Vive la France!

I expressly chose to post this blog entry on July 14th, marking the 226th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille prison, as well as marking my fourth week in the Summer Research Program. I feel a bit like Dorothy in the Land of Oz spending seven weeks at such a beautiful campus surrounded by the mountains on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. It is a bit funny for me to see “UCSB Undergraduate Research” in my blog title because I am actually not an undergraduate student and the last time I was, Ronald Reagan was still President and I had to type out my papers on a typewriter. I am living with students who are younger than half my age, I am riding a bike for the first time in over ten years, and at the ripe “old” age of fifty-three, I am living the life (albeit briefly) of a “college kid”. I am, in fact, a Graduate student. I just received my MA in French from San Francisco State University, having come to the decision three years ago to begin a new chapter in life. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t start a new journey in middle age!

Doing research as a French language and literature scholar can be wonderfully wide and varied and crosses into other disciplines, for example, cultural history and/or art history. Although I am not researching in Paris, I do have the joyful task of researching about Paris. I am privileged to be working with Prof. Catherine Nesci of UCSB’S Department of French & Italian, helping her with research on her next book. At the same time I am developing a broader knowledge and deeper insight within my area of research, nineteenth century french studies. While those in the sciences generally do research in a lab, we literature folk find ourselves with the enviable options of doing our research wherever there is enough light to read, be that holed up in the library or at a local café. My research is portable, coming in the form of books and scholarly essays. Admittedly, it can be difficult to focus on research in such a vacation-like setting. After three years in an MA program while holding down a full time job, settling myself down in study mode has been challenging these first few weeks. I am, however, making progress and genuinely enjoying my research subjects.

 Un Bar aux Folies-Bergère by Edouard Manet, 1882

Currently I am making my way through four single-authored books and two anthologies of varying research about women during the Belle Époque in Paris. (For those not familiar with the term “Belle Époque”, it concerns that time period in France from just after the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune up until the First World War.) My research so far has involved exploring such topics as: how women began challenging normative gender roles in the late 19th century through the diverse avenues of print journalism and literature, political activism, and theatre; rethinking women’s negotiation and place (or non-place) in urban public space; and representations of consumer culture in Impressionism. I am also keen on researching the role and representation of food, food performance, and the rituals of public and private eating in the 19th century novel and in Impressionist painting. But for now and the remainder of the summer program I am content to remain in Belle Époque Paris!

 The Loge by Mary Cassatt, 1880