FRENCH FLASH FICTION: THE WINNERS

We’re delighted to present the winners and runner-up entries for this year’s Flash Fiction contest. We’ll be publishing some of the highly commended entries over the coming weeks.

Thank you to everyone who entered. There was excellent creative use of language and incredible feats of imagination on display, all wrapped up in small packages of 100 words or fewer. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did.

YEARS 7-11

WINNER :

Trouver X

C’est un autre jour dans le cours préparatoire et les enfants apprennent la phonétique. Le pauvre X est coincé sur un mur, très frustré. Les élèves récitent (encore) “A – c’est pour arbre, B – c’est pour banane…” X jete un coup d’oeil à W et Y et dit “ennuyeux à mourir! Les petits connaissent seulement jusqu’a ‘M’. Je m’en vais!”

Dans une autre salle de classe X trouve un cours de l’algèbre, où tout le monde semble chercher X.”Mon Dieu! Ils savent que je suis absent!” il pense. “Ces équations me trouvent toujours. Je m’en vais, encore!”

Cormac Mitchell, Y7

RUNNER-UP

L’ours d’Or

L’ours était triste ! L’air était froid et le sol était glace, le lac était comme gelée. Elle a marché la plaine froide. Soudainement elle a vu une caverne mais elle était très fatiguée donc elle est entrée et dormi là… Cependant quand elle s’est réveillée, elle a vu un rayon de soleil briller à l’entrée de la caverne ! Sa fourrure brillait dans la lumière dorée.  Elle est sortie de la caverne et elle a vu que les plaines n’étaient plus froides – il y a avait des fleurs, des abeilles et des arbres partout ! Elle a souri !

Nandhitha Agilan, Y9

YEARS 12-13

WINNER :

Le marriage Zoom

Les portes de chapelle s’ouvrent avec un grincement tonitruant. Sans délai, Le Canon de Pachelbel commence à jouer. Sous ma robe blanche, les pieds marchant vers l’autel ne se sentent pas comme les miens. La musique s’estompe dans un silence assourdissant lorsque j’arrive. Deux mètres de nous, protégé par l’écran transparent, le ministre s’éclaircit la gorge.

Je regarde, impuissante, la mer de visages flous en sourdine sur l’ordinateur. Je regarde les bancs vides qui ne m’offriront aucune aide. Je regarde l’homme souriant devant moi, et avant que le ministre puisse commencer, je jette mon bouquet de roses et je cours.

Chung Sze Kwok, Y12

RUNNER-UP:

Une petite fille sur une petite plage d’Angleterre se penche pour ramasser un déchet.

Un vieillard au Madagascar examine son vieux bateau; l’arc-en-ciel du pétrole se diffusant sur l’océan Indien.

À Genève, plusieurs gouvernements débattent de plusieurs conséquences de leur surconsommation. Après avoir posé pour une photo, chacun retourne en ignorant l’état de la planète, rien ne change. 

Ce n’est pas certain que se passe-t-il ensuite. Peut-être l’enfant retournera chez elle, le vieillard de la mer, les gouvernements de la conférence. Peut-être des années plus tard la fille, maintenant adulte, annoncera au monde la solution qu’on n’a pas encore inventée…

Holly Singleton, Year 12

Modern Languages Teachers’ Conference 2021: All Welcome!

SRTS Teachers' Conference, offline version
The SRTS Teachers’ Conference, pre-pandemic version

We’re delighted to announce that our Oxford University Modern Languages Teachers’ Network, the Sir Robert Taylor Society, is holding its annual conference this year on Thursday 23 and Friday 24 September. If you’re UK modern languages teacher, or have an interest in modern languages teaching at school and university in the UK, you’re warmly invited to attend. Due to Covid, the conference will once again be online this year, with two evenings of roundtable talks and guest speakers.

On Thursday 23 September, from 19:30-21:00 on Microsoft Teams, the theme will be Modern Languages and Careers.

We’ll be talking about, among other things:

  • Career paths of modern languages graduates
  • Employability and demand for modern language skills in the workplace
  • Transferable skills from modern language study
  • STEM pressure and the value of humanities subjects

On Friday 24 September, again from 19:30-21:00, the theme will be Modern Languages and Diversity.

We’ll be talking about, among other things:

  • Revisiting the canon: diversifying and decolonizing the curriculum in language, literature and film
  • Race, gender and sexuality as topics of study in language, literature and film courses
  • Racism, homophobia and other prejudice in literary texts and film
  • Diversity in the student body: widening participation in modern language courses

If you’d like to attend either or both events, please email us at schools.liaison@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk, and we’ll send you the link to join.

