I still often think of the hours spent reading for my MA dissertation in the English department seminar library in Juslenia in 2007-2008. At least in two distinct ways, those hours were to have a lasting influence on my life.
First of all, they installed in me the desire to do further research. I had spent the spring of 2007 as a visiting student at King’s College London, where the thought of doing a PhD had gradually started taking shape. When I began to express interest in academic career, the staff members at our department in Turku were brilliant, offering me support and invaluable guidance without which I would not be where I am today. At KCL, I had attended a course on Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu and Proust had been close to my heart ever since I started reading the Recherche at the age of 16. Once I began to think about a prospective topic for my PhD, Proust kept cropping up in every context. I had studied French as my minor (partly in order to be able to read Proust in the original language) and finally decided to apply for a PhD position in the KCL French department. My proposal was successful and a scholarship from the Oskar Huttunen Foundation enabled me to take this leap and move to London in 2009.
The other major impact those hours in the library had was my research topic. While at the time (reading for my MA thesis on Wilde) it seemed as if the books transported me into another time and place, what has actually remained with me from those hours is the psycho-physical context of reading: I remember the light, the temperature, the humidity, the smell of books, my excitement, and the changing of the seasons outside the window – all this much more vividly than the actual contents of the books. This realisation gradually became the crux of my PhD thesis – the highly individualised and potentially deeply revelatory memories that the reading experience may encompass.
When I was finishing my PhD, I was approached by the Head of the French Department at Royal Holloway, University of London: due to staff migration, they needed someone to teach a module on Proust in the spring 2013. After a successful interview, I started as a visiting lecturer at RHUL and was consequently offered some more teaching in the Comparative Literature programme. I’m currently planning my first postdoctoral project on the imagery of breathing, and living in London has also given me a chance to pursue my other long-term passions as a free-lance photographer.
Still, with all the excitement London has to offer, sitting somewhere with a book in my hand continues to be one of my favourite pastimes. For over the years, Proust’s Narrator’s suggestion that reading offers us a gateway to our own reality by showing us the connection between our ‘immediate sensations and the memories which envelop us simultaneously with them’ – that an hour of reading is ‘never merely an hour’ – has proven immensely true to me.
Dr Anna Orhanen
Visiting lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London
(Student at the English Department in Turku 2002-2008; Assistant at the English Department in Turku 2008-2009)
Anna was also a member of a research group in the department jokingly named ‘the Literary Ladies’.