Author: erinahandley

Myriam Margolyes acting in front of Dickens portrait

One of Dickens’ Women

By Erin Handley.

First published Saturday 24 March 2012 in Farrago.

“I’ve had a passion for Dickens all my life. I learnt from him that literature is not peripheral to life; it is the stuff of life itself.” Miriam Margolyes spoke these words in her astounding one-woman performance of Dickens’ Women, which recently finished in Melbourne and will continue to tour Australia until May. The 2012 world tour aligns with Dickens’ 200th birthday.

Margolyes hardly needs to state her passion; it’s written all over her performance. She wrote Dickens’ Women with Sonia Fraser and performed it at the 1989 Edinburgh Festival. It’s impressive that after 23 years of rehearsing these characters, Margolyes still emits energy and sheer delight.

Dickens’ Women is a collection of monologues and dramatic readings that dramatise 23 different characters (only three of them male). Miriam Margolyes (as herself) strings the pieces together by sharing her knowledge of Dickens and drawing connections between the women in his life and the women of his novels. Centering a performance on the women in Dickens’ novels was ambitious. Many consider Dickens a male chauvinist who could not depict a believable, three-dimensional female character. The format ofDickens’ Women works because it shows Dickens’ fictional women in the context of his reality, and it displays his breadth of female characters, rather than a single character’s depth (or lack thereof).

This format also showcased Margolyes’ talent. She has a face so expressive she can immediately flick from one character to another. She could convincingly portray the idea of a 17-year-old with her voice alone. At 70 years of age, this is no mean feat. It’s clear that Margolyes relished performing Dickens’ marginal characters—they are caricatured, humourous, even grotesque, and this makes for brilliant theatre.

Although I enjoyed it immensely, I knew there would be characters missing from Dickens’ Women. I would have liked to see the highly satirised Mrs Jellyby, but Dickens’ wrote over 20 novels and there are only so many characters one woman can play in two hours. I would have preferred to see the deranged Miss Havisham performed by Margolyes in monologue form, rather than read dramatically. But the only real disappointment of Dickens’ Women was that Nancy from Oliver Twist did not get dramatic treatment. She is a challenge to the idea that Dickens could not write a female character of emotional maturity, and Dickens was drawn to her. Towards the end of his life, Dickens performed many dramatic readings, and would read the exchange between Bill Sykes and Nancy with such intensity that his doctor ordered him to stop, for fear of his health. But Dickens could not. Oliver Twistwas also the first Dickens novel that Margolyes read, so it’s strange that Nancy was omitted.

However, I admired the way Margolyes brought peripheral characters into the spotlight. Her poignant portrayal of the lesbian Miss Wade from Little Dorritwas outstanding, as was her final monologue—a tender rendering of crazy Miss Flite from Bleak House. The lighting here was particularly effective; the spotlight slowly closing in around Margolyes’ face, showing the state of Miss Flite’s mind and creating a sense of entrapment.

Apart from these somber monologues, Margolyes had her audience laughing throughout the entire performance. The courtship scene between Mrs Corney and Mr Bumble from Oliver Twist was one such highlight; Margolyes impressively played both the smug beadle and the blushing woman in their affectionate ridiculousness.

Just as Dickens made these characters come alive for Margolyes, she did the same for her audience; she drew the women of Dickens out of the musty realm of Literature and into vivid theatricality.

 

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Woman in ballet outfit

Repositioning Lolita: Martha Schabas’ Various Positions

By Erin Handley.

Published by Crikey‘s literary blog, Liticism, on 19 March 2012.

It’s difficult to know what position to take with Martha Schabas’ debut novel, Various Positions.  On one hand, the plot is fraught with clichés connected to ballet and to ‘coming of age’ plotlines. On the other, it’s an ambitious homage to Nabokov’s Lolita that questions the nature of truth and responsibility. Either way, Schabas’ prose is beautiful, detailed and engrossing, and Various Positions is worth reading for this alone. Read article.

