Samantha Ellen Morse – NASSR Graduate Student Caucus http://www.nassrgrads.com Resources for Graduate Students of Romanticism Tue, 09 Jan 2018 19:20:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.9 118134998 Charles Lamb on New Year’s Eve 1820: “No one ever regarded the First of January with indifference.” http://www.nassrgrads.com/charles-lamb-on-new-years-eve-1820-no-one-ever-regarded-the-first-of-january-with-indifference/ http://www.nassrgrads.com/charles-lamb-on-new-years-eve-1820-no-one-ever-regarded-the-first-of-january-with-indifference/#respond Fri, 05 Jan 2018 21:41:15 +0000 http://www.nassrgrads.com/?p=8183 Continue reading Charles Lamb on New Year’s Eve 1820: “No one ever regarded the First of January with indifference.” ]]> If your inbox looks anything like mine this first week of January, it’s flooded with advertisements for gym memberships, discounted vitamins, and fancy planners that “guarantee” you reach your goals. I started wondering when the idea of a New Year resolution became such a widespread cultural phenomenon. The Romantic period seemed like a likely point of origin, given the increasing emphasis on individual experience.

“New Year’s Eve,” one of Charles Lamb’s Elia essays published in the London Magazine in January 1821, does not prove my hypothesis. But it does express an interesting attitude toward the New Year.

Elia begins by humorously likening the New Year to a birthday then transitions to a more pensive and lugubrious line of thought:

“Of all sound of all bells—(bells, the music nighest bordering upon heaven)—most solemn and touching is the peal which rings out the Old Year. I never heard it without a gathering-up of my mind to a concentration of all the images that have been diffused over the past twelve-month; all I have done or suffered, performed or neglected—in that regretted time. I begin to know its worth, as when a person dies.”1

Elia’s tone here is exactly what he attributes to the midnight bells—solemn and touching—as he leads us into a trap. By beginning with the heavenly, almost exultant, bells, we expect to experience the New Year with exhilaration. And indeed, we seem to in the “concentration of all the images” in that powerful parallelism of “all I have done or suffered, performed or neglected.” That dash is a kicker though. The energy of the remembrances are syntactically stultified, then dulled to a painful melancholy “in that regretted time.” Likening the Old Year to a recently deceased person sends us plummeting into still deeper dejection.

(Yes, this was the accompanying sketch in the 1905 edition I found)

Rather than feeling “exhilaration at the birth of the coming year,”2 Elia solemnly understands the New Year as a sign of aging, another step closer to death. This is all beginning to sound very morbid. But really, I don’t think Lamb’s essay is about indulging melancholy or even nostalgia for the old year. Rather, he confronts “this intolerable disinclination to dying”3 that haunts him on New Year’s Eve, and paragraph by paragraph transforms his melancholy and nostalgia into a rapturous celebration of his present life: “I am content to stand still at the age to which I am arrived; I am my friends: to be no younger, no richer no handsomer… Sun, and sky, and breeze, and solitary walks, and summer holidays, and the greenness of fields, and the delicious juices of meats and fishes, and society and the cheerful glass, and candle-light, and fire-side conversations, and innocent vanities, and jests, and irony itself—do these things go out with life?”4 The length of the zestful list with its relishing repetition of “and” overwhelms the concluding meditation on the afterlife with vivacity.

Building on the momentum of this delineation, Elia chastises the tombstones that exhort him to think of death and mocks the dead man’s “odious truism, that ‘such as he now is, I must shortly be.”5 Apostrophizing the deceased, Elia exclaims: “Not so shortly, friend, perhaps as thou imaginest. In the meantime I am alive. I move about. I am worth twenty of thee. Know thy betters! Thy New Year’s Days are past. I survive, a jolly candidate for 1821. Another cup of wine–…”6

What Lamb is ultimately criticizing is the typical attitude of looking to the future at the start of a new year. At first, he counters this anticipatory orientation by reflecting on the past. But this too proves unsatisfying. Rejecting both backward and forward-looking melancholy, Elia declares, “I am alive. I move about.” It is in this statement (not exclamation) that Elia finds tempered delight in the present and can therefore embrace the New Year with playful irony.

So really, it seems like Lamb is anti-New Year resolutions. All that prospection just brings you closer to death. Move about in your present moment, and have another cup of wine, good ol’ Lamb entreats us.

