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“Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?”

The speaker is the inimitable Mandy Rice-Davies (1944-2014), who canoodled with spies and with a few of HMQ’s government ministers. She uttered her famous line after being asked, in court, why on earth the aristocrat Lord Astor denied knowing her, nevermind having an affair with her.

Her reply is literature, because it’s the truth. But also it’s one of the most deft uses of the inquisitorial clausulae ever. Those two spikey words —“Wouldn’t he?”— turn a declaration into something altogether undependable. It does with grace and style what poets, novelists, and prisoners-in-the-dock always want to do. Question authority. And reality.

This, not coincidentally, is exactly what the five undergraduate scholars in the 2018 Paper Shell Review have done. They’re parsing how writers and artists question authority and disturb the peace and imagine more equitable and honest and accepting worlds for the characters they love.

Just so, May Dong (Swarthmore College) questions the suffocating hierarchy of languages on the subcontinent—English at the top, followed by Urdu, Punjabi, and Hindi—on display in Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (1901). That is, the sad strivers after Englishness use “jolly dam” too often and “get their idioms slightly wrong.” It’s a shame. And a sham.

Jessica Morris (University of Maryland) unpacks how a fictional slave called Caesar, in The Underground Railroad (2016) by Colson Whitehead, imagines an imperial version of his life as more fitting than his stark reality, even though it’s a lie. As Plato tells us, artists always lie. Still, it’s all they’ve got. If they had any power at all, they’d scarcely need art.

Sara Rottger (Mt. Holyoke) looks at the text of Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1826), noting how a killer plague and nature’s response to it create the conditions where desire between women has a chance to be recognized and celebrated. This, despite centuries of coded and fearful male-think that prioritizes human reproduction.

Hailey Johnson (University of California, Berkeley), by contrast, has had it with truthful narrators and prefers the unreliable ones in Ian McEwan’s Atonement (2001) and in Kazuo Ishiguro’s A Pale View of Hills (2010). The reason why is that unreliable ones are better story-tellers. That, and the fact that most of us tell ourselves just what we want to hear most of the time. It’s the “That’s me” school all over again. We like ourselves a lot, except when we hate ourselves.

Ryan Carroll (George Washington University) reaches for Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949), taking it as the text that Quentin Tarantino did not reach for during the making of Kill Bill, Vols. I and II (2003, 2004). I.e., Quentin’s hero “has not slipped free of oppressive gender roles,” says Carroll, “but is simply positioned as a rare aberration – a woman who acts as a man should .”

So, at the end of the day, what ties them all together, these five young writers and their work?

"That [they] are here. That life exists and identity. That the powerful play goes on.”

I believe they all just contributed a verse.

Michael Olmert 
Professor of English, University of Maryland

Journal Information


Lauren Baker

Managing Editor

Heather Seyler

Graduate Advisor

DeLisa Hawkes

Cover Design

Jaila Desper

Editorial Board

  • Jasmine Baten
  • Marisa Cabrera
  • Emily Fitzgerald
  • Augustin Gonzalaz
  • Aaliyah Matin
  • Jada Mosley
  • Ashling O'Connell
  • Kemi Omisore
  • Lylah Uttamsingh
  • William Wong

Spring 2018 Essays

General Essays