Essays: Nichola Deane |
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Nichola Deane

 Two hundred years ago there were Romantic poets whose lives might have been saved if they had met Nichola Deane. Unfortunately for them, she was not scheduled to be born until 1973, so they died without the consolation of having met their ideal reader. Fatally misunderstood, they wasted away in ratty Roman rented rooms, croaked from fever in the wrong war of liberation, drowned in boating accidents and were cremated on the beach. With two MA degrees to prove that Romantic literature was a subject specifically fitted for her scope of comprehension, the prodigy was well qualified to spend a lifetime at university. Instead, she chose the road less travelled, delaying the next logical step in an academic career while she explored the possibilities of temping, the dole, and a string of odd jobs, the most dramatic of which was her brief theatrical appearance – before an audience of medical students taking their exams – in the challenging role of a person unable to use an asthma inhaler.

After various gigs in the ivied groves, a PhD duly followed, but the academic career didn’t. Clearly it could have, but she wanted to express her wide range of appreciation by other means. In early 2005, in Warwickshire, she took a post as a schoolteacher, which she still holds. She has, however, another life, as the proprietor of a new kind of critical blog, called Casket of Dreams, begun in 2007 and entirely written by her. The Romantic writers figure prominently, as you might expect, but there is no area of the arts or politics that she feels bound to exclude. One area would be utterly beyond me if she wasn’t providing it with such a fascinating introduction. She has a deep interest in every contemporary band and musician that I have never heard of, and thought I would never want to until I saw the way she wrote about them: with the dedicated urgency of an unusually articulate rock fan and the fresh invention of someone born to write critical prose at the level of poetry.

Poetry, indeed, is of such importance to her that she is ready to look for it anywhere, from the stuffiest enclaves to the loudest nightclubs. Erudite and energetic, she can write about all these things at any length from the thesis on downwards, but perhaps her most characteristic form is the bonsai essay, a term of her own devising. (Important to remember here that the bonsai is a real tree, not a toy.) Googling myself casually one day as old men will, I learned that I had been among her subjects, and thus discovered the Casket, which can now be reached from here. I could link to that without asking, but I had to seek her consent for an occasional specially written essay. When the first one came in I was impressed all over again. I hope she will make it a regular thing, although I can well understand that the demands of teaching her lucky schoolchildren might render her silent for long stretches, or even drive her back to the cloisters, if only for refuge. But as long as she can find the time, her writings will have a home here, and as long as she stays so adventurously true to the Spirit of Romance she can follow her curiosity anywhere she likes. My only instruction to this website’s first resident writer is the same as Diaghilev’s instruction to Cocteau: astonish me.

As they used to say on Madison Avenue in the first heyday of the Mad Men, “let’s follow it and see what it eats.” This kind of writing is a new thing, and a vivid reminder of how so much of academic journeywork is dead on arrival, and so much of critical journalism tries to make up for shortage of knowledge with lack of judgment. This is the way the brightest children of the web will write, if they have a gift like hers. Although already sad that I will miss out on the long reach of their adventure, I am glad to be seeing the start of it, and proud to be able to provide an additional message board for one of their number. I should have seen this coming. Why bury the best of your ideas in the dust of a thesis, when you can pin them to the sky? There was bound to be a break-out sometime. But I had to see what Nichola Deane was doing before I realised how gratifying the path into the clear was going to be.