I suppose I should have looked at those earnest Victorians for the origin of New Year resolutions… Maybe there’s a chapter on it in Self-Help

[1] Charles Lamb, The Essays of Elia (J. M. Dent & Co., 1905), 54.

[2] Lamb, 55.

[3] Lamb, 59.

[4] Lamb, 58.

[5] Lamb, 60.

[6] Lamb, 60.

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What Happened To Dread in the Nineteenth Century? http://www.nassrgrads.com/what-happened-to-dread-in-the-nineteenth-century/ Fri, 08 Dec 2017 23:56:39 +0000 http://www.nassrgrads.com/?p=8121 Continue reading What Happened To Dread in the Nineteenth Century? ]]> Although we normally discuss terror, horror, and the sublime in relation to early Gothic literature, I’d like to call our attention to another similar, but significantly distinguishable affect: dread. Dread is unique because of its future orientation, something we don’t normally talk about with the past-dominated Gothic. However, I’d like to present two readings of dread, in Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) and MG Lewis’s The Monk (1796) to demonstrate how integral this expectant affect is to the genre.     

The Castle of Otranto opens with speculations by the peasants regarding “the Prince’s dread of seeing accomplished an ancient prophecy, which was said to have pronounced, That the castle and lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family, whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it.1 Various body parts and accoutrements of a gigantic statue proceed to plague Manfred and his castle for the rest of the novella. Importantly, “dread” is the affect repeatedly attributed to Manfred as a result of this prophecy and its spectral manifestations. For instance, in the opening scene Manfred searches for his missing son Conrad and enters the court “dreading he knew not what” to find servants struggling to raise an enormous helmet from his macerated heir.2 There is thus an immediate correlation between the affect of dread and the presence of the giant statue, whose presence symbolizes illegitimacy and prophecies the demise of Manfred’s lordship of Otranto.

To dread is not simply to fear, but rather, “to look forward to with terror or anxiety.”3 Dread is therefore a state of fear that only arises when one’s thoughts are oriented towards the future. It is not the future event itself that evokes fear, however. Recall how Manfred enters the court “dreading he knew not what.” He is not yet aware that there exists a giant statue that has squashed his son, and that he will soon lose the castle of Otranto. Manfred experiences anxiety simply by contemplating an unknown future: Where is his son? What has happened to him? The acuity of Manfred’s dread sharpens as the future becomes clearer. The appearance of the prophesied statue guarantees a future in which he loses the lordship of Otranto. It is apprehension of this future loss, the affect of dread, that makes Manfred a brutal despot, for the narrator mentions early on, “Manfred was not one of those savage tyrants who wanton in cruelty unprovoked. The circumstances of his fortune had given an asperity to his temper, which was naturally humane…”4 In short, dread provokes Manfred’s cruelty toward the other characters, and his acts of despotism comprise the bulk of the plot. Thus, the affect of dread is not only crucial to the atmosphere of the story, but motivates its narrative.

Thus far I have defined dread as a state of fear felt in contemplation of a concrete (prophesied) or abstract (ambiguously contemplated) future. What I’ve been hinting at, and would now like to make clear, is that this future, regardless of how concrete or abstract it is, must be perceived as an inevitable one by the affected subject in order to elicit dread. For this reason, Otranto opens with a prophecy and ends with its fulfillment, which occurs in spite of Manfred’s frenzied attempts to resist it.

Similarly, an initial scene in The Monk presents a dramatic prophecy-like curse. When Ambrosio denies the pregnant nun Agnes mercy, she anathematizes: “But the day of trial will arrive. Oh! then, when you yield to impetuous passions; when you feel that man is weak, and born to err; when, shuddering, you look back upon your crimes, and solicit with terror the mercy of your God, oh! –in that fearful moment, think upon me! Think upon your cruelty! Think upon Agnes–and despair of pardon!”5 Thus far, Ambrosio has demonstrated remarkable piety and is revered by religious and common folk alike. It is after Agnes’s curse that the monk falls progressively deeper into depravity: admitting his attraction to the novice Rosario, indulging in carnal delights with the novice when he proves to be a woman named Matilda, slighting Matilda when he becomes attracted to the innocent Antonia, and ultimately planning the abduction and rape of Antonia that results in his murdering her mother. I do not mean to suggest that there is a causal relationship between Agnes’s malediction and Ambrosio’s iniquity, for she is no sorceress. Rather, the importance of her curse is that it establishes a future-orientation from the outset of the novel. Agnes alerts Ambrosio and the assumed Christian reader to the inevitability of Judgement Day, and evokes dread of God’s reckoning.

