Dear Journal, Jan 2, 2004
My editor has been on me for weeks about turning in a new manuscript, but I have not even centered on an idea for it yet! Ideas for the book whip around in my mind, even after I have gone to sleep. One dream keeps coming back to me. In it, I see a young man, a student, who lives in an English town. I cannot figure out what year it is in this busy little city. My mind’s eye sees the campus in sepia tones: I know that this dream place is set far back in history. Yet I know that whenever this college existed, it was beautiful and vibrant with life and color. Awake, I have not considered the idea of writing a historical novel. Then again, one can hardly ignore one’s subconscious giving them advice. Maybe I should write a book about this young man attending a university, hundreds of years ago.
Dear Journal, Jan 3, 2204
I went to the P.C.L. today to get a better idea of the period that I have been dreaming about, and I have found some clues. The architecture of the college is early English Gothic (Gothic 1). In this type of architecture, windows and doorways have pointed arches, because pointed arches can carry more weight than rounded ones, and powerful vertical lines play over the structure of the building (1). Slim, turret-topped towers thrust simply into the sky. It would be easy to make such a building so ornate as to be garish, but this building balances faultless proportion and grace perfectly. This beautiful place will be the setting of my book.
Later that day…
The campus in my dreams still exists: it is Balliol. Balliol College is part of the University of Oxford, and it dates all the way back to the thirteenth century (Oxfordshire 1). I have never been so excited to find a scrap of information in my life! Before finding the picture of Balliol, I was sitting on the floor of the U.G.L. with my back against one of the metal bookshelves, with six or seven encyclopedia volumes scattered around me on the cold tile. A librarian shelved books nearby, glancing repeatedly first at me, and then at the books lying on the floor. She looked extremely uncomfortable to see her valued hardbacks scattered on the dirty floor. I could feel the vibrations of dozens of computers run across the room, up the bookshelf, and down my backbone; the relentless whine of busy mainframes, processing information, droned its way into my brain. After a while, the fluorescent lights of the library toyed with my eyes, making the words displace themselves from the page and swim around one on top of another: I was about to give up. Then, I came across the picture of Balliol...
Dear Journal, Jan 4, 2004
I have done more research on Oxford. The university was “established in the twelfth century, [and] is [made up] of thirty-six independent, self-contained, self-governing colleges…that have been founded at different points throughout the past 800 years” (University 1). It is the oldest English-speaking University in the world, and Balliol College is one of the oldest colleges in Oxford (1). Although the college dates back to 1260, I think I will set the novel in the late fourteenth century, after the college had grown a little (Oxfordshire 1). I cannot imagine a more romantic and whimsical place or time to set my novel in.
Dear Journal, Jan 5, 2004
Even though I have been having the most frustrating time that a person can have trying to brainstorm a novel idea, it has also been a lot of fun creating a make-believe reality. I have figured out that I need my protagonist to be male, since only men could be university students in the medieval period. Then, obviously, he will be a student at Balliol College, around 1373. I need to think about a name for him. Something charming…
Possible first names? Possible last names?
I like Wesley…Channing. Wesley Channing. Wesley Scott Channing? Maybe. I do not know.
What I do know, however, is that I need more research!
Later that day…
I went to the Littlefield home today. It is built in Victorian style, and it is nothing less than breathtaking to look at. Victorian Gothic and Gothic revival buildings have arches, pointed windows and other details that mirror medieval structures. I hoped that by going to the Littlefield home, I would be able to understand the world as Wes would see it.
The Littlefield Home stands haughty and proud in the center of the UT’s vast campus, almost in rebellion to the Spanish renaissance buildings that dominate this part of campus. Flamboyant and colorful, the house combines red brick with blue granite columns on a paint-by-number building canvas. Iron grillwork embroiders the exterior of the house. Turrets and spires reach from the steep roof up towards the sky.
