Ghosts in the City: from Baudelaire to Lydie Salvayre and Hilary Mantel (Public Lecture, 1st March)


city ghosts

“Teeming, swarming city, city full of dreams, / Where specters in broad day accost the passer-by”: so wrote Charles Baudelaire. Though cities may be bustling with life, they are also places that are haunted by history. Saunter through the streets of Durham to hear more in this free public lecture by Professor Chris Lloyd, in Elvet Riverside 140 on Tuesday 1st March at 18.15.

This lecture examines the evolution of the urban and suburban fictional ghost from the mid-nineteenth to early twenty-first century, focusing on three literary authors whose works show that the genre is not necessarily doomed to recycling antiquarian stereotypes and nameless horrors, but can on the contrary offer a probing account of the paradoxes of modernity. Baudelaire’s ‘Tableaux parisiens’ (the sequence of poems added to the second edition of Les Fleurs du mal, 1861) energetically celebrates both the sordid grandeur of Second-Empire Paris and the spectral presences which haunt it, in a constant exchange between self and other, past and present, material presence and symbolic absence. Romantic spectres and allegories are inventively updated and relocated in thought-provoking and highly readable novels by Lydie Salvayre (La Compagnie des spectres, 1997) and Hilary Mantel (Beyond Black, 2005), which are set respectively in the outer suburbs and dormitory towns of contemporary Paris and London.

Both authors juxtapose sharply observed satire of contemporary post-industrial French and British society with moving accounts of its misfits and exiles, whose solipsistic alienation and possession by malevolent ghosts offer all too convincing evidence that spirits remain an integral part of humanity’s history and psyche.

This series of lectures is organised as part the Institute of Advanced Study’s year on the theme of ‘evidence.’ The final lecture in the series, on 15th March, will look at gothic cinema; full listings can be found at the Institute of Advanced Study. Podcasts from the first lectures in the series are available now.


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