The Monk thus participates in what Paul Megna identifies as a “Judeo-­Christian tradition of dread­-based asceticism” that is “built around the ethical goal of living better through dread.”6 Megna references a long history of Middle English sermons, confession manuals, allegorical poems, dramas, and polemics to demonstrate the ubiquity of dread-­based emo­tional communities in medieval England. In these texts, dread frequently aligns with spiritual ideals like obedience and wisdom and serves to initiate salvation. Megna traces this tradition of dread-based devotion from the Middle Ages to the existential theories of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, particularly focusing on Søren Kierkegaard’s The Concept of Anxiety (1844), which was originally translated as The Concept of Dread. Kierkegaard distinguishes fear from anxiety based on the definiteness of the object. Fear has a definite object; for example, when standing on the edge of a cliff, a person is afraid of falling and dying painfully. Anxiety, on the other hand, “is freedom’s actuality as the possibility of possibility.”7 Simply put, anxiety, or dread, results when a person realizes her future can change depending on how she exerts her free will.

The Monk, published in 1796 but representing an imagined medieval Spain, exists at a transitional moment in Megna’s history of dread-based asceticism, bridging medieval religious doctrines and modern existentialism. Ambrosio’s dread amphibiously dips into both paradigms, while failing to correspond entirely to either, thus resulting in his demise. Megna elucidates how medieval preachers did not simply frighten the laity with fire and brimstone, but rather proscribed elaborate programs to distinguish between and transcend lower forms of dread (like dread of suffering) to the highest form of morally perfect dread: child-like dread of God out of reverent love. The point of experiencing dread in any case is to cultivate a moral life free from sin. The effectiveness of dread in thwarting sin is apparent in The Monk, when Ambrosio “no longer reflected with shame upon his incontinence, or dreaded the vengeance of offended heaven. His only fear was lest Death should rob him of enjoyments, for which his long Fast had only given a keener edge to his appetite.”8 Consequently, he “rioted in delights till then unknown to him: Swift fled the night, and the Morning blushed to behold him still clasped in the embraces of Matilda.”9 Suddenly devoid of dread, the once chaste monk is transformed into a nymphomaniac. However, at the end of the novel when he is in the dungeons of the Inquisition, Ambrosio’s dread returns in full force. He “believed himself doomed to perdition,” and thus signs his soul over to Satan, for he is convinced “by refusing the demon’s succor, He only hastened tortures which He never could escape.”10 In his final moments of reflection before signing the fatal contract, “With affright did he bend his mind’s eye on the space beyond the grave; nor could hide from himself how justly he ought to dread Heaven’s vengeance.”11 Ultimately, then, in a dramatic reversal of medieval religious doctrine, Ambrosio’s extreme dread of God’s judgment does not lead to reform and salvation, but the selling of his soul and damnation.

Although Ambrosio perceives his future perdition as unavoidable, the novel ends with the proposition that another future was possible: “Had you resisted me one minute longer,” says Satan, “you had saved your body and soul. The guards whom you heard at your prison-door came to signify your pardon.”12 Lewis, ever the master of irony, thus playfully invites the reader to imagine an alternative ending moments before having his wretched villain pulverized in a gorge and sent to eternal damnation. This moment of imagination prefigures Kierkegaard’s existential crisis as expressed in Concepts. Ambrosio was not, in fact, “doomed to perdition” as he believed. Agnes’s curse was not a binding supernatural malediction; it did not eliminate his free will. Ambrosio could have chosen to not sign the contract. However, because he perceived his future damnation as inevitable, his dread mounted to such a pitch that he could not imagine an alternative future where he was saved. The result is a twofold religious and existential tragedy: Ambrosio fails to transcend from dread to love of God (thus having faith in God’s forgiveness and salvation) and simultaneously fails to recognize his power of free will. Ambrosio is in fact devoid of anxiety as Kierkegaard sees it, for he fails to see “the possibility of possibility.”13 Ambrosio’s failure, I argue, is the product of a Gothically perceived future; that is, a future that is fixed and inevitable. The distinctly Gothic future, I would like to propose, is one that cannot be altered by free will.

These readings are a long way of getting to the question that motivated this article: What happened to dread in the nineteenth century? From the Middle Ages to the Romantic period, dread was a solemn affective posture of profound significance in theology, philosophy, and literature.

