Late Summer Lectures 2017


From Brexit to climate change, we live in turbulent times – but a look at literature through the ages reminds that ‘change’ has been a permanent feature of society. Late Summer Lectures 2017 was organised around the theme of ‘change’, and took listeners on a journey from the birth of Britain to the future that awaits us.

‘The Coming Races: Eugenics in Utopian Literature, by Sarah Lohmann

The idea of genetic engineering may conjure visions of futuristic horror, such as mutant human beings with peculiar powers. But some novels and stories, particularly within utopian literature, imagine more positive trends in human development, whether driven by science or natural evolution over time. Sarah Lohmann considers the complexity of approaches to evolution and eugenics in utopian fiction, and suggests that the genre itself has evolved in its depiction of these issues over time.

Dickens’s Ghosts: An Altered Perspective, by Claire Horton

“Marley’s ghost bothered him exceedingly. Every time he resolved within himself, after mature enquiry, that it was all a dream, his mind flew back again, like a strong spring released, to its first position, and presented the same problem to be worked all through, ‘Was it a dream or not?.” Scrooge’s internal debate accurately reflects the mid-Victorian dichotomy on Spiritualism, mesmerism and the supernatural. Claire Horton, of Loughborough University, explains how in Dickens’s time the ability to see ghosts was linked to mesmerism, a practice that fired the imagination of the Victorians.

Fiction and the Victorian Vivisector, by Asha Hornsby

The idea of vivisection – performing surgical experiments on live animals in the name of science – makes many people squeamish. Not surprisingly, the ethics of animal experimentation were hotly debated in the Victorian period too. Asha Hornsby (University College London) shows how novelists of the time sought to understand the mentality of the vivisectionist, who needed to maintain uncannily cool dispassion as he prodded and dismembered the furry creature before him.

Tics in the Theatre: The ‘Quiet Audience’ and the Neurodivergent Spectator, by Hannah Simpson

Do you get annoyed when people rustle their crisp packets or check their mobile phones in the theatre? If so you’re probably not alone – but you might be surprised to learn that the convention that audiences should be quiet is a relatively new one. It’s also a norm that may exclude spectators who can’t help but fidget and make noise. Hannah Simpson (University of Oxford) invites us to think carefully about how the etiquette of the theatre might be made more inclusive, with benefits for everyone. A transcript of this talk is also available.

Albion: Change, Rebirth and Stagnancy in the Middle English Prose Brut Chronicle, by Madeleine Smart

Albion. Today that word conjures impressions of a lost, utopian version of Britain – but the version of Albion as it was represented in the middle ages is anything but beautiful. Madeleine Smart (University of Liverpool) tells the story of the Brut chronicle, featuring a land of giants, devils and conquering men and women.

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