Student Accommodations | Holly Goes Abroad

Spring break is officially here! Since I’ll be staying in Oxford for the next six weeks in between traveling, I thought I would talk a little bit about where I live and how the experience has been thus far. The majority of students at Mansfield College live on campus, but the visiting students and a few matriculated students always live in off-campus housing. My particular building is about a fifteen minute walk from campus, whereas the other off-campus housing is about a twenty-five minute walk (I definitely lucked out!). As someone who has only ever lived in dorms on Wheaton’s tiny campus back home, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

My student accommodations are barred with a large gate that opens with a key we all carry. At first I wasn’t quite sure if I was in the right place when I first arrived, but then I noticed the large Mansfield crests hanging on the gate. This dorm is quite far from town, meaning that it feels more like a normal residential area than the more “academic” part of Oxford. Although it’s a bit of walk to town from my accommodations, we’re much closer to restaurants, bars, and shops. Definitely helpful when you don’t want to walk far for food!

Before coming to Oxford I had never lived in a room alone. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about not having a roommate. Would I miss having someone else in the room? While I was a bit lonely at first, over time I’ve come to really enjoy having my own room. Not only is it easier to be on my own schedule (I can go to bed and wake up whenever I want without having to worry about my roommate’s schedule, etc.), but it’s also nice to have some privacy whenever I go back to my room at night. While I would love to have a roommate again at Wheaton, I also wouldn’t mind having a single now that I know what it’s like.

My favorite part about having my own room is decorating. We’re not allowed to put much on the walls due to fire safety regulations, but we are given huge bulletin boards to cover as we please. I brought a few decorations from my dorm room back at Wheaton (the little flags, the “It’s OK” banner, the Wheaton pennant, etc.) and I’ve accumulated a bunch of postcards since coming here. Of course, my absolute favorite decoration are Polaroid photos. Pretty soon I’ll have run out of space for them all!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief look into my student accommodation at Oxford! Living here in my own room has been much more enjoyable than I initially expected, especially since I had never lived alone before. It’s remarkable how quickly a place can feel like a home away from home!

Click here to check out other posts in my Holly Goes Abroad series!

Have you ever lived in a dorm? Did you have your own room or share it with a roommate (or two)? Let me know in the comments section below!




Feminist Fridays: Feminist Writing Tutorial

Now that Hilary term at Oxford has officially come and gone, I’m going to share my thoughts on the Feminist Writing tutorial I recently completed. This tutorial (basically what they call classes at Oxford) was an English course, but it also blended some feminist theory into the mix as well. It was nice to have a bit of a break from solely reading novels all the time. In this post I’ll be discussing some of the texts we read (although there were many more), the themes we focused on, and my thoughts on the course overall.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft || This was my second time reading this for a class (the first was for a social contract theory course my freshman year of college) but my first time reading it in a strictly gendered context. While much of what she says is very outdated now (it was written centuries ago) a surprising amount of it is still relevant today. Definitely worth a read!

Woman and Labor by Olive Schreiner || loved reading this book, especially alongside Wollstonecraft’s work. There are so many brilliant quotes that I copied down into my notebook as I was reading–not to help with future essays, but simply because I found them inspiring and empowering. Here’s one of my favorites:

“I would like to say to the men and women of the generations which will come after us: you will look back at us with astonishment. You will wonder at passionate struggles that accomplished so little, at the, to you, obvious paths to attain our ends which we did not take. At the intolerable evils before which it will seem to you we sat down passive. At the great truths staring us in the face which we failed to see, at the great truths we grasped at but could not get our fingers quite ’round. You will marvel at the labour that ended in so little. But what you will never know that it was how we were thinking of you and for you that we struggled as we did and accomplished the little that we have done. That it was in the thought of your larger realization and fuller life that we have found consolation for the futilities of our own. All I aspire to be and was not, comforts me.”

Olive Schreiner is an underrated, under-appreciated writer that deserves more time in the feminist spotlight. If you’re interested in more of my thoughts on her writing, check out the Feminist Friday feature I wrote about her. 

This Sex Which Is Not One by Luce Irigaray || Let me just say that this book is a wild ride. My professor asked us to focus on the essay “This Sex Which Is Not One,” which basically argues that we should use the image of “two lips” in order to challenge the phallic discourse that currently dominates our society. It was really interesting, but had a bit too much Freud in it for my taste.

Poems by Emily Dickinson || Emily Dickinson may just be my favorite poet. We read many, many of her poems for this class and all I wanted to do when I finished was go back and read them all over again. I love how her poetry is frustratingly ambiguous yet still brilliantly poignant. I can’t even keep track of all of my favorite poems by her!