During the events, participation from delegates through the chat and live discussion will be warmly welcome. If you’d like a seat at the Round Table to talk more substantially about either of these topics in secondary or higher education, please let us know, and we’ll be very pleased to accommodate you.

PRISMATIC JANE EYRE SCHOOLS PROJECT

Prismatic Jane Eyre Project

The Prismatic Jane Eyre Schools Project is an AHRC-funded joint project with the University of Oxford and the Stephen Spender Trust (SST), the leading UK charity for creative multilingual activities in schools.  

Over 2021, the Project is running workshops in translation and creative writing for young people who are learning modern languages or are speakers of community languages. Using the classic novel Jane Eyre and research about how the text has been translated across the world since its 1847 publication, professional translators will deliver workshops to secondary schools in the UK.  

A nation-wide creative translation competition will be launched on 30 September 2021 – International Translation Day! The competition deadline is March 2021. Entrants are asked to produce a poem in another language inspired by a selected passage from Jane Eyre. The competition accepts submissions in any language, and all entries need to be accompanied by a literal translation into English.   

Up to 100 entries to the competition will be published in a printed anthology, which will also be available online.  

Support materials will be available on our resources page:  https://prismaticjaneeyre.org/resources/. Additional activity packs will be provided in the workshop languages (Arabic, French, Polish, and Spanish) by October 2021. These materials give learners and teachers the chance to take part in creative translation activities related to Jane Eyre at home or in the classroom.  

The competition guidelines and selected passages will be made available online on 30 September 2021 on this webpage: https://prismaticjaneeyre.org/competition-details/.   

If you are a teacher who would like regular updates about the competition or the project more generally, please register your interest using this form. https://forms.office.com/r/JV2k133s3Z.  

Queries can be directed to Dr Eleni Philippou at PJEschools@ell.ox.ac.uk

Writing Humanity: on the Readings of a War Reportage

BY ALEKSANDRA MAJAK

War correspondent Marie Colvin used to say that what she fears the most is not a war, but indifference; a moment when stories of terror and injustice might cease to matter. Driven by a need to bear a witness, for over four decades she covered virtually all contemporary military conflicts: Iran–Iraq War; Kosovo; the intervention in Libya; Sierra Leone; Afghanistan; Gaza. The list goes on, as impressive as it is terrifying. By driving into the epicentre of danger, Colvin hoped to give voice to the voiceless; civilians whose stories might otherwise remain untold. ‘Marie has an eye for that’ – Colvin’s friends reflected, darkly, referencing her loss of an eye in a grenade explosion at Sri Lanka. 

Marie Colvin covering the 2011 uprising in Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photograph: Ivor Prickett/Sunday Times/EPA 

Against the backdrop of a turbulent century, reporting means witnessing – integrating oneself into the situation and writing about the experience with honesty and compassion, hoping to provoke a sense of activism in the reader. Despite the usual associations we share for the noun ‘report’ as an objective, evaluating account, a summary, the genre of reportage departs from the verb ‘to report’ that specifically designates an action of relating, recounting, describing, and telling a story. It offers the reader the account on humanity in extremis. For those of you who would like to delve deeper into the topic, the Washing Post’s list of the 100 best pieces of journalism (at the same time reflecting on the likely absurdity of creating such rankings) can be a helpful source, though not a definitive one [1]. Following the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction would also provide recommendations to start on.

Studying comparative literature brings with it the excitement of reading material, yet it its purpose is to reveal unobvious links between authors, their biographies, and styles that we now call ‘intertextuality’, in the vocabulary of literary theory. It is not a simple source-hunting (or flex during literature classes) but an attempt to get ‘behind the scenes’ of the creative process and better understand an author’s motives, hopes, and anxieties. If Colvin’s war correspondence is now among the genre’s finest – lately popularised by the biography suggestively entitled In Extremis (2018) by Lindsey Hilsum, and film The Private War – she is certain not alone at the top.


The Book Cover of In Extremis 

Her exceptional journalism is only part of a larger tradition of reportage; deploying changes of style and technique to keep the reader’ attention, and the examining the ethics of witnessing war.

In taking on this genre, the most salient question is: ‘what are my motivations for reading non-fiction?’ Why, of all of the books and work available to me, do I choose those that ground me in reality, instead of taking me away from it; floating me away into the welcoming arms of fiction? Asking these basic questions of ourselves helps us define the expectations we share about non-fiction and verify whether they accord with our actual experience of reading this work.