But, dread does not retain its serious, ecclesiastical denotation in nineteenth century literature. On the contrary, it becomes a frivolous and popular term, as indicated by the “penny dreadful” phenomenon. These cheap magazines with famously lurid covers and illustrations were purchased primarily by working class boys and related melodramatic crime stories like The String of Pearls; Or, Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet-Street (1847-49). At best, Victorian critics deemed the stories “exceedingly foolish and frivolous,”14 which prompted readers “to escape from thought.”15 At worst, penny dreadfuls were supposed to precipitate crime: “Find me the boy who murders his mother or steals his father’s watch, and I will find you the Penny Dreadful.”16 The dreadfulness of these tales, therefore, was historically attributed to their inferior prose style and their unethical utility.

Simultaneously, a number of comics appearing in Judy, Or the London Serio-Comic Journal depicted supposedly dreadful, but actually ridiculous, scenarios. For example, an 1872 cartoon titled “A Dreadful Thing to Happen” amusingly portrays a betrothed couple swimming in the sea at the same time, the man mistaking another man for his fiancée in the water, then both man and woman exiting the sea in such a rush that they enter each others’ bathing-machines and don each others’ clothes, after which they are both arrested by the police. This is, apparently, “a dreadful thing to happen.”

I am in earnest to explain this drastic evacuation of dread’s solemn significance! The Romantic period seems to be the tipping point, so I’m calling on my NASSR fellows for assistance:

What Romantic text (or image) best depicts dread?

Do you know any examples of silly dread in the Romantic period?

Sarah Kareem at UCLA has pointed out to me that awe/awful undergoes a similar transformation. Can you think of any similar examples?   

Other thoughts about this emptying of dread are very much appreciated! 

[1] Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto (Oxford UP, 1996), 17.

[2] Walpole, 19.

[3] “dread, v.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, June 2017, www.oed.com/view/Entry/57584. Accessed 8 December 2017.

[4] Walpole, 33.

[5] Matthew Lewis, The Monk (Oxford UP, 2016), 39.

[6] Paul Megna, “Better Living through Dread: Medieval Ascetics, Modern Philosophers, and the Long History of Existential Anxiety,” PMLA 2015, 130.5, 1286.

[7] Søren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety, trans. Alastair Hannah (W.W. Norton & Co., 2014), 42.

[8] Lewis, 173.

[9] Lewis, 173.

[10] Lewis, 333.

[11] Lewis, 326.

[12] Lewis, 338.

[13] Kierkegaard, 42.

[14] Francis Hitchman, “The Penny Press,” Macmillan’s Magazine, March 1881, 398.

[15] Hitchman, 385.

[16] Anonymous, “A Penny-Dreadful Scare,” The National Observer, 28 September 1895, 546.

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Is The Author Dead In Your Classroom? http://www.nassrgrads.com/is-the-author-dead-in-your-classroom/ http://www.nassrgrads.com/is-the-author-dead-in-your-classroom/#comments Wed, 01 Nov 2017 14:12:06 +0000 http://www.nassrgrads.com/?p=8096 Continue reading Is The Author Dead In Your Classroom? ]]> When an undergraduate professor assigned Roland Barthes and told me, “The Author Is Dead,”1 I heard with elation the clarion cry of burgeoning self-importance. I was no longer a measly high school student who naively derived literature’s meaning from the author’s personal psychology. No, no, I was a college student now and could refer to The Text as Ding an sich. In fact, by interpreting it, I was basically writing the darn thing! Reborn as a liberated reader, I ultimately heeded the call to become a literary critic myself.

In my first two years as a graduate student teaching at UCLA, I thoroughly enjoyed murdering the author for the benefit of my students (so I thought). I recognized the glow in many faces, which had once beamed from mine. I patted myself on the back for being (dare I say it?) like Wordsworth and Helen Vendler — “What we have loved, Others will love, and we will teach them how.”2 More importantly, the students who appeared most excited by the death of the author were the ones who produced the best papers. You know, papers that actually presented an original argument (not simply regurgitating what I said in lecture) grounded in extended analyses of formal literary devices. On the other end of the spectrum, a species of bad papers that I was particularly loath to receive were ones that Romantically psychologized the author to interpret his or her work. My least favorite: Byron’s personal fear of the dark explains the terror of “Darkness.” Ugh!