Economics books on library shelf

Library Job Cuts: Update

By Erin Handley.

First published Monday, 25 July 2011 in Farrago.

The University of Melbourne intends to cut 13 staff from the Baillieu and ERC libraries, according to a draft proposal obtained by Farrago.

It is feared that the staff cuts will result in reduced opening hours, an increasingly disorderly collection, and more difficulties for students in locating the books they need.

The 13 positions to be cut involve shelving, lending, and handling enquiries. These “front of house” employees are to be replaced with 4.5 new positions at a higher level of responsibility and pay rate.

The 13 staff were informed of the proposed redundancies on 23 May at a confidential meeting, the doors to the meeting room guarded by security guards.

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) denounced these pre-emptive tactics and the secretive method in which the information was conveyed to staff.

“The manner has been atrocious, heavy-handed and disrespectful,” said Ms Melanie Lazarow, Secretary for the NTEU Melbourne branch.

Deputy Librarian Jenny Ellis cited many reasons for the proposed changes, including the need for a more highly-skilled workforce, cost containment, and the automation of services, such as self-checkout machines, booksorters and online resources. “We are living in a digital world,” Ms Ellis said, “and that means that library usage has changed a lot, and staffing requirement has changed as well.”

“We’re aiming to have staff who have the professional knowledge and are equipped to deal with whichever complex queries come along. So we hope that we are going to be providing an enhanced service,” Ms Ellis said.

As a result of the Baillieu redevelopment, there will be only one loans desk plus areas dedicated to extended hours access. This means fewer staff will be required.

One library employee, who wished to remain anonymous, explained that the “last minute announcement” seemed to target staff who had expressed “vocal opposition to various aspects of the Baillieu redevelopment”.

Ms Ellis has since rejected this allegation. “The proposed changes relate to roles and not to individuals,” she said.

The proposal heightens widespread concerns about a general trend towards reducing services in the libraries, as well as fears that the libraries, as a whole, are understaffed. “Things like collections, reshelving, that all is very understaffed,” said Corey Rabaut, Industrial Organiser for the NTEU, said. “That’s in quite poor form right now, and the university’s acknowledged that.”

During the most recent exam period, books in the Baillieu library were overflowing in every single area for the first time ever. Normally only books in the 300s section overflow at this time of year. Library staff members believe that this is due to staffing shortages.

“If all 13 positions were made redundant, I think that it would lead to a decrease in service towards the staff and students,” Mr Rabaut said.

“When you go in, there’s not going to be that face-to-face service where you can ask specific enquiries and you can ask about certain things or assistance finding that book.”

The outcome may be not only structural, but personal.

“I’ve just been told I may be out of a job at the same time I’m going to have my first child,” confided Morgan Saletta, one of the affected library staff.

Since June, library management has widened the scope of who is considered “affected staff” and have extended the pre-consultation time. Mr. Rabaut approved of this decision. “It’s important for staff and for the university to consult with the wider university community, and that does include students,” he said.

The NTEU plans to hold a protest on Tuesday 2 August between 12:30 and 1:30pm. Members of the university community are invited to bring a book to the ERC library foyer for a read-in. The University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) has pledged its support.

 

Books on book shelves

Job Cuts Planned at Libraries

First published Thursday 23 June 2011 in Farrago.

NTEU denounces threats to ERC and Baillieu librarians, writes Erin Handley.

The University of Melbourne intends to cut 13 staff from the Baillieu and ERC libraries, according to a draft proposal obtained by Farrago.

Library management staff have deemed these jobs “excess to requirement” and are instead opting for fewer, higher-trained positions.

The 13 positions to be cut involve work at the library loans desk. They are to be replaced with 4.5 new positions at a higher level of responsibility and pay rate.

Thirteen “directly affected” staff were informed of the proposed redundancies on 23 May at a confidential meeting, the doors to the meeting room guarded by security personnel.

