Throughout 2020 and 2021, bells have rung in a variety of COVID-related rituals in the West, ranging from large-scale religious and civic rites, to ad hoc neighborhood and hospital initiatives, to anti-racist memorials that simultaneously spoke to the health crisis at hand. Taking stock of how these COVID bell-ringing rituals were formalized, their structures and actions, and the historical precedents from which they drew their meanings, this article investigates what the sounds of bells and the rituals of bell-ringing communicated about COVID, how they shaped our personal and collective experiences of the crisis, and what functions they were expected to serve during this liminal period. It reveals how, owing to the historical polysemy of bells on the one hand and the social uncertainties of living with COVID on the other, those rituals generated vivid symbolisms and mobilized powerful emotions that sometimes brought about unintended consequences.
Campanology under COVID-19
Howard Jacobson (1942–) has been the leading Jewish writer in Britain for nearly four decades. He remains at the height of his powers with the recent publication of his memoir, Mother’s Boy: A Writer’s Beginnings (2022) which is referred to throughout this introduction. I will return to Jacobson’s first novel, Coming from Behind (1983), to show how it relates to his ‘golden’ period which is the focus of the articles in this Special Issue. Novels produced during this period include: The Mighty Walzer (1999), Kalooki Nights (2006), The Finkler Question (2010), J: A Novel (2014) and Shylock Is My Name (2016). Jacobson’s growing confidence – moving between the individual and the collective, between comedy and tragedy, and between realism and experimentalism – will be at the heart of the introduction.
Resisting Lateness or Trying to in Sir Thomas Wyatt’s Poetry
Mohamed Salah Eddine Madiou
One of the most remarkable things about Thomas Wyatt’s poetry is how strikingly it tends to be neglected in Renaissance studies. This article focuses on some of Wyatt’s sonnets and muses on why the poet obsesses over time therein. While sonnets are generally said to be about love, Wyatt’s seem to be not only about this overfamiliar notion but also about the notion of time. The poet’s concern about time in his poetry is however not a solo concern, meaning it is not expressed on its own; rather, it is coupled in an astonishing complexity to the poet’s preoccupation with death. Wyatt in fact experienced impending death at an early age in his lifetime due to illness, which, I explain, is precisely what sets off those temporal reflections. Impending death can indeed trigger in one an instant reflection on time in that one becomes more attentive to its value, movement, and transience and feels the urgency to save and get more of it, which is generally called lateness. Wyatt’s poetry being imbued by lateness makes it endemic to a certain kind of style: a late style.
David Brauner, Contemporary British Novelists: Howard Jacobson, Manchester University Press, 2020.
As a result of the pandemic, I am a fugitive from my Marylebone consulting rooms. I have had to adapt my ‘technique’ to both the limitations and extended possibilities of Zoom. To mirror back a patient’s psyche in an accelerating emotional climate of existential anxiety and increased irritability. I refer to the ‘democratisation’ of therapy brought about by the increased autonomy of the patient to control their environment and access to intimacy during Zoom sessions.
One of the most painful realities of being controlled by technology is its crudity, its totalitarianism in comparison to mediated physical contact engaged in face-to-face work. Clinical vignettes (always with the patient’s written consent) are provided to demonstrate clinical phenomena unique to the Zoom setting.
The Cultural Transformation of the Trope of the Renegade in Late Seventeenth- and Early Nineteenth-Century English Drama
John Dryden’s Don Sebastian and Frederick Reynolds’s The Renegade
Hussein A. Alhawamdeh
This article examines the transformation of the trope of the renegade character in late seventeenth-and early nineteenth-century English drama, as represented by John Dryden’s Don Sebastian (1689) and its adaptation by Frederick Reynolds as The Renegade (1812). Reynolds adopts the trope of Restoration ‘cultural renegade’, or what I call ‘Restoration gone cultural revolutionary protagonist’, to reflect on the military alliance between England of George III and the Oriental Muslims in Egypt in 1801 against their common enemy, Napoleon Bonaparte. The renegade character in the plays of Dryden and Reynolds transcends religious limitations of the negative connotations of betrayal and fosters cross-cultural interactions.
