‘Victims in a Vacuum’: Inscribing Identities in Childhood and Deathbed Scenes (Public lecture, 26th September)

The Victorians were fond of rather mawkish depictions of the angelic child and deathbed scenes. Not surprisingly, later writers rebelled against these visions, as this next Late Summer Lecture with Morven Cook and Oliver Hancock will demonstrate. All welcome to Alington House, Durham on 5th September from 17.30.

Since the Victorian period, depictions of the ‘angelic child’ and the deathbed scene have placed heavy emotional accents on the opposite ends of life. Essentially a reiteration of tropes rooted in Christian iconography—that of the cherubic putto and the ars moriendi (the ‘art of dying well’)—these images which may once have been beautiful or transformative often now seem mawkish. Indeed, recent scholarship has tended to emphasize their reductive qualities: their fetishization of female invalids as passive objects of admiration, and simplification of children to empty vessels of innocence.

In this joint talk, Liverpool PhD students Morven Cook and Oliver Hancock will look to an eclectic range of more contemporary works, from authors such as Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, Lionel Shriver and Christopher Reed, which disrupt the angelic images of their forebears. Drawing from the theoretical bases of child studies, gender studies and disability studies, Morven and Oliver will consider how these literary texts interact with established discourses to examine how identities can be inscribed from without. Centrally, such texts recognize that this act of inscription often restricts the freedom and vitality of these characters even in trying to affirm or protect it—thus they create characters unwilling to act out the role they are expected to play.

About Oliver Hancock and Morven Cook

Having completed a BA in English Literature and an MA in 20th Century Literature, Oliver Hancock received the Miriam Allott scholarship in 2017 to undertake a PhD at the University of Liverpool. His research concerns the presentation of children in the literature of postmodernism; he hopes thereby to update the already sizeable body of work on the literary child of other contexts. Like many of these studies, he is particularly interested in how the literary presentation of children tessellates with contemporary social issues and cultural discourses surrounding children, childhood and child culture. He is supervised by Dr David Hering and Dr Will Slocombe.

Morven Cook is currently working towards a PhD in English Literature at the University of Liverpool. Her thesis investigates depictions of end of life care in contemporary British and American narratives. She is web and social media co-ordinator for the ‘Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences of Health, Medicine, and Technology.’ Her PhD is funded by the centre as part of a ‘Changing Cultures in Health and Medicine’ studentship. She is supervised by Dr Will Slocombe and Professor Mari Lloyd-Williams.

From snake-women to satirical pamphlets, the beginnings of sound film to the Islamic mythology in literature: Late Summer Lectures brings you the latest thoughts from early-career researchers at Northern universities. The series is free and everyone is warmly welcome, from school and university students to the general public. There will be a chance to ask questions of the speakers, and to socialise afterwards over free refreshments.

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