“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.
Professor of English, University of Maryland
- Jasmine Baten
- Marisa Cabrera
- Emily Fitzgerald
- Augustin Gonzalaz
- Aaliyah Matin
- Jada Mosley
- Ashling O'Connell
- Kemi Omisore
- Lylah Uttamsingh
- William Wong
Spring 2018 Essays
Oah no! Linguistic Dominance in Kim
In Rudyard Kipling’s novel Kim, the very first scene is one where the eponymous character, a young Irish orphan living in India, resolves a linguistic mismatch. A Tibetan lama asks a policeman for directions to the Lahore Museum in Urdu, but the policeman speaks only Punjabi, thus rendering the lama “helpless” (Kipling 12) until Kim steps in to translate.
The One, The Other: Female Liberation and Empowerment in Kill Bill and Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex
In 1949, Simone de Beauvoir published The Second Sex, a treatise on feminism that was regarded as a central fixture of the feminist movement for decades. The work sought to liberate women from the oppression imposed by male-dominated society, arguing against the categorization of women as “the Other,” the pure valuation of beauty, and the trend of defining the female identity based on feminine biology.
Victims in Fiction: Feeling Trauma Through Unreliable Narration
In novels such as Ian McEwan’s Atonement and Kazuo Ishiguro’s A Pale View of Hills, we meet unreliable narrators with traumatic pasts. As these novels develop, it is revealed that the narrators exclude important facts, feelings, and descriptions of characters and circumstances. This leaves us, as readers, to wonder why the narrator does not accurately depict themselves nor the world around them.
Writing to Create Home: Caesar’s Lifelong Experience with Literature
In James Olney’s 1984 essay “I Was Born: Slave Narratives, Their Status as Autobiography and as Literature,” Olney addresses that most slave narratives follow the same format, which makes them both straightforward and repetitive. He argues that these strict conventions are essential because slave narratives exist for ex-slaves to add their story to the ever-growing testament about slavery, not for the author to explore and take ownership of their history.
“Life Had Married Death:” Erotics of Difference and Lesbian Reimagination in The Last Man
Through the constant transformation and waning status of an intertwined English family, Mary Shelley’s 1826 post-apocalyptic novel The Last Mantackles the consequences of the Anthropocene and bears particular significance for modern questions of gender and nature. As the narrator, Lionel, recounts his story, he centers his relationship with the romantic, selfless hero Adrien, alternately idolizing and forgoing his own wife.