Memorial: A Version of Homer’s Iliad by Alice Oswald || I’ve never actually read Homer’s Iliad before, but I think a basic understanding of the epic is enough to read this contemporary poem. Not only is Oswald’s language haunting and beautiful, but it also brings up important questions about revitalizing old works, the oral tradition, and women’s writing. If you’d like to read more of my thoughts on this poem, click here to check out my recent review. 

White Teeth by Zadie Smith || This was the first Zadie Smith book I ever read, but it most certainly won’t be my last! Now I want to read literally everything Smith has ever written. If this praise isn’t convincing enough, check out my review of the novel to make you want to read it even more. 

Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison || Everything Toni Morrison writes is brilliant gold, and Playing in the Dark is no exception. I was so excited when I saw that this was on our reading list because I had read a certain section of the book many times for prior essays but had never actually read the entire collection. This work is so important for literary scholarship today as well as how we think about diversity in media and our lives in general. Would absolutely recommend to everyone! 

Education, marriage, and professions for women || I liked that we started off with this topic because it’s arguably the easiest category in which to see the vast improvement that women have made over the years. Of course, there’s always room for more improvement!

The body and sexuality || This is the week we drew on more abstract feminist theory to talk about how women’s bodies and sexuality are represented not only through language, but also through imagery and art. It raises some really interesting and important questions about how women portray themselves today and what that says about cultural gender norms.

Intertextuality, subverting/transforming genres, creating a tradition of women’s writing, the woman writer || This was definitely my favorite topic out of the ones we studied throughout the entire term. Thinking about writing traditions, reception studies, and genre formation really fascinates me, and coupling that with Emily Dickinson was a blast.

Differences among women; crossing boundaries, transitions, intersections; an “outsiders’ society” || Ending with this theme was great because it allowed us to look at feminist writings throughout the past few centuries from a modern standpoint and asses how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.

Overall, I am so glad that I decided to take this tutorial on a whim when I was signing up for classes months ago. Not only did it introduce me to some remarkable women writers, but it also provided me with new tools to use when analyzing other literature in terms of gender and intersectionality. If you ever get the opportunity to take some sort of feminist writing or theory course, definitely do!

Click here to see other Feminist Friday posts!

Have you ever taken a class on feminist theory or literature? What are some of your favorite feminist writers, books, poems, etc.? What are your thoughts on any of the writing that I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!




I’ve been fascinated by the life and writing of Frederick Douglass ever since reading his autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) in my Introduction to Literature class during my very first semester of college. Born into slavery, Douglass eventually escaped to the North, became a free man, and rose to be a prolific orator and writer in the abolitionist movement of the nineteenth century. Like countless people throughout history, I am captivated by how eloquently and effectively Douglass was able to portray himself through language. I’ve written more essays about him than any other subject so far in college, all from different perspectives and angles. After writing a research paper about the critical reception of his biographies in a literary theory class, I decided it was time for me to finally read a full biography about this extraordinary figure. One day while browsing the shelves of a local independent bookshop I saw William S. McFeely’s biography Frederick Douglass and decided to give it a try.

Perhaps I should have expected reading a biography about someone who wrote several autobiographies to feel a bit strange, but the feeling didn’t really hit me until about fifty pages in. The story of Douglass’ experiences as a young slave and eventual success at running away sounded extremely familiar because it was– Douglass himself had written about it in all three of his autobiographies: A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1845), My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881). At this point I started to ask myself what the point of reading or writing a biography of someone who had written their autobiography was in the first place, but the answer was soon obvious: context. Anyone can write an autobiography any way they want, but the way they portray their own life can vary greatly depending on the context they choose to incorporate. For instance, Douglass left out nearly everything about his personal relationships from his autobiographies, only briefly mentioning that he married a woman named Anna at one point. Readers were left wondering what his life was like behind closed doors, which is information we now know thanks to research done for biographies such as this one.

Speaking of Douglass’ wife, reading about the many women in Douglass’ life was one of the most interesting aspects of this biography. Douglass might have been famously admired both in the North of the United States and abroad in the United Kingdom, but it sounds like Anna was not a huge fan. In reality, it seems like Douglass was a pretty mediocre husband at best. Not only did he leave Anna for extended periods of time while orating and traveling abroad, but he often brought back other women– usually white intellectual women he met in his travels– to live in their home. This latter action caused incessant rumors to spread wherever he was living at the time about Douglass’ potential affairs. It didn’t help matters that Anna, having once been a slave as well, was illiterate and therefore could not help Douglass with his writing career as could some of the other women he met and became close to later in life. Throughout this biography I couldn’t help but feel like poor Anna was dealt the short straw of the bunch, yet few people have recognized the struggle she must have endured sitting in the background of her husband’s life.