In recalling my own encounters with the genre I think of Martha Gellhorn; an American journalist and correspondent for Collier magazine, one of the first non-fiction writers to strike me as deeply observant and very well-written. In the early 1940s, her writing re-shaped modern war correspondence. In much of her journalism Gellhorn describes scenes from conflict zones with remarkable ease and vividness. Her attention, however, quickly shifts from a comprehensive presentation of facts to a subjective description of standing at the epicentres of conflict and, most importantly, listening to people’s stories.

Portrait of Martha Gellhorn w Collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Consider, for instance, this author’s reports from the RAF control station in 1943 as ‘The Bomber Boys’ prepare for taking off:

The motors were warming up, humming and heavy. Now the big black planes wheeled out and one by one rolled around the perimeter and got into position on the runway. […] Then the first plane was gone into the blackness, not seeming to move very fast, and we saw the tail-light lifting, and presently the thirteen planes that were taking off from this field floated against the sky as if the sky were water. Then they changed into distant, slow-moving stars. That was that. The chaps were off. They would be gone all this night. […] They were going to fly over France […] to bomb marshalling yards, to destroy if possible and however briefly one of the two rail connections between France and Italy. If they succeeded, the infantry in southern Italy would have an easier job for a little while.

The author paints this scene with broad strokes; detailed and novelistic descriptions intertwine with very short sentences, making the prose pulse and pause. The purpose of this cinematic technique is to replicate the intensity of what the author has witnessed and bring the reader into the scene. What would later come to be called ‘New Journalism’ [2] in the 1960s deployed techniques such as: realistic though often ‘eavesdropped’ dialogue, scene-by-scene reconstruction, recounting of the prior life and experience of ‘characters’ in the story, alternating between first- and third-person narrative. Even if the author condemns any form of violence, vivid prose poses questions about the potential fetishization of war and conflict, especially if augmented by a representation of brutal, yet still somehow glorious, war. The excerpt reads like an action novel, or the opening sequence of a blockbuster movie. [3]


Martha Gellhorn with Royal Air Force pilots, England 1943 

Even though this short excerpt does not do justice to all the variation in Gellhorn’s style, one quickly notices that her prose does not claim objectivity. Reflection on the place of the author’s subjectivity in the genre of reportage pervades Gellhorn’s entire body of work. Known for her sharp tongue, Gellhorn despised the conventions of writing from the distance, referring to it bluntly as ‘that objectivity shit’. Among her most well-known books, we may list The Trouble I’ve Seen (1936) – a set of short stories taking the reader through America during the Great Depression; A Stricken Field (1940) – a novel set against the backdrop of a war-tormented Czechoslovakia; and The Face of War (1959) – a wide collection of war journalism. The only openly autobiographical book she published was Travels with Myself and Another (1978), in which the titular ‘another’ refers to Gellhorn’s late husband husband, Ernest Hemingway.

Judging from the title, we might indeed suspect that the marriage was not a great success. The biopic film Hemingway and Gellhorn from 2012 captures some of their personal tensions, against the background of subsequent wars. After their divorce Gellhorn would tactfully avoid commenting on the writer; any interviewer bold enough to bring up the topic of their failed marriage was reportedly treated to a stern look. Given how one of Gellhorn’s first books, The Trouble I’ve Seen, was warmly received and prized for an ‘amazingly unfeminine’ quality, perhaps her stand against what she called seeing oneself ‘as a footnote to someone else’s life’ is self-explanatory.

Gellhorn was, reportedly, the only woman to see the front lines of D-Day. As the Oxford Companion to American Literature notes, ‘in a characteristic act of daring, when no publisher would send her to the front lines on D-Day during World War II, Gellhorn sneaked aboard a hospital ship and became the only woman in the field and the only journalist to set foot on shore.’ Despite that, Gellhorn held the personal conviction that ‘Courage Knows No Gender’ [4] – as Colvin called the speech she gave whilst receiving one of her many journalistic prizes. Consider its opening passage:

Do women report wars differently from men? The question used to make me bristle. It irritated me to think that I would be judged as a woman war correspondent rather than as a writer, taking the same risks and covering the same story as my male colleagues. My feelings were hardly new. ‘Feminists nark me,’ wrote Martha Gellhorn, one of the great war correspondents of the century. ‘I think they’ve done a terrible disservice to women, branding us as women’s writers. Nobody says men writers; before, we were all simply writers.’

