compelled workers in Putilov to strike. By the next day, it had spread throughout the city. Its female residents continued to play a decisive role – such as swaying the Cossacks to join their forces against the czar[1] – and under the Russian Provisional Government, supported in part by women from both political and military angles, the trend promised to continue.

This was not lost on Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the suffragette movement in Britain. In June 1917, she and fellow suffragette Jessie Kenney travelled to Petrograd with two objectives: to appeal for Russia’s continuation of the war in the name of the Allied cause and, potentially, further her feminist agenda across Europe. The first was a daunting task. War had brought Russia to the brink of destruction, and advocation of peace at any price was by no means the preserve of her inhabitants. Pacifist Britons such as Labour Party member Ramsay McDonald supported the idea despite the ramifications it would have for the Allies. Pankhurst’s own daughter Sylvia was amongst those campaigning for British and Russian withdrawal.[2] Within Russia itself, the polemic ran deeper still.

Kenney’s diary papers, however, reveal an optimism on the part of both women that they could have an impact. Hindsight might tempt us to imagine this was misplaced; the Provisional Government would prove unable to sustain itself, much less Russia’s already unlikely position in the war. British Ambassador to Russia George Buchanan – with whom Pankhurst dined on the 27th – had earlier that morning voiced fears that this would happen to Prince Georgy Lvov[3], the new government’s Prime Minister. Yet nor was the suffragettes’ hope entirely unfounded, either. The Provisional Government was beginning to cultivate a securer position abroad – the USA had become the first foreign power to officially recognise it on 9th May[4] – and at home, through the person of the still-popular Minister of War, Alexander Kerensky. Indeed, public approval for him was reaching its zenith at this time,[5] fuelled by the initial success of a renewed offensive, just as Kenney was making her entries back in Petrograd. She and Pankhurst thus had little reason to doubt Mr Henderson when he reassured them that the Provisional Government ‘had got a much stronger hand’.

Perhaps the two suffragettes were more successful in their second objective. Kenney’s writing, furthermore, bespeaks a warmth with which those in the government were prepared to welcome them. Lvov himself displays a deep interest in Pankhurst’s work, shared by Minister of Posts and Telegrams Iraki Tsereteli, who Kenney tells us invites her opinions on Russia’s political future. That future saw women’s suffrage achieved less than a month later in July – almost a year before any woman could boast the same in Britain. Pankhurst and Kenney found in the Provisional Government friendly and perhaps genuine support for their cause, if not the guarantee of support for the Allies they had hoped for.

They would have been helped by their movement’s reputation, which preceded their arrival in Russia. While this, too, provoked polarisation, Kenney’s entries focus on the positive, extolling a mutual enthusiasm for female empowerment. She gives particular attention to the workers, and small wonder – June 1917 saw several strikes in Petrograd, initiated by women who were ‘extremely low-paid… principally laundrywomen, catering workers and women dye-workers’.[6] The two suffragettes would have seen all this; that Kenney underscores the issue of wage inequality so – directly repeating what Russian women had to say about it at their factory meeting – demonstrates how deeply it affected her.

Pankhurst herself had been just as – if not more – impressed by another group of women, namely Petrograd’s Women’s Battalion of Death. If Buchanan had disclosed to her his reservations about the Russian war effort during their luncheon on the 27th, they did not deter her from directly reaching out to the unit that same night, speaking at a concert to raise funds for them. The visit to their barracks two days earlier recorded by Kenney must have excited Pankhurst. She saw her own determination for both success in the war and female empowerment replicated in the battalion, for like the suffragettes themselves in Britain, there were women in Russia using voluntary participation in the war effort to work towards female suffrage.[7] Kenney mentions Maria Bochkareva, the battalion’s leader and creator. Of both her and her work, Pankhurst would write ‘glowing reports’[8], and photographs of the pair linked arm-in-arm survive, bespeaking a genuine affinity between them. Bochkareva, for her part, would remember Pankhurst fondly in her autobiography.[9]

Kenney and Pankhurst’s visit to Russia – and all that the former wrote of it – show many parallels between the changing status of women there and in Britain as a result of the First World War. In other ways, they contradicted each other, especially after the two countries’ military interests were no longer aligned. Yet that the two suffragettes could have come away from Russia with some positive memories such as these shows that in another fight, one in which women across nations were uniting, a degree of success had been justly felt.

