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Sylvia Plath's "Two Women Reading"
Sylvia Plath’s Two Women Reading
Female Author
All day she plays at chess with the bones of the world:
Favored (while suddenly the rains begin
Beyond the window) she lies on cushions curled
And nibbles an occasional bonbon of sin.
Prim, pink-breasted, feminine, she nurses
Chocolate fancies in rose-papered rooms
Where polished highboys whisper creaking curses
And hothouse roses shed immortal blooms.
The garnets on her fingers twinkle quick
And blood reflects across the manuscript;
She muses on the odor, sweet and sick,
Of festering gardenias in a crypt,
And lost in subtle metaphor, retreats
From gray child faces crying in the streets.
—Sylvia Plath


A little about me (updated July 1, 2008)

The above painting and poem by Sylvia Plath have come to have a special significance for me.  I am not a great admirer of all of Plath's work, mind you, but these sister pieces capture, for me anyway, the caught position of the thinking woman, and especially of the female artist taught to view herself and her work as trivial, inadequate, and somehow monstrous.

Perhaps as a result of this taught sense of monstrosity, I am an avid reader of the macabre (gothic novels,  murder mysteries, horror tales) and just recently started writing a murder novella of my own.  I work on it in fits and starts.  I worry that it's too autobiographical, that I will offend quite a few folks with my barely veiled portraits. Some days I decide it's all trash;  other days, like today, I think that part of a writer's job is to mirror or capture human experience. And besides, let's be honest for a moment, skewering someone who has been perfectly beastly can be gratifying indeed. 

A little about my writing territories

In keeping with Nancy Atwell's advice that teachers of writing write alongside their students, what follows is a candid glimpse into my  "writing territories," that is, the kinds of writing I do, am supposed to do, or plan on doing some day :

bulletLetters of introduction to students and colleagues. These are fun to write.  Inventing one's self for someone else's benefit is always a hoot. 
bulletLetters of evaluation. A thoughtful letter takes time to write, and  time, as we all know from living in our stop-watch culture, is a commodity in short supply.
bulletLetters or recommendation. Same as above. 
bulletLetters, reports, and emails to Administration and other faculty.  Occasionally fun to write, but more often nerve-wracking.  
bulletFaculty Annual Report (FAR--a letter explaining why the University should rehire me for the next year and give me a raise.  Some of the more irreverent faculty affectionately refer to it as their annual FART.  I try not to encourage them.)
bulletPaper and panel proposals for professional conferences.  Hmmmm.  Well,  I had a paper accepted into the International Conference on Romanticism in October 2008, but I don't really want to go ... So expensive and taht big whopping 2% raise isn't going to cover my expenses.  And I am chairing the Mary Shelley panel at the RMMLA .  To be honest, I don't like conferences except that thet
bulletBook and Journal Articles.  Summer and fall 2003 I tried to send out 2 pieces—I just needed 8 uninterrupted hours.  Why was that time so hard to find?  I finally took a clue and applied for an internal grant;  I won one class off to pursue shepherding these pieces through the gauntlet. In March 2004, I sent out the first piece, snappily entitled "Womanly Imposture," to Nineteenth Century Literature; the rejection notice arrived in May 2004.   Very dispiriting but not totally unexpected.  After licking my wounds, I began in earnest to work on the second piece which, thanks to all that time I had for reading (insert appropriate snicker) has completely reconceptualized itself (that's right; I, the author, have had very little say about it). I published my dissertation in 2007, and I've had several Mary Shelley pieces accepted for publication, as well as one review.I have two more ongoing projects:  the first is a book   collection of cyber-biographies; the second is a project in text digitization.  More  about these anon. 
bulletEssay and assignment prompts.  Fun, fun, fun to write.  But difficult and at times frustrating, too.
bulletCourse proposals, syllabi, and reading schedules.  SAA
bulletClass plans and lectures. SAA
bulletAdvertisements for different collaborative projects
bulletBlurbs for newsletters
bulletBiographies of female family members:  Herstory Month (March) is right around the corner!!! 
bulletEmails and letters to good friends
bulletEmails to students and colleagues
bulletCreative fiction (my novella, for example).  This is more of a desire than an actual pursuit.  
bulletJournal writing:  Click here for some journaling ideas
bulletPoetry--not sure what about.  I would just love to start writing poetry again.  I used to have a physical response when the metaphors would run out of my pen in inky stains.
bulletA story about a woman named Kate--an intrepid heroine, a   PI perhaps?  An idealized alter ego?  It's strange that in my novel I gave the heroine a different moniker. 