Colvin’s vision of writing not labelled by gender might sound eminently sensible and intuitive. However, it is also decidedly idealistic and the debate on this topic has a rich history (or perhaps more aptly, HERstory) in both second- and third-wave feminism, and in cultural studies. A helpful point of reference in thinking about literature and gender would be to follow readings suggested by Poetry Foundation [5].

Writing about these two female war correspondents is not just a topic in its own right but also an opportunity to think of how we talk about the influence in literary studies. The most well-known single book about dialogues of literature is still Harold Bloom’s Anxieties of Influence. In this indeed influential (and in a way, anxious) book Bloom sees literature as a battlefield, a setting for rivalry between new authors and their predecessors. But does it always need to be this way? What if the authors let themselves be marked, changed, and challenged by the text without a constant urge to battle authority and tradition? In other words: what if inspirations go beyond the notion of rivalry and take the form of imaginative collaboration instead?


Rosamund Pike as Marie Colvin in A Private War Photo: Aviron Pictures

Every time she went to the frontline, Colvin would take only one book. This was The Face of War by Martha Gellhorn, whose reportage Colvin loved dearly; she often spoke about the lasting influence that this previous generation’s correspondent had had on her writing. It is uncertain whether they ever met, but the similarities of their turbulent biographies, styles, and  journalistic achievements alongside their life-long addictions to danger are striking; striking to the extent where the reader might speculate on how they would have related to each other as contemporaries. Of course, for the young Colvin the beloved elder correspondent was not her only inspiration. It was during her studies at Yale that Marie decided to become a journalist, and learnt from another legend of non-fiction.

Addicted to the ‘New York Times’ since her teenage years, in her second year of university Colvin signed up to lessons led by John Hersey, known for his pioneering book Hiroshima (1946). Hersey introduced elements typical of literary fiction to the genre of non-fiction, giving it a fresh and novelistic touch. His work still features amongst the highest-rated books ever written.

In the classroom, Hersey would speak of the importance of searching for truth and cultivating narrative flow over guarded objectivism and gathering information. The values of this approach would not simply resonate with Colvin but would later on become her own:  

To me, bravery is not something gigantic and definitive. I don’t get into a war thinking I have to prove myself brave: that would be about me and that would be bravado. […] The point is to try to report as truthfully as you know how. […] You can’t get that information in a war without going to a place where people are being shot and they are shooting at you. The real difficulty is having enough faith in humanity to believe that someone will care. 

The last line from this excerpt, in particular, invites reflection and encourages a return to the question: ‘what is it that makes me care?’ Complex in its socio-historical focus and multivariate storytelling methods, modern war reportage offers a unique reading experience. Most importantly, it calls for readers to be ready to be – as Colvin once was, reading Gellhorn for the first time – marked, struck, and challenged by the text.

ALEKSANDRA MAJAK

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/1999/03/01/business/media-journalism-s-greatest-hits-two-lists-of-a-century-s-top-stories.html

[2] https://www.britannica.com/topic/New-Journalism

[3] Read more excerpts at: https://www.military-history.org/feature/world-war-2/war-reporters-martha-gellhorn.htm

[4] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/courage-knows-no-gender-r5tqg9zzxjp

[5] https://www.poetryfoundation.org/learn/glossary-terms/feminist-theory

Stephen Spender Prize for Poetry in Translation

The Stephen Spender Prize 2021

The Stephen Spender Prize for poetry in translation, in association with The Guardian, is now open for entries. Anybody in the UK and Ireland can enter, regardless of age or linguistic skill. SST’s Multilingual Creativity hub is full of virtual resources to make the prize accessible from home, as well as teaching packs to bring poetry translation into the classroom.

This year the prize is more inclusive and vibrant than ever, from British Sign Language translation to new prizes for first-time entrants. SST’s virtual poetry booklets collect together poems in more than 15 languages.

SST Director Charlotte Ryland:

“Poetry translation is a perfect activity for these challenging times: it is a gentle and structured approach to creativity, without the intimidating blank page that can put off many would-be poets; it is an opportunity for parents and children to work together, in particular in families where more than one language is spoken; and it is a task that can be shared with peers and teachers.”

This year’s judges are acclaimed poets, translators and educators Khairani Barokka, Daljit Nagra and Samantha Schnee.

Closing date: 16 July 2021

  • Categories: Open (adult), 18-and-under, 16-and-under, 14-and-under
  • Top prize of £1,000
  • All winning entries published in a booklet
  • Special ‘Spotlight’ prize for translation from Urdu, judged by Sascha Aurora Akhtar

Full details on the SST website: https://www.stephen-spender.org/stephen-spender-prize/

Silence, moteur, action! How watching films can enhance your French language learning

Ramani Chandramohan is studying for an MSt in Modern Languages at St Anne’s College, and is a long-standing cinephile. In this post she shares some of her favourite French films from her language-learning journey so far.  