In our autumn edition in 2014 we published articles from a conference on ‘Writing Jews in Contemporary Britain’. They were guest edited for the issue by Axel Stähler and Sue Vice, the organisers of the conference. In their joint introduction they wrote:
Contemporary British Jewish writers are being credited with an ‘attitude’ and their fiction is perceived to celebrate ‘the anarchic potential of the Jewish voice’.
It will come as no surprise, particularly given what they quoted about ‘attitude’ and ‘anarchic potential’, that the first Jewish author they mentioned, because of his recent award at the time of the Man Booker Prize, was Howard Jacobson. One of the contributors to that issue was David Brauner writing on ‘Fetishizing the Holocaust: Comedy and Transatlantic Connections in Howard Jacobson’s Kalooki Nights’. When Bryan Cheyette and David Brauner approached the editor of this journal with the proposal to mark and celebrate Howard Jacobson’s eightieth birthday, the editorial board readily accepted the offer. The contents are introduced by Bryan Cheyette, and David Brauner contributes a new interview with Jacobson. The issue also contains a book review by Howard Cooper of David’s recent monograph on Jacobson in the Manchester University Press series Contemporary British Novelists.
Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl in the Chinese Market
Yingjie Duan and Junwu Tian
In Vinegar Girl, a 2016 fictional adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, Anne Tyler exhibits an ambivalent treatment of the female predicaments left by William Shakespeare: while she invests her modern version of Katherina with linguistic and intellectual independence emblematic of female resistance to patriarchal disciplines, she somehow acquiesces in the fixed familial place and the stereotypical images of women in the monolithic patriarchal system. When the novel was introduced into the Chinese mainland in 2017, the Chinese publisher, out of commercial concerns, advertised it as a highly feminist text through the delicate manipulation of the translation of its title and a series of paratextual manoeuvres, to the detriment of the novel’s ambiguous complexities of gender issues. The marketing strategies nevertheless backfired on one of China’s social media platforms and rendered the novel a relatively ‘failed’ feminist text against China’s unique market and media background in the last decade.
The ‘Saints of Repetition’ and the Towers of Babel
Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon (1994) and Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (1999) represent a scholar’s take on a major figure in Western literature, namely, William Shakespeare. All figures, according to Bloom, either converge upon or take their point of departure from Shakespeare in a way that rehabilitates the myth of the Original Englishman and accordingly recreates a Western canon, some universal anthology, whose centre is Shakespeare, while all later generations of writers are, in Elias Canetti’s words, ‘saints of repetition’, who can only translate what they happen to ‘overhear’ from the master and keep vibrant a tradition that can ‘make us at home out of doors, foreign abroad’. Though Bloom hardly uses the term ‘translation’ while tracking the genealogy of such ‘influence’ and the ‘anxieties’ therein implicated, one can readily detect a Gordian knot out of which such theorisations and explorations emanate: translation is here foregrounded as a smokescreen designed to close rather than disclose.
This article analyses Howard Jacobson’s 2014 novel J, which depicts the aftermath of an imagined genocide of the Jews in Britain, and explores its connections to other examples of British-set counterfactual Holocaust fiction. The representation of mass murder on British soil in Jacobson’s novel is achieved despite its omission of such crucial words as ‘Jew’, making the task of identifying these events and their victims into one shared by the novel’s protagonists and the reader. This article identifies the varied targets of J’s satire, which include that of increasing British insularity and its basis in assumptions of moral superiority in relation to the commission of wartime atrocities in Europe. Yet the novel also critiques in more general terms those aspects of contemporary life’s dependence on conformity-inducing technologies, to suggest that the figure of the Jew, and responses to the Jewish presence, offer a more vital alternative.