Back in the dim and distant past — 1977 — I was a second-year student who had already decided to complete double English honours. One of the compulsory subjects was called Epic and Romance, and it had been devised by the charismatic, but recently retired Ian Maxwell. I loved this subject, and while I was also doing History of the Language and learning Old and Middle English, I found this subject, which ranged from Homer to Njal's Saga, the Song of Roland, Dante's Inferno and Troilus and Criseyde, I think — all in translation — a wonderful introduction to medieval literature. Simply, I was hooked.
My tutor was James Simpson, and it must have been in the brief interlude after finishing his honours degree and heading to the UK. I'm not sure of the timing, but I also saw James act brilliantly in a couple of student Chekhov productions: once as a languorous Trigorin, and another time in The Bear, a two-hander in which my sister played the female lead. I thought they were both electric.
Every couple of years, James comes back to Melbourne to visit family, and he is giving a talk tomorrow night. I'm always incredibly proud to have him here, as he is such a great speaker, and a delightful person, and such a wonderful model to my students as to what is possible from Melbourne origins. OK, I do sometimes experience a moment of envy when I look at his brilliant career (Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard), and think about the fact that I am still here in Melbourne and the choices I made and the ones I wasn't able to make, but then I look at it from another point of view, and think ... but at least, I am still here in Melbourne!
Anyway, if you're in town, you might want to get along to this talk. It's not on a medieval topic, and it's not even on literature. It stems from work James is doing on iconoclasm, a project that stems from his recent interest in the Reformation; and so he has moved into art and art criticism. In fact, I have his most recent book, Burning to Read on my desk, with its endearing opening to his Acknowledgements page: "I love writing books."
James will also be in Perth later this week, for this conference: Reading Religious Change in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. I'm going to rehearse my section on Edward VI's changes to the Order of the Garter statutes in front of an audience of experts on the Reformation. How's that for scary?
Here's the notice about James's Melbourne talk: click to enlarge.