This blog is part of the Unboxed programme.

Primary source: The Kenney Papers, University of East Anglia, KP/JK/4/1 Russian Diary

[1] Martin Sixsmith, Russia (London: BBC Books, 2012), p.185.

[2] June Purvis, Emmeline Pankhurst: A Biography (Psychology Press, 2002), p.292.

[3] George Buchanan, My Mission to Russia and Other Diplomatic Memories, Vol. II (London: Cassell & Co. Ltd, 1923), p.147.

[4] Roy Bainton, 1917: Russia’s Year of Revolution (London: Constable & Robinson Ltd., 2005), p.91.

[5] Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924 (USA: Penguin Books), p.410.

[6] S. A. Smith, Red Petrograd: Revolution in the Factories, 1917–1918. (Cambridge University Press, 2010), p.118.

[7] Linda Harriet Edmondson. Feminism in Russia 1900-1917. (Heinemann Educational Books Ltd., 1984), p.167.

[8] Rex A. Wade, Revolutionary Russia: New Approaches to the Russian Revolution of 1917. (New York: Routledge, 2004), p.122.

[9] Maria Bochkareva, Yashka: My Life as Peasant, Officer and Exile, (New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1919), p.168.

Bibliography

Bainton, Roy. 1917: Russia’s Year of Revolution. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd., 2005.

Bochkareva, Maria. Yashka: My Life as Peasant, Officer and Exile. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1919.

Buchanan, George. My Mission to Russia and Other Diplomatic Memories, Vol. II London: Cassell & Co. Ltd, 1923.

Edmondson, Linda Harriet. Feminism in Russia 1900-1917. Heinemann Educational Books Ltd., 1984.

Figes, Orlando. A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924. Rpt. Pimlico, London, 1997.

Purvis, June. Emmeline Pankhurst: A Biography. Psychology Press, 2002.

Sixsmith, Martin. Russia. London: BBC Books, 2012.

Smith, S. A. Red Petrograd: Revolution in the Factories, 1917–1918. Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Stockdale, Melissa K. ‘”My Death for the Motherland Is Happiness”: Women, Patriotism, and Soldiering in Russia’s Great War, 1914-1917’, in The American Historical Review, Vol. 109, No. 1, February 2004.

Wade, Rex A. Revolutionary Russia: New Approaches to the Russian Revolution of 1917. New York: Routledge, 2004.

 

The Suffragettes and two World Wars: Letters from Christabel Pankhurst to Annie Kenney

Annie_Kenney_and_Christabel_Pankhurst,_c_1905-1912__(22525796328)

Annie Kenney (left); Christabel Pankhurst – c1905-1912 Source: The Women’s Library collection, London School of Economics

An Unboxed blog from Yaiza Canopoli, undergraduate of the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing.

Related blog, Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst, arrested at the Free Trade Hall on October 13, 1905.

Christabel Pankhurst was born into a family of fighters for women’s rights. Her mother, Emmeline Pankhurst, was the leader of the suffragette movement, and she taught her daughter from early on to fight for her rights. Christabel wrote many letters to fellow suffragettes after 1918, asking for opinions on their legacy and treatment and voicing her own; two particularly interesting letters are addressed to Annie Kenney, with whom she maintained a strong friendship long after the suffragette movement had quieted down and the two world wars were over. The letters are held at the University of East Anglia’s Archives as part of the Kenney Papers.

In a letter from January 1949, Christabel commemorates the death of Flora Drummond, nicknamed ‘the General’ for her habit of leading marches for women’s rights wearing a military uniform. This woman had been a grand figure in the movement, and her death caused sorrow for a lot of women who had been involved at the time.

