1960s counter-culture in Newcastle, vampires, HP Lovecraft, and mediaeval monkeys. These were amongst the topics covered by PhD students from Durham’s Department of English Studies in the fourth annual Late Summer Lecture Series in English Literature.
Howling From the City Walls: Poetry and Counter-Culture in 1960s Newcastle, by Annabel Haynes
On 22nd December 1965, something was stirring deep in Newcastle’s city walls. In the small upper room of the West Wall’s medieval Morden Tower, a seasoned poet sat surrounded by attentive young listeners. He began to read what would become his magnum opus, and a bastion of British modernist work. Basil Bunting’s first performance of Briggflatts signified his long overdue return to poetry, a revival instigated by a series of readings organised in the Tower by Newcastle poet Tom Pickard and his wife Connie. The Morden Tower still stands today, and readings still take place. This lecture looks back at Basil Bunting’s life and at the history of the poetry scene in mid century Newcastle, using verse and photographs to help document this exciting time, and to pay homage to an often forgotten cultural treasure. Read more about this podcast here.
Monkey Besynesse: Patronage and Print, or the Ape and the Book, by Colin Davey
In the Huntington Library’s copy of the first book printed in English – The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye – is a unique woodcut frontispiece. In what may perhaps be the only contemporary portrait of William Caxton, England’s first printer, a kneeling author hands two substantial volumes to Margaret of York, the king of England’s sister and recently married duchess of Burgundy, Caxton’s patroness. Easily overlooked, mediating between the merchant and the lady, mirroring Caxton’s pose, is the figure of a cheeky, smiling ape. In this talk, Colin Davey examines the fascinating, potentially complex role of the ape in medieval iconography and at the birth of English print. Read more about this podcast here.
‘Such Terrifying Vistas of Reality’: Lunatic Landscapes in the Works of H. P. Lovecraft, by David Varley
David Varley takes a tour through the uncanny landscapes of H.P. Lovecraft, whose weird fictions have inspired numerous films, comic books, and novels. Lovecraft uses landscape-based description as a means of constructing psychological effects, blurring the distinction between different kinds of spaces to effect a sense of the uncanny. Read more about this podcast here.
Airmen, Aeroplanes and Aesthetics: Pilots in Irish War Poetry, by Amy Smith
Many writers have been fascinated by flight, which often connotes liberation, transcendence and the imagination. The technological developments of the twentieth century meant that dreams of human flight rapidly became a reality, whilst the futuristic unreality of aviation fostered a discourse of heroism which represented pilots as super-human. Yet the First and Second World Wars caused a radical change in the ways in which airmen were represented in literature. As perpetrators of aerial attack, airmen were considered to be brutal tools of fascism, representative of the debasement of humanity in war-time rather than the pinnacle of human achievement. In this lecture, Amy Smith charts how Irish poets changed their attitudes to war in and from the air between 1918 and 1945.
Ghosting, Place, and Wuthering Heights, by James Quinnell
Wuthering Heights has been described as a haunted novel (it is more of a ghost story than a romance) and this haunting is an expression of homesickness. This lecture explores the connection between haunting and homesickness in Emily Brontë’s novel and a selection of her poetry. For Brontë, ghosts are an expression of longing and desire; characters in Wuthering Heights and the Gondal creations in the poetry seek out ghosts; they raise rather than exorcise them. Emily Brontë’s vision of the ghostly is that home is made with them rather than that they are banished. Read more about this podcast here.
Jane Eyre and Masculinity, by Alison McManus
The story of Jane Eyre (1847) is so well known it has become iconic. Charlotte Brontë’s most famous character has inspired a wealth of criticism, interpretation, and re-interpretation, most famously by Jean Rhys in Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), which provides a prequel to the story so that the most marginalised character is given a voice. But what if Jane Eyre had been born a man? In this lecture, Alison McManus gives an insight into the process of creating a novel (one that she is writing as part of her PhD thesis in Creative Writing at the University of Newcastle) that explores nineteenth-century gender issues from a twenty-first century perspective. Charlotte’s brother Branwell was employed as a tutor in a moderately-sized estate for a short time. Alison has stolen details from his life in order to invert the narrative conventions of Jane Eyre in her novel. Read more about this podcast here.
Dickensian Steampunk: Charles Dickens and His Overlooked Mudfog Papers, by Elizabeth Drialo
Surprisingly, there exists an early set of texts written by Dickens that is not only often overlooked in scholarship, but also fits into the steampunk genre. Originally written for Bentley’s Miscellany in the late 1830s, the three stories of the town of Mudfog tell of an odd town and an interesting group of characters that present new inventions ranging from an impractical fire-escape to a walled off city governed by automaton police. This talk explores this world of Mudfog that Dickens created through the lens of the Steampunk style and tackles many questions the texts raise. Read more about this podcast here.