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) denounced these pre-emptive tactics and the secretive method in which the information was conveyed to staff, arguing that all library staff would be affected by any redundancies.

“The manner has been atrocious, heavy-handed and disrespectful,” said Ms Melanie Lazarow, Secretary for the NTEU Melbourne branch.

Reasons given for the proposal include the need for a more highly-skilled workforce, cost containment, and the automation of services, such as self-checkout machines, booksorters and e-resources. The redevelopment of the library will also result in a single service point model: there will be only one loans desk per library, with areas dedicated to extended hours access. This means fewer staff will be required, according to the proposal.

HR Manager and Acting Senior Adviser Catherine Frecker was unavailable for phone interview but instead issued an email response to questions posed byFarrago. She reiterated that the proposal is a draft, and explained that the way “students and staff use the Library and the type of services they demand has changed. Clients now want faster transactional services, like loans and returns.”

One library employee, who wished to remain anonymous, explained that the “last minute announcement” seemed to target staff who had expressed “vocal opposition to various aspects of the Baillieu redevelopment”.

The proposal “seems more like it’s a chance to get rid of people that are seen as troublemakers, rather than something that’s based on the actual operational needs of the library,” this staff member said.

When asked to comment on employees’ concerns about being targeted as “troublemakers”, Ms Frecker responded: “The Library is improving services to staff and students to meet changing client needs and to bring service levels in line with national and international standards for academic institutions.”

The proposal heightens widespread concerns about a general trend towards reducing services in the libraries. It is feared that the staff cuts will result in reduced opening hours, an increasingly disorderly collection, and more difficulties for students in locating the books they need.

The outcome may be not only structural, but personal.

“I’ve just been told I may be out of a job at the same time I’m going to have my first child,” confided Morgan Saletta, one of the affected library staff.

NTEU Secretary Ms Lazarow said of the draft proposal: “It’s not a proposal. We think it’s just a couple of sketchy notes.”

The proposal “anticipates the loss of 13 staff without a considered idea behind the loss of staff,” she said.

According to the proposal, workshops are to be held with affected staff in order to “support them to understand the proposed changes, and obtain their feedback”. However, the NTEU passed a motion on 23 May that regarded “workshops with only the targeted staff as inappropriate and as pre-empting an outcome”.

“I believe they are going about the Change Management process by… defining only those 13 as directly affected, whereas everyone’s affected, starting with the people left behind to cope with increased workloads,” Ms Lazarow said.

She also noted “the NTEU wishes to, in fun and exciting ways, get its message of a well-resourced, well-staffed library across to the university community”.

 

Old Quad at Melbourne University

USMU Indigenous Officer Terminated

By Erin Handley.

First published Monday 21 February 2011 in Farrago.

Kyle Dadleh, the Indigenous Officer of the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU), has been terminated from his position after he failed to pay membership fees to the student union. Constitutionally, all student representatives must be members of the student union in order to continue in their posts.

This is a further blow to Indigenous representation at the university, as the student elections in 2010 failed to elect an Indigenous Representative for Students’ Council.

UMSU Secretary Dominique Ottobre noted in her report for Students’ Council: “This is also highly problematic in that of the 10 positions for Indigenous student representation across UMSU and VCAMSA, none are now filled.”

New models of representation for Indigenous students are being investigated by Ms Ottobre, President Rachael Lim and UMSU Manager Justin Baré, in conjunction with the Centre for Indigenous Education (CIE), in order to resolve the issue.

They intend to “contact Indigenous students and conduct a review of Indigenous representation within UMSU,” the report added, “as it is clear that the current model isn’t working, and hasn’t been working for some time.”

“This has been a recurring pattern over the last few years,” she continued.

“The aim is not to abolish the Indigenous department,” Ms Ottobre explained to Farrago, “but to develop a model that actually engages Indigenous students.”

Kyle Dadleh was unable to be reached for comment by deadline.