It’s a Sunday evening. You’re chilling in bed watching Netflix. And yet you’re also improving your French at the same time. How is this possible?! 

Watching films via any streaming platform or with good old fashioned DVDs is a great way of immersing yourself in the language you are studying beyond grammar textbooks. Films showcase vocabulary, regional accents, culture, history and politics in ways that books alone cannot. Whilst it may be frustrating to not be able to understand what is happening initially or to rely on subtitles, you can eventually work your way up to changing the subtitles to your target language or maybe even turning them off altogether! 

Here are some French films to get you started, although I have avoided some of the most well-known titles such as Les Intouchables, La Haine and Amélie

Classics

These films are part of what is known as the Nouvelle Vague of the 1950s and 60s, a movement characterised by an emphasis on the artistic and the personal and elements such as improvised dialogue, jump cuts, location shooting and handheld cameras. 

Jean Cocteau 

  • Orphée (1950) – this film, along with Le Sang du Poète (1930) and Le testament d’Orphée (1960), forms part of a trilogy that reimagines the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in modern-day Paris. 

La Belle et la Bête (1946) – a sumptuous retelling of the eighteenth-century fairytale originally written by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont.

François Truffaut 

  • Les Quatre Cents Coups (1959) – this is the first in a series of five coming-of-age films about a rebellious young boy called Antoine Doinel which were based in part on Truffaut’s own childhood. 
François Truffaut in 1963

Jean-Luc Godard

  • À bout du souffle (1960) follows the adventures of a petty thief and his American girlfriend in Paris. 
  • Bande à part (1964) – in this gangster film, two crooks who are fans of Hollywood B-movies commit a robbery with the help of an English student in Paris. 

Agnès Varda 

  • Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962) – Varda was instrumental in the development of the Nouvelle Vague and she received the most votes in a poll conducted by the BBC of the greatest films made by female directors. This film focuses on Cléo’s wait for the results of a biopsy which could turn out to be a cancer diagnosis. 
Agnes Varda at the 2010 Guadalajara International Film Festival

Marcel Pagnol 

  • La Fille du puisatier (2011) – set in Provence in the south of France, this film (based on Pagnol’s 1940 original) follows a father’s struggles as his daughter gets caught up with the son of a rich shopkeeper during the First World War. Other films based on Pagnol’s works include Jean de Florette (1986), Manon des Sources (1986), Marius (2013) and Fanny (2013). Pagnol championed authentic depictions of the south of France, overcoming prejudice against Southern accents in the French film industry. 
  • Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (2008) – this cult classic reveals the hilarious fallout of a post office manager’s move from south to north and the clash of regional stereotypes. It made waves when it first came out, with TGV trains in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region being decorated with film posters, and remains one of the highest-grossing films ever made in France. 

Francophone

  • La noire de…Sembène Ousmane was a famous Senegalese film director and writer; he is sometimes credited as the father of African film. La noire de… focuses on Diouana, who moves from Senegal to the south of France to work as a nanny for a rich French couple but is soon subject to racial discrimination. 
Sembène Ousmane on a visit to Berlin in 1987
  • Un divan à Tunis (2019) – this film deals with a young psychotherapist called Selma who returns to Tunis after many years in Paris to set up her own practice, though it turns out to be far more challenging than she initially envisaged. 
  • Deux jours, une nuit (2014) – set in Belgium, this film stars Marion Cotillard and follows her character Sandra as she tries to convince her work colleagues to give up their bonuses to protect her job. 
  • Juste la fin du monde (2016) – Xavier Dolan is a young and prodigious film director from Montréal in Canada. This film tells the story of a terminally-ill writer who returns home after twelve years away to tell his family of his impending death. 

Historical

  • Au Revoir Les Enfants (2015) – a simple but affecting movie about two boys living in a boarding school in Nazi-occupied France during the Second World War. 
  • Le Bossu (1997) – this adventure film is an adaptation of Paul Féval’s 1858 historical novel Le Bossu and stars Daniel Auteuil as Lagardère, a swordsman who becomes friends with the Duke of Nevers. Auteuil is a famous French actor who has been in just about every French movie!