Yet, it is the inside of the Littlefield Home that most impresses me. It smells like old books; I have always loved the promise of mystery and adventure that comes with the musky smell of old books. When you first step across the threshold into the home, onto creaking wooden floors, you can sense the remnants of many exciting adventures that have taken place within the walls of Littlefield Home. Each room offers you a living piece of history. History is written in the walnut, maple, and pine walls (Bump 547). It is ingrained in the “three-foot-high wood wainscoting…ornate pressed board, [and] plaster frieze[s]” that decorate most ceilings (547). Five “coal-burning marble fireplaces” are eye-opening in their exquisite grace (547).
On the first floor fireplace, a pair of gilded griffins adorns the mantle. These exceptional beasts, with the head, wings, and claws of an eagle and the body of a lion, are strong and vigilant guards. Light glints off of the golden bodies and make the griffins the focal point of the room. In Wesley’s era, griffins crouched high upon parapets, keeping watch over the grounds (Griffin 1). Though now fascinating, griffins were daunting to superstitious medieval citizens (1).
Dear Journal, Feb 21, 2004
I woke up so many times last night that whatever happened in between those times could hardly be called sleep. When my eyes cracked open for the fourth time, at around six in the morning, I decided to get up for the day. My right leg was asleep and tingling all the way up to my hip. With my useless leg, I stumbled around purple-gray shadows, across my cramped room, to the counter where I made myself a cup of coffee. Bruises are worth the pain when there is coffee involved. Cup in hand, I moved more smoothly to the window that occupies nearly the entire far wall of my sixteenth floor dorm room. Chilled air surged through the widening gap of window as I slid the stubborn window open. Standing there, I looked out over the ledge of the window pane and watched the sun dawn on the University of Texas. ß(sense of space)
You can only see this kind of sunrise in the winter. In the summer, the sun takes her time soaking languidly into the dark sky and smearing the landscape with dribbles of sun. But this cold February morning purple, pink, and finally golden light swirled past the horizon in the distance, crisply coloring every building with an ochre glow on one side, leaving the other side in shadows. The UT tower was a gilded guardsman in the early light, almost regal and undeniably powerful soaring above my simple sixteen stories; it looked close enough to touch. The tower clock pealed the coming of seven a.m. with chimes ringing in the morning with “The Eyes of Texas are Upon You,” and another day began. Today I will start my novel.
The sound of shovels working the earth made little sound on the last day of December 1384. Wesley Channing stood there watching the men spoon dirt over the casket that held the body of his mentor and friend, James Wycliffe. Ash trees grew around Lutterworth’s little graveyard. Knobby olive-gray branches with tight black buds trembled in the mercilessly soggy wind. The pallid-gray bark on the trunks of the trees was hard and stiff with age. Wes let the rain drip down from his black mourning cloak onto his face, down his nose. He should have visited his friend sooner. After all, Lutterworth was not that far from where he lives. Even if he lived on the
opposite side of the world, Wes owed his entire adult life to James, and should have been willing to travel the distance to see him. It is easy to commit to something after it is no longer relevant.
A peal of thunder jarred Wes from his thoughts. He blinked away rain and his own self-condemnation. Wesley realized that he had been standing there, unblinking, for nearly five minutes and looked up. Besides the gravediggers, Wes was the only one left to watch the end of the life of the greatest theologian he would ever know. He noticed, amongst the ash trees, sad, white willow trees that drooped almost lifelessly over long buried Englishmen. Staring at the willow trees, Wesley traveled back eleven years to his first days at Balliol College at Oxford.
For the entirety of his life, Wes would remember what springtime is like in Oxford. Wesley Channing’s arrival at Oxford happened on a pleasant and breezy afternoon where clouds, in layers, drifted across the sky. There were wide patches of blue in between the clouds, and when the sun shone, it became very warm.
The building, though serious and resilient, also had fantastic “fancifulness…variety… [and] richness” (Bump 672). No one could ever say that Balliol was simply a building. It was an adventure story written in the language of pointed arches and gabled roofs. Wesley’s room was pleasant and secure. Wesley laughed: ‘secure’ was just another word for ‘small’.