Overall, I really enjoyed this biography of Frederick Douglass and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about his life, abolitionism, or even woman’s rights during the Civil War and Reconstruction in the United States.

What are your thoughts on this biography of Frederick Douglass? Do you have a favorite biography in general? Any you would recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!



A Classic Couple: Howards End and On Beauty

It’s finally time to return to the long-lost Classic Couple feature! Today I’ll be highlighting a pair of novels that were basically designed to go together: E.M. Forster’s Howards End (1910) and Zadie Smith’s On Beauty (2005). Smith wrote On Beauty as a purposeful homage to Forster’s novel, meaning that there are countless fascinating parallels between them. Without further ado, it’s time to explore this classic couple!

Family dynamics || Both of these novels primarily focus on dynamics between different families as well as between members of the same family. For instance, Howards End emphasizes the relationship between sisters Helen and Margaret Schlegel in the context of their relations with the Wilcox family. On the other hand, On Beauty focuses on the clash between Howard Belsey and Monty Kipps as well as their marriages, children, affairs, etc. As relationships become more and more complicated over the course of these novels, Forster and Smith invite the reader to look more closely at her own relationships with others and how they intertwine.

Diverse characters || Although Howards End lacks diversity in terms of race, it does show diversity in terms of socioeconomic backgrounds and class. Margaret and Helen struggle to decide whether or not they should help Leonard, a man who has lost his job and currently can’t make ends meet. Mr. Wilcox doesn’t believe in the idea of “class,” asserting that poor people are poor and rich people are rich and this aspect of society will never and can never change. Meanwhile, On Beauty contains a diverse cast of characters both in terms of class and race. Smith manages to weave discussions of mixed race families, immigrants, and the rather whitewashed academic setting of a liberal college in New England all into one novel.

Women in society || One of my favorite aspects of these novels is their focus on gender, specifically the role of women in society. Although these novels take place nearly one hundred years apart, there are many similarities between the ways women are treated (albeit in a less extreme way today, fortunately). Nearly all of the women in these novels struggle in some form to find their place in society, be it as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, or simply a friend. In Howards End this struggle plays out in the many houses that the women occupy, whereas in On Beauty women endeavor to reclaim their bodies and sexuality from the suffocating gender norms of modern society.

Overall, I would highly recommend both of these novels, especially read together. I read On Beauty before reading Howards End, but I don’t think the order is necessarily important when it comes to recognizing the many fascinating parallels between them. I love the way Zadie Smith took an old classic and breathed fresh life into it with a modern setting and contemporary issues that we face today. Definitely check this classic couple out!

Click here to check out other Classic Couples from past posts.

What do you think of this classic couple? What other books would you pair with Howards End? What are your thoughts on either or both of these books? Let me know in the comments section below!



Top Ten Tuesday: Books that Surprised Me

Happy Tuesday!! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) focuses on books that surprised us– for better or worse. Although I think it’s intended to be interpreted as “books that surprised us with how much we ended up liking or disliking them,” I’ve decided to take the topic rather literally. Instead, I’ll be sharing ten books that literally surprised me with their twists, turns, and unexpected plots.

What are some books that have surprised you? What do you think of the books I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!



The London Underground | Holly Goes Abroad

Folks, I’m here to tell you that I have discovered my long-lost love: the London Underground. I had never used the tube until a few weeks ago when my friend and I made a spontaneous trip to London for the day (click here to see the resulting bookshop crawl) and now my life has changed. Without further ado, here are eight reasons why I love the London Underground:

1. It’s easy to use. I’m just going to come right out and admit it: I am a horrible navigator. Thank goodness I live in the age of Google maps and cell data because otherwise I would likely still be lost somewhere. However, the tube is SO EASY to use– so easy that even I can do it!

2. It’s efficient. Perhaps I went on a day that wasn’t that busy, but my friend and I hardly had to wait for a tube to arrive whenever we needed one. Definitely beats waiting for buses or trains!

3. So. Many. Escalators. Because the tube is underground there are many escalators leading up to the street level. Not only are very strange– you have to stand on the right side so people can walk up them on the left– they’re also SUPER steep.

4. “Mind the gap.” I love the vaguely passive aggressive announcements repeatedly reminding everyone to “mind the gap” whenever the tube stops.

