Every year, LJMU English’s Masters by Research students attend a residential with their supervisors and some of the department’s PhD students to talk, read, and reflect on their studies on the programme so far. Here, Edward Dafnis gives his account of our (wonderful) trip in January 2016:
An hour’s drive from LJMU is Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, North Wales. Completed in 1902 to house William Gladstone’s personal collection of over 20, 000 books, periodicals and journals – all read by the man himself and with an estimated 11, 000 containing annotations, the library now houses 250, 000 texts and promised to be a reflective place of study and discussion. Articles by Walter Benjemin, Jorge Luis Borges and Alberto Manguel plus a short story by Alice Munro started the afternoon discussions before a tour of the spectacular library. Nestled amongst the rows of leather bound tomes were armchairs and simple wooden tables where people sat and read and worked in silence. Despite the grandeur of the library with its carved wooden vaulted ceilings and deep set lead paned windows, it maintains a simple, monastic ambience which we all agreed lent itself perfectly to quiet contemplation and dissertation writing.
A suited figure in his seventies with tortoise shell rimmed glasses who caught my attention on both days as he sat reading looked remarkably like David Hockney. As the library claims to be a favoured work space for famous writers and artists, I’d like to imagine that we shared our time there with one of them.
After a lovely dinner we returned to the Alwyn Room to informally share poems that we’d each brought. All were well received, and in particular Wallace Stevens’ ‘The Emperor of Ice Cream’ and Bobby Sands’ ‘The Rhythm of Time’ encouraged lively debate and questioning. By 10:30 pm we’d relocated to the lounge with its leather sofas, rugs and open fire to continue the discussions, chat about travel, life and share red wine. It was a glorious first day.
Breakfast was early but good and the free hour or so that followed allowed some of the party to revisit the library and explore the texts. Others wandered to the adjoining chapel where a marble carving depicting Gladstone and his wife Catherine lying beside each other commemorates the life-long scholar,theologian and four times Prime Minister. Their remains are actually housed in Westminster Abbey.
Day 2 was an opportunity for two doctoral and five MRes students to share their research and methods to date. Topics were varied and reflect the diverse interests of the English Department at LJMU: African American Hoodoo and its representation from the 19th Century to present, North Atlantic Imperialism/ Post-Colonial Literature from Iceland and the Faroe Islands, Riot Grrrl Literature and Gay Writings and Queer Theory – pre and mid HIV/ AIDS to list only a few. It served as an opportunity for lecturers and students to discuss ideas, suggest further reading and encourage open and constructive criticism of work which everyone was keen to receive.
The library’s intention is to serve as ‘a meeting place which is dedicated to dialogue, debate and learning for open-minded individuals and groups, who are looking to explore pressing questions and to pursue study and research in an age of distraction and easy solutions.’ With this in mind, I’d like to think that Gladstone would have approved of what we achieved. Thank you to the lecturers from LJMU for arranging the visit and investing their knowledge and time. The MRes students are already planning to return