In graduate school (VCU, MA 1992; University of Denver, Ph. D. 2001) I specialized in 18th and 19th century British literature, particularly in the rise of the English novel and how that intersects with gender politics.  My dissertation, which I plan to farm out as articles to journals, focuses on the later work of Mary Shelley:  novelist, editor, covert social activist, and working-mother extraordinaire.  All of this is to explain that my professional reading and writing cluster around issues of gender and genre studies.  At one time I wanted to write a book on Nadine Gordimer, so I have some background in postcolonial studies as well.  I still hope to work with her novels; July's People is my favorite.  The Burgher's Daughter was hard for me; it seemed very above my head at some points and painfully drawn out in others.  Other writers I would love to study in depth are Doris Lessing, Iris Murdock, Margaret Atwood, Gertrude Stein, Audre Lorde, Sylvia Plath, Nancy Armstrong, A. S. Byatt, William Godwin, Claire Claremont, Mary Wroth... Judith Shakespeare <wink>. 

This will be my fifth year at Radford, and I hope my best so far.  During Summer I I will be teaching ENGL-202, Readings in Brit Lit.  The course theme will be cultural literacies.  We will mix up our readings of Shakespeare and other canonical authors with films and digital projects.  I am a member of the Women's Studies Committee and am Faculty Adviser to the Tartan. There's a bunch of other stuff I do, but that's not near as important as the fact that  I have a sweet  family and a quaint little house.  I tend to stick close to home when I'm not working, and I will give you a look of wild panic if you spring some unexpected event on me.

That's all for now.  I'll be writing more as the year progresses, or I may return with a sense of panic and erase everything here, succumb to a sudden bout of shyness and a fear of having said too much.  Such is the writing life, or at least such is my life as a writer. 


bulletWhere's my office?     
Russell 107
bulletWhat are my office hours? 
M 1-3, W 10-12, TR 2-3:00 and by appointment
bulletHow can students get in contact with me? 
My office telephone number is 540-831-5203.  However, email (ewebster2@radford.edu) is a better bet because my voice mail seems to lose calls. For this reason, it is a requirement of all of my courses that students activate and frequently check their RU email accounts. 
bulletAre my courses difficult?
Yes and no.  Yes, they are difficult in that I ask you to do a lot of writing and reading. This is college after all.  But, no, they are not difficult in that, if you do what I ask of you, you are certain to do well.  I am not out to "getcha" and I don't sit around at night designing trick questions and impossible projects.  That being said, if you snooze through class, chronically "forget" to bring your books to class,  or do the absolute minimum of work possible to pass, be sure that I will evaluate your performance in the manner which it deserves.  Grade inflation cheapens the "A"s of those students who work for them and is demoralizing for me on a spiritual level.  One last thing:  no matter how well we personally get along (or don't), I work very hard to evaluate all student work objectively and fairly. I believe in integrity and justice and professionalism.  I hope my students appreciate and subscribe to a similar set of values.   

7 Tenets of a Perfect Critic (paraphrased from David Hume's "Of the Standard of Taste")


ALWAYS read something more than once.


DO NOT let personal conflict or affection for an artist interfere with the assessment of an art work.


FREE yourself from prejudice.


FREE yourself from religious strictures.


FREE yourself from time-bound subscriptions to fashion.


UNDERSTAND historical context.


PRACTICE diligence.

Some RU links

bullet RU Web Portal
bullet RU Homepage
bullet McConnell Library
bulletAddison Library (@ VA Tech)
bullet RU English Department
bullet RU Women's Studies Department
bulletRU Honor's Academy

This Week's Featured Site:

bulletIraq Body Count: At least 20,000 civilians were injured in the Iraq war.  There have been a minimum of 22787 reported civilian casualties in Iraq due to military intervention.