Coming home after two talk-full days at the Marginalised Mainstream conference, I’m chuffed to find in my inbox an email saying that my paper proposal for the British Poetry of the First World War conference in Oxford next September has been accepted. The paper will be about the ways in which war poets were represented in fiction of the twenties (often rather unflatteringly). I’ll be raising some questions about this theme in the blog over the next few months, I think.
The second Marginalised Mainstream conference was very enjoyable and pleasantly mind-stretching. Its remit is wide, but most papers were about any aspects of mainstream culture that are usually marginalised in the academy. There were several talks on the sort of subjects that usually interest me – P. G. Wodehouse, Dornford Yates, women’s middlebrow fiction, the afterlives of Sherlock Holmes, and so on. But I also thoroughly enjoyed papers on embroidery, wrestling, computer games, pin-ups and designer shoes. And you meet nice people there.
My own paper was on Leslie Charteris, and how the his iconic character the Saint became culturally different from his original model, Bulldog Drummond (looking particularly at how the Great War is represented very differently in the two series of thrillers). It didn’t go badly, but it was one of those papers that – well, as I read it aloud, I felt I could have constructed it better, changed the emphases, and developed some points more fully. Perhaps I’ll get another chance some time.
Actually, I wonder whether I’m the very best person to talk about the Saint. What I’d really like to hear or read is a study by someone from a Chinese background, talking about the half-Chinese Leslie Yin, whose racial identity is disguised behind an English pseudonym and remains unknown to the majority of his readers. Does his writing link with Chinese culture in any way? Or are there signs (more obvious perhaps to someone from that background) of deliberate concealment? In other words, he’s ripe for a proper post-colonial reassessment, looking at how the fantasy of the Saint valorises an outsider figure, and yet makes him very definitely English.
A few Marginalised Mainstream papers, by the way, were not presented at the conference, but are available online. I like this one: ‘Nobrow, No Boundaries‘ by Michael Cheuk, which compares a classic African-American novel – ‘Native Son‘- with gangsta rap, and considers the effect on our response to the works of the cultural categories in which we pigeonhole them.