Obviously it has been quite some time since my last blog, almost a year on here actually (though I have been writing reflectively on and off for that time). Although I often let things like this slip when things get tough, returning to it feels cathartic. I had let myself forget how useful it is to both get my feelings about what I’m doing out and to recognise the work that I have actually done.
To start with, I should perhaps catch you all up. Despite everything I went through in the three weeks prior to handing in my Confirmation of Candidature document and doing the presentation, I passed it with flying colours. No amendments needed! Since then I have been working on developing an idea of what I think the thesis might look like and which is naturally ever evolving but I think I have something to work with. I’ve also written somewhat of an introduction, that will no doubt need to be edited and changed, but its nice to have a version of it. I’m currently on the fourth draft of my first analysis chapter, this one being on the film Mrs. Miniver (William Wyler, 1942).
The last few weeks though, have been a particularly rough patch in a very hard year. This month actually marks a year that I have been getting consistent treatment for my depression and anxiety. Hence the lack of desire to post about the work. It’s still a constant struggle every day of my life but at least I am now on the right track. Over the past month or so though, it became clear that I needed to take a break, something I had been avoiding doing throughout this whole year. I had forgotten that mantra, ‘rest is a requirement, not a reward.’ It got to a point where I spent more time at my desk crying than writing. Finally, I was convinced to take the break I needed. It ended up being longer than I anticipated because it turned out things were even worse than I realised. But the important thing is that I sought help from the appropriate professionals and from the support network of loved ones I am blessed to have around me.
I have had to make sure to work on finding that work/life balance that we’re always searching for. I have a rule now not to work from home at all (as my house is far too small for there to be any separation between work and relaxation if I work there) and I am trying harder to dedicate the work days to my research so I can freely spend the weekends with family and free from the stress of the thesis. I readily acknowledge that at times in the next year and a half this may not always be possible to maintain but when it is, I have to give myself time off.
Getting back to work this week with a better headspace and renewed motivation has been great! My immediate plan has been to go back to the literature in order to be able to make my draft of the Miniver chapter more sophisticated and more insightful. There was a significant amount that I had set aside to have a look at but did not even skim through. I have been working through the draft again to spot the places that need more information or need to be expanded with more sources or more critical engagement (which I was not feeling as confident in). This has felt like a nice and easy way to ease myself back into the work whilst still being productive.
I had been analysing Mrs. Miniver in terms of melodrama and so I returned to the literature on this. This felt like a good place to start as it was the last place I had been. I have been going through the relevant chapters of Marcia Landy’s edited collection Imitations of Life. So far, Landy’s introduction has been useful in providing some more context on melodrama and expanding some of the ideas I’ve already come across, particularly Thomas Elsaesser’s (his essay Tales of Sound and Fury can also be found in the aforementioned book) notion that the internal conflict or emotions of the characters are played out externally though the mise-en-scène in melodramas. Thomas Schatz’s chapter also provided a more detailed history of the development of the family melodrama than I had previously come across.
In discussing the relationship of melodrama, ideology, and politics, Landy makes a point that I think is important for my whole thesis. She argues that we have to keep in mind that the text “is not merely a direct response to or reflection of social life; it is also a determinant of social reality” (Landy p. 18). This is an idea that I think relates to the crux of my argument about history and film. The way that a historical film engages with the contemporary context of its production and how that context is expressed in the film is certainly a key aspect of the analysis of the depiction of history in a particular film. However, I also think that the specific choices of how to represent a version of history in these films inevitably impacts the way that the audience thinks about that history. This is what I am making an attempt to measure or analyse through my study of both the films and the responses to them.
This is an idea I have often discussed before, but it is helpful from time to time, especially when something I read prompts to me think about it, to try to articulate these overarching ideas. Especially now that I feel like I’m coming back to the thesis feeling clearer.