Romance

  • Romuald & Juliette (1989) tells the story of a charming and somewhat unlikely romance between a cleaner working for a yoghurt company and the CEO. 
  • Populaire (2012) throws us into the world of typewriting contests in the 1950s in which love blossoms between a contestant, Rose, and her coach, Louis. 
  • Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (2019) tells the story of the relationship between an aristocratic lady and the female painter commissioned to paint her portrait. 
  • 120 BPM (2017) – winner of the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, this film is set in 1980s France and focuses on the work of Act Up, an advocacy group that campaigns for legislation and research to alleviate the AIDS crisis.

Sci-fi

  • La Planète Sauvage (1973) explores the tensions between two communities on the planet of Ygam: the Oms (small creatures who resemble humans) and the Draags, larger alien-like creatures who treat the Oms like animals and rule Ygam). This film is inspired by Stefan Wul’s 1973 novel Oms en série

Feel-good

  • Les Choristes (2004) – this was the first French film I ever saw and its charm, warmth and humour made me fall in love with the language. It follows music teacher Clément Mathieu’s attempts at setting up a choir out of a group of unruly school boys in a strict boarding school and, unsurprisingly, features a great soundtrack! 
  • Le chat du rabbin (2011) – this animated film is based on a series of comics by Joann Sfar; its protagonist is a rabbi’s cat in 1920s Algeria who swallows a parrot and learns how to speak whereupon he is taught the tenets of Judaism by his owner.

Medical dramas

  • Thomas Lilti is a French film director and practising doctor. He is known for his trilogy of medical films: Hippocrate (2014) focuses on junior doctors; Médecin de campagne (2016) country doctors and Première Année (2018) medical school students. 

Education

  • Entre Les Murs (2008) – set in an inner-city school in Paris, this film is an adaptation of François Bégaudeau’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. Bégaudeau stars as a French teacher struggling to deal with his students’ difficult behaviour.
  • Avoir et Être (2002) – this documentary looks at the lives of the pupils and teacher at a village school in the French countryside; the school is so small that it only has a single class of children aged four to twelve. 

Bon visionnement!

by Ramani Chandramohan

Image credits Wikimedia Commons

German classic prize 2021

A German Classic 2021:

Heinrich von Kleist, Die Verlobung in St. Domingo

Participation Guidelines for Sixth Formers

We are delighted to announce the launch of the 2021 edition of ‘A German Classic’ – Oxford’s essay competition for sixth-form students. This year we would like to invite you to read with us one of the most influential German novellas of all time, Heinrich von Kleist’s Die Verlobung in St. Domingo (1811). The story is set in the Caribbean, in what is today the Republic of Haiti, at the time of the insurrection of self-liberated slaves against French colonial rule that led to the country’s independence in 1804. Against this dramatic historical background develops an ill-fated love story between Toni, a mixed-race teenage girl, and Gustav, a white traveller from Europe. Kleist’s take on race relations, civil unrest, and the power imbalance inherent in both colonial structures and gender dynamics has clear resonances in the twenty-first century. Told in Kleist’s signature narrative style, which has influenced countless writers since the nineteenth century, Die Verlobung in St. Domingo is an excellent introduction to German literature. We hope you will want to study it with us!

ELIGIBILITY

Entrants must fulfil the following requirements as of 15 September 2021:

  • be beginning their final year of full-time study at a secondary school in the UK (upper-sixth form, Year 13 or S6 in Scotland);
  • be between the ages of 16 and 18;
  • hold a GCSE, IGCSE or equivalent qualification in German offered in the UK, or have at least an equivalent knowledge of German, as confirmed by their teacher;
  • be resident in the United Kingdom.

Entrants are not, however, expected to have prior experience of studying German literature.

STUDY PACKS

Sign up at https://www.mod-langs.ox.ac.uk/mml_apps/community/public/form?id=ogn-classic-2021-signup by 12 noon, Friday, 25 June 2021 to receive free physical copies of the German original and an English translation of Kleist’s novella, as well as access to a set of free multimedia resources and essay writing guidelines created and curated by us especially for this competition. All study materials will be dispatched in early July.

PRIZES

Up to three prizes will be awarded: a first prize of £500, a second prize of £300, and a third prize of £100. Prizes will only be awarded if work is of sufficient merit. All entrants will receive a Prize Certificate or a Certificate of Participation. Results will be announced in early October 2021.

ESSAY QUESTIONS

Students can enter the competition by writing an essay of c. 1500 words answering one of the following questions:

  1. Why did Gustav not trust Toni? Discuss the breakdown of communication in Die Verlobung in St. Domingo.
  2. To what extent does Die Verlobung in St. Domingo offer a critique of European colonialism?
  3. How is the portrayal of race connected to the portrayal of gender in Die Verlobung in St. Domingo?
  4. Discuss Die Verlobung in St. Domingo as an ‘existential test case, designed to make the reader share in the protagonists’ anguish and question the explicability of human experience’ (Martin Swales).