The idea that the movement is over, that ‘[a] chapter has closed’, and that there is nothing more to be done, seems to be a recurring thought in Christabel’s letters. In 1946 she writes

[t]he vote is ours, and that is what matters,

and then in 1949 she repeats herself, adding that:

it is for the younger women to use it wisely

This is in response to multiple requests for publications focusing on the suffragette movement; in 1946 she was asked to participate in the making of a movie recounting the women’s struggle for the vote, and then in 1949 a similar request was put forward regarding the writing of a book. In both cases, she refused to take part, saying that with the world in such a fragile state as it was left in after the Second World War, showing the way the British government had responded to the women’s rights movement would only put more pressure on Britain and create further tensions:

for foreigners who see the film may get an erroneous impression of what England is today and judge her present case by that blotted page in our history

This awareness of more than just women’s rights is very present throughout most of the suffragettes’ correspondence with one another. When the First World War broke out, the suffragette movement was put on hold to help the government with this international struggle, and even after both wars were over, the women who had been part of the movement were still careful about putting the national and international situation before their own fight. Another example of this is a book that Christabel had written before these requests were voiced; she had already put it in the hands of a publisher when she decided to call off the deal because of the upcoming Second World War.

Ultimately, both letters are about war and memory. As much as they talk about writing books and making movies, the theme of the two world wars is present throughout the correspondence, and the weight these experiences have put on Christabel is palpable. The suffragettes fought for their own rights, but first and foremost they fought for equality and freedom, and the wars of the 20th Century brought these two concepts to their limits, uniting the militant women and the government in what was ultimately a fight for human rights.

The letters exchanged between Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney can be accessed at UEA, alongside other fascinating correspondence between various suffragettes.

[KP/AK/1-2: correspondence with Christabel Pankhurst. Letter from 25/01/1949 + letter from 19/11/1946]

Kenney Papers at UEA Archives

How to access the Archives at UEA: https://portal.uea.ac.uk/library/archives

How iconic designer Cecil Beaton put theatrical flair into the UEA’s graduation gown

Portrait of Cecil Beaton (1985) by Hugo Vickers

Vickers, Hugo: Cecil Beaton (1985)

An Unboxed blog from Isabel Hassan, School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia.

In 1965 Cecil Beaton was approached by Vice-Chancellor Frank Thistlethwaite to design the academic dress for the new University of East Anglia’s first graduation. Beaton introduced the use of indigo blue gowns at UEA, whereas other universities up and down the country had mostly opted for the traditional black.

Cecil Beaton was, amongst other things, an Academy Award-winning stage and costume designer for films and the theatre. Prior to designing the UEA graduation gowns, he had worked on Broadway designing costumes.

Beaton thought that the graduation gowns needed to be more theatrical; if you had worked hard to get a degree, you should be able to dress up and flaunt yourself a little on the day you receive that degree.

The cost of Beaton’s indigo blue graduation gown was £2 in 1966, increasing to £4 in 1970. Current university students may think this is affordable, but £4 in 1970 would today be worth £43.26 which is only slightly cheaper than the current £50 cost for UEA students. However, in 1970 “only 20 of the 2,500 students there [at UEA] have thought it worth paying £4 for the dark-blue gowns.”

UEA Coll 4. Original bachelors hat The Dan Dare

Source: Nicholas Groves’ ‘The Academical Dress of UEA’

One aspect of Beaton’s design which did not catch on was his suggestion for novel graduation caps. According to Nicholas Groves’ The Academical Dress of UEA, Beaton wanted to “abandon the traditional square cap (mortar-board) [ . . . ] and to invent a special hat for bachelors, and another for masters.” This hat was more rounded in shape and was called the ‘Dan Dare’ (pictured). The design was a result of Beaton’s desire to make the entire graduation look more theatrical. However, Groves admits that “they proved unable to withstand popular opinion, and have been replaced by the traditional square.”

Although the Dan Dare may not have prevailed, the indigo-blue graduation gowns have. This is interesting considering that UEA students in 1970 did not think the indigo-blue gowns were worth paying for, and now they are almost iconic at UEA.

