Short version: I’ve been awarded a PhD by Cambridge University for the following publications:
Pain, Pleasure and Perversity: Discourses of Suffering in Seventeenth-Century England (286 pp., Ashgate, 2013); view on Google Books.
‘James Mabbe’s Achievement in his Translation of Guzmán de Alfarache’. Translation and Literature, Vol. 8, No. 2 (1999), pp. 137-156.
‘Aloes by Any Other Name: Translations of Herbal Terminology in the “Spiritual Epistles” of Juan de Avila’. Translation and Literature, Vol. 9, No. 1 (2000), pp. 25-39.
‘Shakespeare and Catholicism’. Reformation & Renaissance Review: Journal of the Society for Reformation Studies, Vol. 7, No. 2/3 (2005), pp. 347-361.
‘An Annotated Catalogue of Protestant Editions in English of Works by and Relating to Saint Augustine of Hippo, 1529–1700’. Reformation & Renaissance Review: Journal of the Society for Reformation Studies, Vol. 13, No. 1 (2011), pp. 93-132.
‘Mabbe’s Maybes: A Stuart Hispanist in Context’. Translation and Literature, Vol. 21, No. 3 (2012), pp. 319-342.
‘Robert Persons’s Resolution (1582) and the Issue of Textual Piracy in Protestant editions of Catholic Devotional Literature’. Reformation & Renaissance review: Journal of the Society for Reformation Studies, Vol. 15, No. 2 (2013), pp. 175–196.
‘The Protestant Reception of Catholic Devotional Literature in England to 1700’. Recusant History, Vol. 32, No. 1 (2014), pp. 67-89.
It’s only taken forty years!
Long version: I first registered for a PhD at Cambridge in 1975. The topic was translations of Spanish devotional literature into English, 1500-1700, to be submitted to the Faculty of English, and my supervisor was Professor Edward Meryon Wilson, of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.
I was working on an interdisciplinary topic at a time when the Faculty of English basically ignored literature not written by Brits (yes, that would include American and Commonwealth literature, never mind anything not written in English!). Placing English literature in its broader European context was not a priority, and a few years earlier I had seen grown men cry when George Steiner gave his final lecture and left such infertile ground for Geneva.
Nevertheless, things went quite well at first, and several chapters were written to Professor Wilson’s satisfaction. Less than two years later, though, Professor Wilson died and things started to fall apart fast.
There I was, living in a little village six miles outside Cambridge, digging my vegetable garden and cycling to the University Library, where I would bury myself in the Rare Books Room, poring over ancient Spanish tomes and their early modern English translations. Every so often I would show what I’d written to Dr Richard Luckett, my new supervisor, and he seemed to think things were coming along OK. I didn’t manage to submit within three years, but was given an extension and (supporting myself mainly by teaching short contracts at language schools in and around Cambridge) submitted a completed manuscript a couple of years later and a date for a viva (oral examination) was set.
Within the first few minutes of the viva I knew I wasn’t going to pass. I no longer remember the names of the two examiners, but they were definitely “old school” – quite pleasant, but with misgivings (sincere, I think) about my analysis.
One of the big stumbling blocks, I remember, was my analysis of Spanish devotional literature as a repository for Judaic and Arabic elements which could have reached England in no other way. Miguel Asín Palacios had published quite widely on this in the 1920s and 30s, but under Franco such research was proscribed. My examiners felt it was unsuitable to use Asín Palacios and I just had to accept that. I was given the choice of accepting a lesser degree (an MLitt) or rewriting and submitting again. I chose the latter option.
A few years later, in 1985, the examiners were proved wrong about Judaic and Islamic influences on Spanish Catholic literature. Luce López-Baralt published Huellas del Islam en la literatura española, translated into English in 1992 as Islam in Spanish Literature. This contains several chapters demonstrating that many of the Spanish mystics were conversos or of converso descent, and incorporated signifcant elements of Judaic and Arabic thought into their work. Her conclusions are widely accepted and her scholarship brought Asín Palacios back into the mainstream, but it was too late to help me!
At this stage in my life (late 70s, early 80s) I was going through big upheavals, and at one stage was living in what could best be described as a kind of glorified garden shed in a village a few miles south of Cambridge. The external examiner (from Edinburgh University) had been particularly kind during the viva, and sent about a dozen pages of detailed comments on my paper. I disagreed with most of what he had written, but it didn’t really make any difference; I’d stored his report in a cardboard box in a corner of the “shed” and by the time I started working on rewriting the thesis his report had been torn to shreds by mice. What they hadn’t eaten had been recycled into nesting material!
By this time another row was simmering in the Faculty of English as the new school of structuralist criticism clashed with the old school. In 1981 “all hell broke loose”, as David Lodge put it in Nice Work, and Colin MacCabe was denied tenure. It was in the wake of this little episode that I finally submitted the revised manuscript. This time my examiners were definitely of the “new” school. I don’t recall the name of the external examiner, but the internal examiner was Lisa Jardine, at that time attached to Jesus College, and the viva was set to be held in her rooms there.
The day of the viva was a horrible rainy day, one I would prefer to forget. I fell off my bike, phoned to say I’d be late and arrived dripping wet half an hour late. I’d worn a suit, which was very unlike me, and regretted it as soon as I saw the trendy Superman pictures adorning Dr. Jardine’s room. I’d met her before, as it happened (in her house, in fact, at a couple of meetings to try and save the Kite, an area of Cambridge scheduled for redevelopment, and in which I lived for a few months in a squat), but she didn’t appear to remember me and I didn’t remind her.