5. Comfy seats. Honestly, how are some seats on the tube so comfortable? That’s one form of transportation that I wouldn’t mind commuting on!

6. The logo. The tube has such excellent branding. I love how simple the logo is and the fact that everything coordinates so nicely from stop to stop.

7. Oyster cards. Prepaid cards make using the tube in a hurry so much easier than buying tickets every time. It’s also nice to not have to worry about constantly keeping track of how much you’re spending.

8. Convenience. The efficiency and convenience of the tube allows for maximum touristy-ness and makes sightseeing all over London possible in just a single day. I was definitely grateful to not have to walk all over the city on our bookshop crawl!

And there you have it! I’m looking forward to (hopefully) seeing more of the London Underground in my last few months at Oxford.

Click here to check out other posts in my Holly Goes Abroad series!

Do you like riding on the tube? Do you have a favorite form of public transportation? Do you use public transport on a regular basis? Let me know in the comments section below!



Feminist Fridays: Emily Dickinson

Today I’m going to talk about one of my favorite poets of all time: Emily Dickinson. Earlier this term I was assigned to read many, many poems by Dickinson for my Writing Feminisms tutorial, which felt more like reading for pleasure rather than reading to write an essay. After having done more research about her life and writing, I’m excited to discuss her important and remarkable contribution to establishing a tradition of women’s writing.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) was an American poet born and raised in Puritan New England, specifically in Massachusetts. She was considered to be a kind of recluse during her lifetime and only about a dozen of her 1,775 poems were actually published while she was alive. Today she is written about and taught in classrooms alongside male poets such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson who are considered to be part of the (male-dominated) Western literary canon. However, she was treated much differently than these male poets and had to face many more obstacles in order to be taken even somewhat seriously as a poet.

From a distance, it can seem as though Dickinson was playing into a persona of being a naive, young, ignorant figure. She often called herself “Miss Dickinson” in letters to editors and other correspondents, whereas male poets would undoubtedly have been referred to by their last names. She would also feign ignorance of how to write poetry, even though she clearly knew that she was creating an innovative, unique, experimental form. She asked editors for advice and pretended shock at their criticism, claiming she didn’t know she had erred when she didn’t consistently use iambic pentameter or proper rhyme schemes in her poetry. But why would this poetic genius pretend to be anything but?

Answer: because it was the only way she would be taken remotely seriously (read: even taken into consideration) by men who controlled the poetic sphere at the time. Living in Puritan New England meant rigid enforcement of traditional gender roles; however, Dickinson was not married and didn’t seem to plan on getting married any time soon. If she could not play the role of the “good wife,” than she must find another role to play: the naive, youthful girl. This would allow her to get feedback on her poetry without making men like Thomas Wentworth Higginson, an editor, feel directly challenged or threatened by her skill, intellect, and promising potential as a poet.

Her subversion of established conventions of the male poetic tradition can be seen in her irregular rhyme schemes (often called slant rhyme), inconsistent meter, focus on topics like death from a woman’s perspective. In the following poem that I wrote about for class, we can see how she uses the juxtaposition of biblical language and imagery of crowns, monarchs, and individual sovereignty to push back against traditional values of Puritan New England:

I’m ceded – I’ve stopped being Theirs –
The name They dropped upon my face
With water, in the country church
Is finished using, now,
And They can put it with my Dolls,
My childhood, and the string of spools,
I’ve finished threading – too –

Baptized, before, without the choice,
But this time, consciously, of Grace –
Unto supremest name –
Called to my Full – The Crescent dropped –
Existence’s whole Arc, filled up,
With one small Diadem.

My second Rank – too small the first –
Crowned – Crowing – on my Father’s breast –
A half unconscious Queen –
But this time – Adequate – Erect,
With Will to choose, or to reject,
And I choose, just a Crown –

I love Emily Dickinson’s poetry for many reasons, but perhaps most of all because she was such a fascinating person in real life. She is a perfect example of quiet, subdued resistance– just because these men did not realize that they were being challenged does not mean that the resistance wasn’t there, contributing to a tradition of women’s writing that is still with us today. 

What are your thoughts on Emily Dickinson and her poetry? Do you have a favorite Dickinson poem? Let me know in the comments section below!