2017 will see another year of UEA students graduate in these blue gowns from 17th – 21st July.

Notes
1. A major problem of the indigo gowns was that, over the years, the cloth used grew gradually lighter in colour, until by the mid-1990s it was almost air-force blue. It has since returned to a darker shade (Nicholas Groves. The Academical Dress of the University of East Anglia, 2005).
2. The undergraduates were given a short knee-length cape rather than a gown, with slits for the passage of the arms. The colour is recorded as smokey blue (Michael Sanderson. The History of the University of East Anglia, 2002) and as indigo (Groves, ibid).

You cannot fake a writer: Kazuo Ishiguro on his experience at UEA

Kazuo Ishiguro_UEA ImageLibrary

UEA: Archive Image

UEA literature student, Melina Spanoudi, revisits an archived interview with Kazuo Ishiguro as part of the British Archive for Contemporary Writing’s Unboxed project.

Kazuo Ishiguro applied to the University of East Anglia in 1979, following a long year of social work in London. The MA in Creative Writing began in autumn, leaving the entire summer free for him to panic. He did so briefly, before beginning to write seriously for the first time. Ten years later, he won the Man Booker Prize for his novel The Remains of the Day.

Returning to UEA during the Literary Festival of 1999, in an interview with award winning academic, novelist and biographer, Christopher Bigsby, Ishiguro is asked whether writing can be taught. Put plainly, his answer is no. Ishiguro believes that a writer cannot be crafted: rather, they are sculpted, refined in their involvement with the creative process of writing within an academic environment. Through sharing first drafts, exposing themselves and others to criticism, embarrassment and acclaim, the writer is given the opportunity to realize where they must stand when choosing to write.

However, the initial choice to write remains a personal matter. Any creation which is forced to extend itself beyond the boundaries of personal innovation is of no genuine value; you cannot fake a writer more than you can fake a text.

Ishiguro remarks: ‘You can certainly produce someone who can write more competently. But I would be rather more sceptical about the possibility of their producing anything of artistic worth.’

The process between writing and identifying as a writer is unique to each individual; However, what happens when you embark on a degree which expects you to be a writer before you have begun to write?

With little writing experience, sporadically noting descriptive fragments mirroring the semi-autobiographical style of Kerouac, Ishiguro’s journey to becoming a writer invites us to question whether he adopted the identity of ‘writer’ during the course of his degree in Creative Writing. Ishiguro explains that he discovered the space he required to explore his individual style of writing at the UEA. The learning atmosphere fostered through the flexible teaching methods adopted by his tutors, Malcom Bradbury and Angela Carter, enabled him to create, unaided and uninterrupted.

He describes his year at the UEA to Bigsby: ‘That was when I really started to write. So it was very fundamental. Before I went to East Anglia I had written very little indeed, certainly nothing I would count today as proper writing.’

Ishiguro dates the beginning of his first novel, A Pale View of Hills, in 1979/80, during the year he was studying at the UEA. He notes that most of his time studying Creative Writing was spent writing that novel. Although his first book resembled a form of a semi-autobiographical work, his later novels are informed by the awareness of his ability to create outside the context of his own life.

He explains: ‘Somewhere along the way I discovered that I could write better, more effectively, if I changed the setting and put the whole thing at a greater distance.’

Somewhere along the way, perhaps at UEA, Ishiguro became one of the greatest writers of our time. His journey at the university reminds students of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing that we are not taught how to become writers, but of the ways which enable us to discover our most humane and distinctive narrative voices.

Quotations reproduced with the kind permission of the author. All rights reserved.

To view the Literary Festival interview in full in our Archive Reading Room, contact the British Archive for Contemporary Writing archives@uea.ac.uk

To find out more about our 300+ collection of Literary Festival recordings, visit http://www.uea.ac.uk/bacw/litfest

 

The story of UEA’s MA in Creative Writing

An Unboxed blog from Rosie Burgoyne.