SUBMISSION

Entries must fulfil the following requirements:

  • be submitted by 12 noon, Wednesday, 15 September 2021, via an online form available on the OGN website from 1 July 2021 – entries received by post, by email or after the deadline will not be considered;
  • answer one of the four essay questions listed above in c. 1500 words – the word count includes the footnotes, but excludes the bibliography;
  • be written in English, with quotations from Die Verlobung in St. Domingo in German;
  • have footnotes and a bibliography including all relevant works consulted;
  • use Times New Roman or Calibri 12 pt, margins of 1 inch, and numbered pages;
  • be submitted in one of the following formats: Microsoft Word document, Open Office document, or PDF;
  • be named in the following way: EntrantSurnameEntrantInitialGCP2021, e.g. BloggsJGCP2021;
  • be the work of the entrant without any additional help from staff, which needs to be confirmed by the entrant’s teacher via an online form available on the OGN website from 1 July 2021 by the submission deadline (12 noon, Wednesday, 15 September 2021); teachers will also be asked to state how long the entrant has been learning or speaking German.

JUDGING CRITERIA

The judges will consider the quality of intellectual and imaginative engagement with the work evident in the essay while taking account of the quality of understanding, analysis and argument, and – where appropriate – linguistic accuracy of the submission. They will also take account of prior opportunity to study German language and literature. The decision of the judges will be final, and no correspondence will be entered into.

QUERIES

If you have any questions, please email the Prize Coordinator, Dr Karolina Watroba, at germanclassic@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk.

Image credit: Foto © H.-P.Haack.

From Texas to Oxford via Oviedo

Katerina Levinson, who is currently studying for an M.St. in Spanish and English at The Queen’s College, shares an insight into the year she spent living in Spain.

The blank page of my journal stared up at me, as it sat on the plane’s tiny folding desk. I looked out my window, filled with butterflies and nervousness. I was leaving my hometown of Austin, Texas and moving to Oviedo, Asturias, a rainy, mountainous region in northern Spain.

At the Fulbright España welcome reception.

‘I am moving to a place where I know absolutely no one and where no one knows me. I have never been in front of a classroom before. Castellano is extremely different from the Venezuelan Spanish I learned to speak at home’, I began to write in my journal, as I thought of all of the obstacles that awaited me.

The cathedral in Oviedo

It was September 2017, and I had just graduated with my B.A. from Baylor University in Texas. I had received a U.S. student Fulbright grant to work as an English teaching assistant for 12-18 year-olds for one year. I had turned down a permanent teaching job offer in Texas, which would have allowed me to stay close to my family and live with my friends. Instead, I chose to move to a place where it would rain more in one week than it would in three months in my hometown; where it was impossible to find any of the Mexican cooking spices from home that I loved; and where I had to change the Venezuelan vocabulary I grew up with so that I could be understood.

‘Have I made the wrong decision?’ I went on to write.

When I arrived in Oviedo, I had found a place to live with a few girls who were around my age. The same night I moved in, they invited me to dinner with their friends. As I began to feel pangs of hunger, we finally left for dinner around 10:30 pm, the normal time when young people would eat in Spain. The group we met up with immediately adopted me as a friend, and I found that it was easier to make friends in Spain that it was at home because of how friendly the culture is. We finished dinner around 1 am, and we walked home through streets filled with people who were eating tapas and drinking cañas as if it was 1 pm.

My friend and I celebrating at an espicha. The restaurant is decorated with barrels because it pours cider for its guests directly from the barrel.

I came to love Spain because there was always an occasion for a fiesta and for socialising. My friends and I would often have long dinners at my house: even after the food was gone, we would continue sharing stories at the table for several hours (the after-dinner conversation is called the sobremesa). There were also many local Asturian holidays and frequent religious holidays that would call for celebration with wine, typical foods, and street parades. I would even walk into the teachers’ lounge at school to be regularly greeted by one of my colleagues pouring me a glass of wine before class because it was a local holiday.

While in Spain, I discovered how distinct each region’s culture is. Asturias is heavily influenced by the Celts, so its cuisine is filled with hearty stews and its cultural music features the bagpipes. The most typical alcoholic beverage of the region is Asturian sidra, cider made from locally grown apples. This drink is poured—escanciado—from as high as your arm can possibly reach. The season for tasting cider is celebrated at special festivals called espichas. Guests drink the cider poured directly from the barrel and stand at long tables filled with typical Asturian platters—cured meats, Asturian cheeses, Spanish omelettes, and more—socialising, while listening to Asturian folk music.

