Bruce Frederick Cummings (MS Trust)


‘And so you read Pragmatism,’ he mused, ‘while the fate of the Empire stands in the balance.’

‘Yes,’ said I, ‘and the Paris Academy of Sciences were discussing the functions of θ and the Polymorphism of Antarctic diatoms last September when the Germans stood almost at the gates of Paris.’ (1948, p.199)

Armed with the flippancy and intellectual conceit which were second to none, W. N. P. Barbellion recorded a future ceaselessly spurned by sickness and circumstance. Born in 1889 in Barnstaple, he aspired to be a naturalist and began keeping a diary at the age of thirteen. His lust for life antagonised by his social class and ill health stationed him at a uniquely tragic standpoint from which he witnessed fin de siècle.

The Journal of a Disappointed Man vividly highlights the universality of human suffering during one of the greatest and most devastating turning points in history. By pitting his own ambition against an increasingly industrialised world, Barbellion’s diary poignantly portrays the economical, sociological and political climates of the years leading up to the First World War.

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In The Signalman, Charles Dickens demonstrates the powerlessness of humanity in the face of technological advancement by interconnecting the supernatural to the mundanity of life during the industrial era. By attributing human qualities to the paranormal, Dickens effectively emphasises the unforgiving brutality of industrial machinery. The Signalman follows an unnamed narrator’s attempt to befriend a solitary rail worker who is plagued by a ghostly apparition whose continuous warnings lead to the rail worker’s death.

Ghosts in Dickens’ stories are almost like the light of morality which appear before those who have lost their way, such is the case for The Christmas Carol. By the same vein, the ghostly apparition in The Signalman demonstrates desperate concern for the well-being of the living. Published in 1866 in the Mugby Junction, five years after the Clayton Tunnel incident and a year after the Staplehurst rail crash, wherein Dickens was a passenger, The Signalman is perhaps Dickens’ statement on the industrial lifestyle, wherein people’s lives were no longer overshadowed by gods but machineries.

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The opening chapter of Anne Enright’s The Gathering presents the darkness of humanity as a universal concept by relating the macabre as a form of normalcy and a point of intrigue. By focusing on the narrator’s internal conflict — whether or not to expose her brother’s secret — and by juxtaposing the narrator’s domesticated life with a haunted past which has been distorted through memories, Enright enables readers to easily empathise and accept the narrator’s attempt to ‘libel the dead’.

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A narrative essay written for UMN on how technology has integrated into our lives. I wrote this from the point of view of my little sister. Also, this was written right after I finished reading Flannery O’Connor, so if it is dark, that is why.

At seven years old, I stand on the porch, withdrawing into the inner compartment of my mind where I establish myself when I cannot bear to be a part of what is going on around me. From it I can see out and judge but in it I am safe from any kind of penetration. From it I can see my mother beating my sister to the ground.

This is because my sister cannot find her Nintendo.

Mother leaves her on the ground, and I watch as after a while my sister gets up on her own. She hobbles to Mother’s handbag, rummages through it and comes up victorious with a black Nintendo. I turn away from this vignette of my childhood with a frown. I do not linger on my confusion and try to erase the memory.

At seven years old, I protect my Nintendo with my life.

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