Our first CRECS event will celebrate Halloween week in spooktacular style. We’ll be kicking the 2015/16 programme off with an exploration of the nineteenth-century gothic literature and music. The Romantic period saw the emergence of the first wave of gothic writing, a turning away form the austere and ordered neoclassicism of the Augustan age. In Britain, there was a new appetite for native forms of art that eschewed system and structure, instead celebrating the ambiguities and uncertainties of the more irrational and imaginative aspects of human experience. This was the age that generated many iconic representations of the supernatural and fantastical, among them Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and his Creature; the emergence of turbulent ‘Byronic’ heroes such as Manfred and the Giaour; and Keats’s ‘Eve of St Agnes’.
Gothic and the supernatural provided inspiration for more than simply literature, acting as a transgeneric form that ranged across art, architecture, literature and music, forms which often spoke to and influenced each other in complex and interesting ways. Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare (1781), which is our featured image, was one of the most popular and reproduced paintings of the period, capturing and inspiring gothic currents in literature. Music such as Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique (1830) drew upon artistic experiences of drug addiction in order to present a kaleidoscopic fantasy that dizzied listeners with its vertiginous and exotic orchestrations. The work of Sir Walter Scott, the best-selling novelist of the 19th century, provided inspiration for both musicians and artists alike, not least Gaetano Donizetti’s tragic opera Lucia di Lammermoor (1835), which drew upon the gothic elements of Scott’s historical novel, The Bride of Lammermoor (1819). Continue reading
Sophie Coulombeau started off the proceedings with a talk titled ‘Life is a Magic Lanthorn’. Magic lantern, or phantasmagoria, shows were the forerunners of slide shows, cinema (and PowerPoint). They projected images printed or painted on to glass slides onto a transcluent screen, which could be pushed to and fro to make the image loom closer to the audience or recede into the back of the stage. Later developments attempted to generate animation so that the phantasmagoria images appeared to move, anticipating pre-filmic experiments in making still pictures approximate moving life, such as the zoetrope of the 1830s. 18th-century magic lantern shows were used for public entertainment, family shows at home, and sometimes for polemical reasons, such as anti-French and anti-Catholic propaganda. Many phantasmagoric moving images are gathered at http://dickbalzer.tumblr.com.
Opening out the discussion to consider the broader cultural discourse to which these new media were applied, Sophie considered Hester Thrale Piozzi’s statement: ‘Life is a Magic Lanthorn, certainly, and I think more so to Women, than to Men’, and discussed how the disjunctive, fragmented life of women under coverture resembled the disjointed images of Magic Lanthorn shows.
Our second speaker, Melanie Bigold introduced her talk about ballet and the vocabulary of dance, which dates to the 16th century. She suggested that dance draws on a dialogue between two traditions: disciplinary courtly dance and populist forms of pantomime and commedia dell’arte. While the former focused on the ascension of the dancer away from the sublunary corruptions of the mundane world, the latter offered an opportunity to performers to interact in class-defying ways.
We watched clips from the Ballet Evolved YouTube channel, including this useful introduction to the first four centuries of dance, as well as this dedicated piece on Marie Taglioni (1804–84), who reintroduced aristocratic daintiness to ballet. The fascinating clips also demonstrated the increasing push towards exaggerated formalism in the display of the ballerina.
The event ended with some reflection on the CRECS ‘experiment’ and an appeal for feedback from our attendees, who continue to include a healthy mix of undergraduates, postgraduates and staff. Attendees felt sessions had been varied, and contained new and unusual subject matter, while occasionally overlapping usefully with course content. It was felt that sessions were pitched correctly: neither dumbed down, nor overly specialist. The provision of short, concise talks helped retain interest and ensure there was something for everyone. The events were praised for their ‘informality, energy, enthusiasm and excitement’.
The question was raised: how long can we draw on our own specialisms while keeping content fresh? The potential to introduce external speakers, or shorts talk from PhD researchers was discussed, as well as mixing up the format with occasional film screenings. In addition, events could be opened up to involve colleagues from other humanities disciplines, such as Welsh, history, music and gender studies.
What do you think? Add your thoughts to the comments below, tweet us, or find us on Facebook – we want to hear your views!
Our last CRECS event for the 2014/15 session turns to the issue of entertainment. Without the benefit of Netflix and Spotify, what did our 18th-century predecessors do in their leisure time? In an age before cinema and pre-recorded music, how could you get your fix of sound and vision? Well, tonight, you can find out a little more about this, with two talks that focus on the spectacular and the elegant. There’ll also be a chance to discuss possible future activities for next year’s session.
There was an excellent turn out to this hotly awaited addition to the CRECS programme, which set out to explore the (fifty?) shades of grey that existed in eighteenth century attitudes to sex, gender and domesticity.
Participants gathered around the tables in Special Collections and Archives, upon which were scattered extracts from the texts for discussion. First, we heard from Melanie Bigold, introducing Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina; or Love in a Maze (1725). A radical rewrite of the typical ‘persecuted maiden’ tale, Haywood attributes sexual desire, cunning and power to her female protagonist. Our heroine, an upper-class lady from the provinces, newly arrived in London, decides to impersonate a prostitute, upon observing the relaxed, easy conversation they seem able to hold with men. In this guise, she successfully engages the rakish Beauplaisir in conversation, an encounter which ends in her rape. Undefeated, yet concerned for her reputation, she creates a false identity, ‘Fantomina’, and continues to pursue Beauplaisir. He quickly tires of her, and in response to this inconstancy, Fantomina turns once more to her dressing up box. She dons a series of disguises in order to engineer multiple seductions of Beauplaisir, posing as different women. There is no mention of Fantomina’s hope or need for marriage; she is solely motivated by desire, and possibly the power-play and revenge implicit in routinely tricking Beauplaisir into sex. Participants took turns reading sections of Fantomina aloud, to fully immerse themselves in Haywood’s prose style. Continue reading
Just a quick note to say that, following some discussions, we’ve decided to adjust our schedule for the next two CRECS events, to take into account our students’ mid-term assessments and presentations, as outlined below:
- How to Keep Your (Georgian) Man (originally 10th March) will now take place on the 17th.
- CRECS Sound and Vision (originally 17th March) will now take place on 28th April.
The Events page has been updated accordingly.