MEMORIAL by Alice Oswald | Review

In this daring new work, the poet Alice Oswald strips away the narrative of the Iliad—the anger of Achilles, the story of Helen—in favor of attending to its atmospheres: the extended similes that bring so much of the natural order into the poem and the corresponding litany of the war-dead, most of whom are little more than names but each of whom lives and dies unforgettably and unforgotten in the copious retrospect of Homer’s glance. The resulting poem is a war memorial and a profoundly responsive work that gives new voice to Homer’s level-voiced version of the world. Through a mix of narrative and musical repetition, the sequence becomes a meditation on the loss of human life. {Goodreads}

As an English major who is regrettably not very familiar with Homer’s epics, I was a little worried when I saw that Alice Oswald’s Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad was listed as assigned reading for my Writing Feminisms tutorial this term. Would I be able to wade through sea of references I didn’t understand and still take away something meaningful from this poem? Should I read The Iliad first? Would my fuzzy memory of reading it during my sophomore year of high school suffice?

Answers: Yes, maybe, and yes again.

The true correct answer to the first question is yes, having a thorough understanding of Homer’s epic would probably deepen one’s reading experience with Oswald’s Memorial. However, rereading The Iliad was not in my future considering I was also assigned nine other books to read during my five-week winter break. So I did what any other college student would do when strapped for time: I googled a summary of The Iliad, skimmed it, and then proceeded onward with my assigned reading. For someone who is only studying this book for a brief week during the actual term and does not even need to write an essay on it, I would hazard a guess that this vague understanding is sufficient to at least take away something meaningful from reading Memorial. 

With that being said, Memorial is a fascinating, touching, thought-provoking, beautifully written poem whether or not you are familiar with the original text it’s based on. I really appreciate the experimental and creative nature of this text, from the list of hundreds of names of those who died in the beginning of the poem as well as the constant repetition of whole stanzas throughout. Oswald presents a different side of warfare that is deeply personal and intimate, humanizing those who died in the brief stories of their last moments alive. In the introduction to the poem, Oswald writes that “this is a translation of the Iliad’s atmosphere, not its story” and I know no better way to describe Memorial.

Overall, there are countless topics I could discuss in relation to this poem– its treatment of women, its relation with how we view those who died in 9/11, its relation to the original Homeric text, etc.— but for now I think I’ll leave it here and simply say: READ MEMORIAL. Whether or not poetry is usually your go-to genre, I believe that there is a little something for all readers in this brilliant text.

{If you’re interested in reading more about Memorial, check out these well written reviews in The Guardian and The New York Times}

What are your thoughts on Memorial? What other poetry would you recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!



Inside Out Book Tag | 2

Have you ever seen the heart-breaking, heart-warming, gut-wrenching, tear-jerking, laugh-inducing movie Inside Out? Well, you should! Today I’m here with the Inside Out Book Tag. Thanks so much to Kelly @ Just Another Book in the Wall for tagging me!!

A book that brings you joy

Girl Up by Laura Bates. This is one of the first books I read in 2018 and I still find myself thinking about it every once in a while. Not only is it hilarious and informational, but it’s also incredibly empowering.

A book that brings you sadness

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. Poor Oliver! This novel was much darker than I initially expected it would be… although I should have known that any Dickens novel wouldn’t likely be sunshine and rainbows!

A book that makes you angry

Ann Veronica by H.G. Wells. As I explained in my Feminist Fridays post about this novel a few weeks back, I found Wells’ views on women, suffragettes, marriage, etc. to be very frustrating.

A book that disgusts you

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. I don’t find many books disgusting, so this question was a little more difficult than the others. However, the overt racism and violence in this classic novel definitely fit the bill.

A book that brings you fear

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Ah, good old deeply entrenched societal problems. The scary thing about this novel is that it is not an extremely unrealistic portrayal of what some women feel like in the world.

What are your answers to these questions? What do you think of mine? Do you like this movie? Let me know in the comments section below!



Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Book Quotes

Happy Tuesday!! I am so excited for today’s Top Ten Tuesday topic because it focuses on one of my favorite things: QUOTES. So many of my books are covered in highlighter and pen lines because I’m an avid annotator and marker of writing that really resonates with me. Here are just a few of the many quotes I’ve fallen in love with over the years:

“I go to seek a Great Perhaps.”

{Originally from poet Francois Rabelais, read in Looking for Alaska by John Green}

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

{Brave New World by Aldous Huxley}

“Don’t be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don’t have to live forever, you just have to live.”

{Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt}

“Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it’s unbelievable…”

{Matilda by Roald Dahl}

“In the information society, nobody thinks. We expected to banish paper, but we actually banished thought.”

{Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton}

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” 

{Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass}

“My mother is a fish.”

{As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner}

“May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”

{The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien}

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

{Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling}

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”

{Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë}

What are your favorite book quotes? What do you think of the ones I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!