Saturday 11 October 2008

Well Well Well(s)

Once, in our GCSE English class, we did a Weakest Link style game. My question was 'Who wrote The Time Machine', and I said George Orwell, and felt rather stupid. The same thing happened tonight at the latest drinks to welcome English Masters students...

Well, not quite
the same thing, obviously. But an eminent and doubtless redoubtable fellow of St John's College was asking me about my dissertation topic, and I mentioned middlebrow domestic literature and got the customary recoil - but it got worse when I started talking about the use of the word 'middlebrow', saying that George Orwell coined the term, but Virginia Woolf refined it. Perfectly possible, I suppose, since he was born 38 years before she died. But, of course, I had made the same mistake again, and meant H.G. Wells. And then felt very stupid while the said eminent and doubtless redoubtable fellow laughed at me and started talking to someone else...

What made matters WORSE was that I was standing next to a group which included Hermione Lee, and very much wanted to go and say hello, but didn't want to be rude... and then she left quite early. I do hope I have the chance to see her later in the year...

Also amusing quite how many of the English doctorate students recognised me from my days behind the desk in the Bodleian.

So! Another day in the world of a new Oxford graduate. Another drinks party next Monday... Please make me feel better by sharing any similar incidents from your lives.


  1. That is too bad. BUT- if I told you all the times I have made a fool out of myself....well. One time, my first day of class as a student teacher, I stormed in late, sweaty, and with a huge glob of peanut butter in my hair. My students still snicker...great first impression.

    Hope that helps!

  2. Quite possibly you will never see this eminent prof. again, and if you do, you will be world famous for your middlebrow theory, and will have somehow incorporated Orwell into it too.
    I shall post my own humiliating experiences on my blog. Come and laugh heartily!

  3. -edit - see I've already made a fool of myself! For prof, read fellow!

  4. As a University Professor let me say that to laugh at the innocent errors of anyone is absolutely disgraceful behaviour and I'm pretty upset to hear it happening in the 21st C at one of our reputedly great Universities.

    If one is not allowed to make errors without attracting opprobium at a University then where on earth can one?

    I am also very dissapointed to hear that you attracted anythng other than enthusiasm for tackling an aspect of literature that is not part of some well worn and rutted path. How on earth do people expect the field to advance?

    I'm cross and dismayed to read your weblog post! Dark Puss

  5. As an undergraduate lit student in my third year, I often feel that I should know every book and author ever published - or maybe just have that expected of me by others.

    The worst is when I am the only lit student at the pub quiz and don't know the answers to any of the literature round! (partly because they are usually about kids books I've never read or Jordan/Kerry Katona/etc's latest crap book.)

  6. In pretty much the only time I spoke out in a lecture, it was to tell the lecturer hed got his matrix multiplication wrong. Which he hadn't.
    Other than that, my life has been one of unremitting perfection.

  7. Eric Blair -what a good topic !!

  8. I'm not even allowed to stay up and mix with adults let alone open my mouth and say something about a book.
    Also one day this week I went to to work with odd earrings (different design in each ear - not strange earrings) AND NOBODY TOLD ME!!
    Maybe that's why I 've jsut been told that in 17 days time I will be reduced from 5 days to 3 days a week.

  9. I know someone who posted her shoes to her son thinking they were his. She also once sent a coach-load of people in quite the wrong direction, exhausting the poor driver as he negotiated a dozen roundabouts, and making 40 people late for tea. (The worst of it was that she was also travelling on the coach and could not sink into anonymity.)
    Want more?
    And Colin, I think I can remember one or two less than perfect occasions.....

  10. I shuddered for you when I read the gaffes - and won't dredge up any of my own (waaay too many!!).
    Oh, and I agree with the Dark Puss on this.

  11. I once wore a different trainer on each foot to an aerobics class!

  12. Oh poor you! For me it is usually the written word that lets me down: the time I handed in an essay I was running late with that I had auto-spellschecked, and as a result it was about little known poet Lord Bryan. Wince. Also I messsed up with Yates and Yeats in an online forum. Dornford and W.B. should probably not be uttered in the same breath. I am only an ex-English teacher with 2 degrees in the subject, currently eselling academic books for a living. What do I know!

  13. One I didn't mention on my own post was the time I wrote an essay on Hemingway, where he had two m's in his name. Even though the book was beside me all the time I was writing it ...


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