So I got off to a bad start and things just went downhill from there. In the revised version, I’d defended myself pretty well against the objections of the first set of examiners, but this time I had to face a whole different set of objections. I guess I wasn’t “old” school and I wasn’t “new” school either. It must have been a bit like that for anyone who wasn’t a communist or a fascist in the Spanish Civil War; you got slammed by both sides!
Not that I blame anyone but myself when it comes down to it. I’d fallen into a rut. I hadn’t cultivated any relationships with other academics. I loved the old books and the words they contained. I even loved writing about them. But I scarcely cared what the examiners thought about what I’d written and didn’t really bother to counter their objections. In a way it came as a relief to know I was at the end of the road and there was nothing else for it but to accept an MLitt (which I’d been offered years earlier) and draw a line under the whole thing. I was told that I might, at some stage, reapply for consideration for a PhD on the basis of publications, but that seemed like a very remote possibility at the time.
I spent most of the next few years in Andalucía. I won’t go into all the details of my bohemian lifestyle – suffice to say that it was a breath of fresh air after all the headaches of trying to be an academic. However, it always seemed as if, however much I tried other avenues – music, translation, entrepreneurship – in the end it was always teaching that brought me a steady income.
So it was that the early 90s saw me back in Cambridge, working at a language school in Girton that happened to have strong ties with a university in Gifu, Japan. One thing led to another, and in April, 1993, I found myself working as a lecturer at Sophia University in Tokyo. At first I was in the General Foreign Languages section, teaching English to students whose major was Law, or Engineering, or something like that, but I also had a couple of literature classes and three years later was transferred to the English Literature Department, which is where I still am.
Obviously, I was under pressure to publish, so I got my postgraduate research out of the bottom drawer, where it had been languishing for a decade, and started picking out bits that might, with suitable polishing, be publishable. A piece demonstrating the Arabic associations of Juan de Avila, one of the Spanish mystics, was accepted by the journal Translation and Literature, and they also took a piece on James Mabbe, translator of the work of Mateo Alemán.
I got one piece of sound advice from a negative review of a rejected article. It didn’t make sense (the reviewer said) that I was focusing only on Spanish translations; the real issue, surely, was Catholic translations. The same reviewer alerted me to a lacuna in modern scholarship. As a Protestant himself, he didn’t think it was of any interest that “nominal Protestants” of the early modern period read translations of Catholic literature. Equally, I found that most Catholic scholars didn’t think it was any concern of theirs what Protestants were reading. Modern scholarship seemed to be divvying up the early modern period on much the same ideological lines as the early moderns themselves, and the Protestant readership of Catholic works had fallen through the cracks!
The last twenty years or so have seen a big reassessment of Catholics in the England of Elizabeth and the Stuarts, but there remains a gap in scholarly perceptions when it comes to the reception of Catholic literature by the Protestant mainstream. Try going to a conference on the Reformation or a related topic and telling people that the three most popular works of religious devotion among Catholics and Protestants alike during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries were all basically Catholic works and see what people say. The answer I most often got was a bemused, “Which ones?” (The Christian Exercise or Book of Resolution by Robert Persons [or Parsons], Luis de Granada’s Prayer and Meditation, and à Kempis’s Imitation of Christ, in case you were wondering!)
I branched out from Spanish devotional literature to Catholic literature as a whole and made it my aim to show that it wasn’t just “nominal” Protestants who took an interest in Catholic works. This came to be the basic subject matter of most of my papers over the last fifteen years or so.
However, when I got a sabbatical in 2011-12 I decided to work on a rather different topic. I’d come across some (to me) very surprising, not to say shocking, attitudes towards suffering in Catholic works in Spanish, Italian, French and Latin, and I’d noticed that when these works were translated into English they were almost always shorn of the more shocking aspects. A good example would be Jerome’s description of a young Christian bound naked and aroused by a prostitute, which I discuss in detail here. Despite the fact that the difference between Catholic and Protestant sensibilities regarding suffering was a significant cultural determiner in early modern England I felt that this was another subject that had been somewhat neglected, and decided to write a monograph on it. I met Tom Gray from Ashgate at a conference, and he encouraged me to put in a proposal, which was accepted in August 2011. I pulled all the stops out and handed the manuscript to the publisher at the end of March the following year.
A little over a year ago I put two copies of the monograph and my peer-reviewed papers in a cardboard box and sent it off to Cambridge for consideration for a PhD under special provisions. A few months later, they got in touch to say that Dr. Edward Wilson-Lee of Sidney Sussex had been appointed as my internal examiner and Geoffrey Wall of the University of York as the external. Dr. Wilson-Lee subsequently contacted me, and we agreed on an interview date of March 19, 2015, to coincide with my next planned visit to the UK.
The atmosphere of the interview could hardly have been more different from the previous two occasions. These people liked my work – they said so! We spent nearly two hours discussing various aspects of the articles and the monograph (especially the monograph), but it was clear from the beginning which way things were going.
It’s taken a further four months for the degree to be conferred (there are procedures for these things, you know!). Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the degree ceremony in person, but finally, 40 years after I initially registered for a PhD at Cambridge, I have the piece of paper in my hand. It’s been a long haul!
— Sara Read (@Floweringbodies) August 9, 2015