One of the English classes I taught.

When I was in the classroom, I found teaching to be a meaningful time of cultural exchange with my students. My students were very interested in the culture of English-speaking countries. I tried to introduce them to American popular culture by holding debates in English on controversial topics, introducing them to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ for Halloween, and giving them sorting hat quizzes from Harry Potter. I also started an English poetry club for my students outside of class. At our first poetry meeting, my students said they found poetry ‘boring’. But as we discussed how Maya Angelou or Wendell Berry related to Spanish culture and ate American baked goods cross-legged outside, I found that the numbers only multiplied with every meeting.

Nonetheless, our outdoor gatherings were not always frequent; I was not prepared how wet the Asturian climate would be. In fact, Asturias resembles typical gloomy English weather. But because of the frequent rain, it boasts beautiful green mountains and hills, giving it the nickname, El paraíso natural (the natural paradise). It is home to beautiful seaside villages on the Bay of Biscay, where green coastal walking paths undulate along its hilly coastline. When the sun is out, the glory of Asturian nature is iridescent.

After many late-night dinner outings, meaningful cultural conversations with my students, and adventures in the mountains and on the coast of Asturias, I realised I certainly had not made the wrong decision about moving to Spain. As I am now studying Spanish visual art and literature from the Golden Age at Oxford, my Spanish adventure had only just begun.

by Katerina Levinson

Image credits Katerina Levinson

French flash fiction results 2021

We recently launched our annual Flash Fiction Competition, which closed in March. The competition was open to students in Years 7 to 13, who were tasked with writing a short story of no more than 100 words in French. We had a brilliant response, with entries coming in from across the UK and beyond, and in total we had more than six hundred submissions.

The judges were very impressed with the quality of the entries. We would like to thank everyone who entered the competition and commend you all for your hard work and creativity in writing a piece of fiction in a different language. This is a challenging exercise, and a significant achievement.

We are pleased to say we are now in a position to announce the winning entries.

In the Years 7-11 category, the winner is Cormac Mitchell in Year 7. The runner-up was Nandhitha Agilan in Year 9.

The judges also highly commended Scarlett Chappell, Marina Yu, Mairead Mitchell, Juliette Shaw, Adam Noad, Ava Preston, Chung Yu Kwok, Emily Seager, Alice Hadwen-Beck, and Gabriela Duniec.

In the Years 12-13 category, the winner is Chung Sze Kwok in Year 12. The runner-up was Holly Singleton in Year 12.

The judges also highly commended Harrison Cartwright, Elishe Lim, Joseph Oluwabusola, Safiyah Sillah, Teniola Ijaluwoye, Jamilya Bertram, Benjamin Fletcher, Charles Blagburn, Jamie Hopkins, and Allie Gruber.

Félicitations ! If anyone is curious to read the winning entries, we will be publishing them in the coming weeks. Congratulations to our winners, once again!

Spanish flash fiction results 2021

We recently launched our annual Spanish Flash Fiction Competition, which closed in March. The competition was open to students in Years 7 to 13, who were tasked with writing a short story of no more than 100 words in Spanish. We had a brilliant response, with entries coming in from across the UK and beyond, and in total we had more than three hundred submissions.

The judges praised the high standard of the entries across both categories. We would like to thank everyone who entered the competition and commend you all for your hard work and creativity in writing a piece of fiction in a different language. This is a challenging exercise, and a significant achievement.

We are pleased to say we are now in a position to announce the winning entries.

In the Years 7-11 category, the winner is Sophie Hobbs in Year 10. The runners up were Adam Noad in Year 11 and Abisola Daodu in Year 9.

The judges also highly commended Joe Gutierrez Thielen, Jonathan Visan Gherghe and Isabella Ooms.

In the Years 12-13 category, the winner is Ada Janowicz in Year 12. The runners up were Sofia Hoad in Year 12 and Eden Farber in Year 12.

The judges also highly commended Hannah Newton and Mariam Siarli.

¡ Felicidades! If anyone is curious to read the winning entries, we will be publishing them in the coming weeks. Congratulations to our winners, once again!

A blog for students and teachers of Years 11 to 13, and anyone else with an interest in Modern Foreign Languages and Cultures, written by the staff and students of Oxford University. Updated every Wednesday!