Outside the lancet window, on the ground below, Lent lilies had begun to open their pale petals and expose their yellow centers. Wesley thought they might be soft to the touch. His room smelled like mint, probably from the tunics his mother packed before he left. Mum liked to
scent his clothes with mint. Leaving his satchel on the cool stone floor, Wesley propped his lute carefully against the wall, so as not to scratch it. His father had given it to him before he left, nearly a fortnight ago. Wes walked over to a scarred mahogany chest of drawers set in the corner of the room; he used the stale water sitting on the chest of drawers to cleanse his hands. It is because of God’s grace that he was here this day. Wes was about to receive an education from some of the finest intellectual geniuses in the country and he would not bemoan a little musty water. He crossed over to the window again.
The view from his window was remarkable, Wes remembered. The spring had turned the countryside into a sweet and verdant green, and the quad was no exception. The courtyard had endured England’s fickle winter gracefully. Even the cherry trees recovered from their battering, took heart, and spread their branches in the sun.
The window itself was striking to look at. It was ample in width, and reached beyond his room to the room above his. Wesley knew, by looking across the greens at the other windows, that his window would also be crowned with a pointed arch. The roof supported clusters of thin turrets that reached to the gathered clouds. They looked akin to the tallows his mum sent with him to school for night reading, Wesley thought. He could see a pointed entrance hall leading from the courtyard into the part of the quad where, Wesley assumed, the students received their lessons.
Such poise there was to this entryway! The arch was many layers deep and met at a humble point, but the stonework that echoed the arch in a steeple-shaped dripstone seemed to reach for the sky as if trying to reach
toward heaven. Between the arch and its hood, chiseled carvings pictured artistic foliage and decorative tracery left creative holes in the stone. Wait, was that a griffin?!
Chills ran down and then back up Wesley’s entire body, and the tiny hairs on the back of his neck rose in
reaction to the inanimate statue. Wes had always been spooked by the eagle-headed, winged, clawed, lions. They were the monsters in childhood anecdotes and causers of mischief; griffins were “demons that would carry off sinners” (Griffin 1). In a word: they were just scary. Wesley was not sure how he could close his eyes knowing that the creature would be staring at him through his window while he slept. He would think about it anon.
Wes could not wait to make the acquaintance of Mister John Wycliffe, the celebrated theologian who was to tutor him in the intricacies of religion and philosophy (Great Men 1). Wycliffe had secured Wesley’s spot here at Oxford. After a series of correspondences, Wycliffe was convinced that a young boy with as much intelligence and
religious dedication as Wesley should be at his school. How lucky he was to be granted stay at the college without having to pay the excessive tuition that is required of most students. Balliol has always educated the poor, but Wesley could never have imagined himself here, in such magnificence, even a sennight ago (Great Men 1). It was ill fated that Wycliffe was no longer master of the school, even if he was a Doctor of Theology and the Warden of Canterbury College. He would have prized every moment of additional time to speak with Doctor Wycliffe about his sensational views on the hierarchy of the Church.
When Wesley arrived at Balliol that day, he knew he would have an extraordinary life in Oxford. Yet, he never would have guessed that one day he would be helping John Wycliffe, Morning Star of the Reformation and despised church heretic, translate all of the Scriptures from Latin into English so that the common man could have a direct relationship with God without priestly intervention (Church 2). Neither could he have imagined
that, in just eleven years he would be burying the same man.
Dear Journal, Jan 7, 2004
I really think this book will happen! George Bernard Shaw once said, “England and America are two countries separated by the same language” (Smith 1). I can certainly believe that. As a student living in a world almost six hundred and fifty years in Wesley Channing’s future, I have no idea how novel an idea a college education would have been. Children in America, in this century, get an education handed to them on a silver platter; it takes more effort to refuse higher education than to receive it. Still beyond that, I feel privileged to be female and in college. It was not so long ago that women were not allowed within the walls of a university, even with an adult escort. Beauty is anywhere and anytime. Looking at Gothic relief carvings or watching the sun on a campus building, in the year 1373 or 2004, nature has a way of softening, brightening, and invigorating an experience.
Word Count: 2047
New Word Count: 2595