Until 1970, no University in the UK offered students the chance to take an MA in Creative Writing. This all changed when Sir Malcolm Bradbury and Sir Angus Wilson founded a Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia, the very first of its kind in the UK. If you head down to floor 02, right in the depths of UEA’s library, you will find the British Archive for Contemporary Writing, home to an extensive collection on the history of the Creative Writing MA and the life of its founder, Sir Malcolm Bradbury.

One of the many hidden gems within the archive is an image of some of the first students on the Creative Writing MA course, under the supervision of Sir Malcolm Bradbury. The enthusiasm and essence of UEA as a hub for literature and creative writing is further captured in an image from The Guardian’s picture archive. The students in the picture are smiling to one another as they take part in what appears to have been some form of seminar or discussion about their writing. They are under the watchful eye of Sir Malcolm Bradbury, who was then both the course director and a lecturer. These students were amongst the earliest to be offered the opportunity to complete an MA in creative writing, which at the time concentrated primarily on prose.

Since the picture was taken, the MA has branched out to include courses in poetry, scriptwriting, life writing and crime fiction. However, its world-renowned reputation remains unchanged, with notable graduates including Booker Prize winners Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan and Anne Enright.

The founder of the programme, Sir Malcolm Bradbury, led a prolific writing career in his own right. He wrote numerous short stories, television plays and series, literary criticism and novels, many of which were inspired by his experiences of academia, including ‘The History Man’, which was published in 1975.

Within the archive at UEA are scripts, newspapers, magazine cuttings and other revealing materials, documenting the lifetime of Sir Malcolm Bradbury in terms of both his writing career and his involvement in the creative writing MA at UEA.

Throughout his lifetime, Bradbury was known to have encouraged young, aspiring authors, especially during his time as a lecturer, reader and professor at UEA and he has left behind a lasting legacy for UEA’s creative writing students. He was recognised for his efforts by being made a CBE in 1991 and knighted in 2000 for his outstanding contribution to Literature.

For further information about Sir Malcolm Bradbury or the history of the creative writing MA at UEA the following links may be of use:

https://portal.uea.ac.uk/library/archives/bacw/bradbury

http://www.malcolmbradbury.com/index.html

https://www.uea.ac.uk/literature/creative-writing/about-uea-creative-writing

Lessing’s writing pushed boundaries and she lived life to the same beat

Doris Lessing Portrait (1950s)

Doris Lessing Portrait (1950s): Copyright CAMERA PRESS

An Unboxed blog, from Martha Griffiths, first year student of American and English Literature at the University of East Anglia.

Amongst the 110 love letters held in the Whitehorn collection at the British Archive for Contemporary Writing from Doris Lessing to her wartime lover, perhaps one gives us a greater insight into her young life, and the society she grew up in. It was written to John R. M. Whitehorn, an RAF serviceman and intimate confidante and is dated sometime around January 1945.

This letter  perfectly captures Lessing’s determination to make her own choices and express herself and her emotions towards others. It describes her relationship with both her husband and the other men that she met, mostly through Communist Party meetings. Not only is she writing to a long-term lover about her husband, but she also describes the “platonic amour” she has met recently. To many, this flirtation may come as a surprise or appear scandalous but, as she would come to say in later interviews, it was just something one did in those times.

She even joined the Communist Party out of boredom, a feeling shared by many of the RAF soldiers she met there. There is genuine affection in the note towards Whitehorn, but Lessing makes it clear that it would be an unfortunate man who attempted to interfere with her choices.

This was a woman to be reckoned with; she was totally self-aware and comfortably content to make her own choices. Lessing’s works are known for pushing boundaries and she lived her life to the same beat, whilst aware of her husband’s discomfort with her social life she was not willing to give in to the pull of domesticity.

The Doris Lessing Archive, held within UEA’s British Archive for Contemporary Writing, is an invaluable source with letters from one of the most influential female authors of the twentieth century. Her eloquence and her passion cannot mask what a formidable opponent she was if ever obstructed