To crystallize the “good” practice of interpretation without heeding the author, I insisted students write about “the speaker” rather than the poet, and “the narrator” rather than the novelist. I thought I was training my students in an undisputed convention of our field….

Then I read John Farrell’s The Varieties of Authorial Intention: Literary Theory Beyond the Intentional Fallacy,3 which came out earlier this year. I hated to admit it, but I immediately recognized the need to reassess my teaching practices. 

I highly recommend you peruse The Varieties of Authorial Intention (and I promise you’ll actually enjoy reading the beautifully articulated, logically organized, and blessedly concise prose style). Farrell’s aim is to bring the author back into critical conversations. His main point is straightforward: it is the author’s intention that allows us to recognize a text as a work of art. “[T]o think of a literary work as a mere text,” argues Farrell, “is to neglect its impact and value as a human gesture made in a concrete historical situation toward a potentially identifiable audience.”4 Elegantly weaving between historicism and New Criticism,  Farrell is keen to emphasize “that a text’s need for intentional grounding does not mean that evidence about intentions outside the text of an utterance must play a key epistemic role in literary interpretation.”5 Besides the polemical claim for intentionality, the scintillating close readings of a vast array of texts (my favorites analyze Pride and Prejudice, Through the Looking Glass, and Emily Dickinson’s “Success is counted sweetest”) are the most impressive and delightful characteristic of this book.

Farrell differentiates the monolith of Authorial Intention into three varieties: communicative, artistic, and practical intent.

The author’s communicative intention is what exactly he or she means by the words and sentences in a work: “If the reader can understand the sentences of a literary work in their local context, the symbolic dimensions of the work, and what the point of the whole roughly seems to be, then the author’s communicative intentions have succeeded.”6 So, step one is recognizing that an author intentionally wrote words on a page to communicate something. Step two is understanding the language itself.

Only by comprehending the meaning of the words can we then assess the artistic intention, which refers to “the authors’ attempts to provide a valuable reading experience by creating literary effects—to move, amuse, perplex, inspire, instruct, or infuriate the reader using all means at hand—verbal skill, mastery of structure, imagery, metaphor, narrative forms and genres, or the flouting of any of these.”7 Evaluations of artistic intention, unlike communicative intention, do not succumb to the author’s authority. Even when we grasp the communicative intention, the artistic intention can fail. Think of it in this everyday scenario: someone tells a joke and you understand the words (the communicative intention), but you just don’t find it funny. Although you recognize the joker’s artistic intention to be funny, you’re still not moved to laugh.   

Finally, practical intentions are what motivate the composition of a work: “to impress others, give them pleasure, earn a living, gain status, sexual opportunities, the power to influence opinion, change the world, or keep the world the same.”8 The key point here is that practical intentions do not change the meaning of a work. They might change our attitude toward it, but they do not changed the communicative intention.

I surely can’t do justice to the richly textured debates examined in The Varieties of Authorial Intention. But I hope this post motivates you to reconsider the role of the author in your teaching practice. Perhaps it will impact your research as well, but I think the classroom is where the author is consistently and most egregiously exterminated. How might we guide students to evaluate, or at least consider, the varieties of authorial intention, while still meticulously and incisively analyzing language and form like Farrell does?

Here’s the easy experiment I’m going to try in my own classroom. I’ll select a passage or a chapter from the reading and begin class by asking the students to write for a few minutes: What happened in this selection? Then explain that their responses (which are hopefully all similar) reflect the author’s communicative intention, and I’ll quickly explain what that is in a little more detail. Next, I’ll ask, “Ok, what’s the artistic intention of this selection, and, in your opinion, did the author succeed or fail?” I’ll optimistically envision that this opens up a ripe debate that draws our attention to the literary devices that make the text artistic (keep your fingers crossed for me). Finally, I’d conclude the exercise by giving a micro-lecture explaining the practical intention behind the work (like if we were reading Frankenstein, I would alert them to Mary Shelley’s 1831 preface about the scary story contest on that rainy night at Lake Geneva, in addition to, as Ellen Moers points out in Literary Women, her fraught experiences with childbirth9). Then I would ask, “How does this information affect your attitude toward the novel?” And follow up with, “How has the reception and representation of Frankenstein over the past two centuries impacted your attitude toward the original novel?”

At the very least, I think this practice of differentiating between the varieties of authorial intention in the classroom could reduce those bad biographical papers and help students to more critically analyze their biases towards a text based on its practical intentions and impact over time. Identifying artistic intentions can be the jumping off point for deeper conversations about the most important points of analysis in an undergraduate English class: form, structure, syntax, diction, imagery, metaphor, and all those other wonderful literary devices.

Please share your thoughts! Are you convinced (or, at least, interested) by the intentional argument? Have you tried this in your classroom?

[1] See Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” in Image-Music-Text, trans. Stephen Heath (New York: Hill & Wang, 1977). 

[2] See Helen Vendler, “What We Have Loved, Others Will Love,” in Falling Into Theory, ed. David H. Richter (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000), 31.

[3] John Farrell, The Varieties of Authorial Intention: Literary Theory Beyond the Intentional Fallacy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).

[4] Farrell, 10.

[5] Farrell, 31.

[6] Farrell, 37.

[7] Farrell, 39.

[8] Farrell, 38.

[9] See Ellen Moers, Literary Women (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976).

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You Are More Than Just A Graduate Student: Some Thoughts About That Elusive “Work-Life Balance” http://www.nassrgrads.com/you-are-more-than-just-a-graduate-student-some-thoughts-about-that-elusive-work-life-balance/ http://www.nassrgrads.com/you-are-more-than-just-a-graduate-student-some-thoughts-about-that-elusive-work-life-balance/#comments Fri, 13 Oct 2017 20:49:56 +0000 http://www.nassrgrads.com/?p=8074 Continue reading You Are More Than Just A Graduate Student: Some Thoughts About That Elusive “Work-Life Balance” ]]> Upon suffering a concussion, I found myself in the hospital and attempted to convince the nurse that I was perfectly alright by holding up the copy of Pride and Prejudice that was in my bag and reciting dramatically, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Apparently, recitation of dear Jane is not evidence of a functioning brain (I had a grade two concussion after all). But the point is that even during a moderately traumatic event, literature was one of the first things to pop into my addled head.

We are in this profession because we love it. Even when juggling teaching, research, and service to the college; even upon receiving a disheartening reader’s report; even when the structure of your paper is in shambles and you’ve lost sight of the argument…. at the end of the day, we love literature.

That love is one of the greatest benefits of pursuing an advanced degree in English, but by the same token, it’s also one of the greatest hindrances to the well being of grad students. We are so eager to be here and to prove ourselves worthy. Our brains are bubbling over with ideas and anxieties, which keep us thinking and working around the clock. Not only do our own insecurities push us on, but distressing job market statistics create pressure to go above and beyond in cultivating a CV.

I’m not against working hard or striving for excellence, nor do I think we should turn down the natural love that keeps us thinking about a beloved book at two in the morning. But, I do want to make a case for loving something else too. And, gasp, sacrificing some scholarly time to cultivate extracurricular skills and relationships.

I joined the Los Angeles Triathlon Club in my first year of graduate school. Originally, I trained for a triathlon to help me cope with the stress of school. But somewhere along the way I fell in love with the sport for its own sake. Most surprising of all, I realized I was good at it! I wasn’t just a walking brain anymore, but had a body that could do something impressive too. That felt really good. So when things weren’t going well at school (you know, feeling inferior to the other geniuses in my cohort or receiving harsh criticism on a draft I thought was pretty good) I took pride in my achievements in swimming, biking, and running. On the other hand, if an injury prevented me from training or I didn’t perform as well as I’d hoped in a race, then I could always pat myself on the back and say, “Hey, that’s ok! Go re-read Frankenstein.”

Also, having friends outside of academia is indispensable. Don’t get me wrong, I adore my cohort and fellow graduate students and deeply value their support and intellectual vivacity. But, it’s also really nice to talk with people who might confuse Lord Byron for a Game of Thrones character and always use words of which you’re 100% certain of the definition. There’s a different dynamic that occurs when you interact with someone just as a friend and not a friend/colleague, which is what your relationships are at the university. It is so relaxing and so pleasurable to just have fun and not worry about being smart.

Without question, I can say that triathlon has made me physically and mentally healthier and a more successful graduate student. It’s given me confidence and joy that provides a necessary grounding when school is difficult. Perhaps I’m a Romantic Romanticist, but I really do think that mental health and professional success are founded on love. At the start of a new academic year, it’s worth reconnecting with what you love about literature and to develop other loves in your personal life with activities, friends, and family. Cherish your personal time, just like your favorite novel.

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