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Reading group 2012/13

Below is a summary of reading group sessions organised by the Birkbeck Eighteenth Century Research Group in the academic year 2012/13.

William Blake, 'Vala or the Four' Zoas, Night III, led by Luisa Calè

    Wednesday 8 May 2013, 12.00 – 14.00, Room 112, 43 Gordon Square

    William Blake’s prophetic poem Vala was first conceived as ‘a dream of nine nights’, following the structure of Edward Young’s Night Thoughts (1742-7). In 1795-7, Blake illustrated Young’s poem with 537 watercolours on enlarged margins obtained by mounting the pages of Night Thoughts onto folio sheets with windows cut into the middle of each to host the pages of the original book. 43 of these illustrations were selected for engravings published in Richard Bentley’s edition of the poem in 1797. The page layout of this edition functioned as a model for the distribution of text and illustrations in Blake’s Vala manuscript. From the middle of Night III to the end of the poem, Blake inscribed the poem in the blank text-boxes of his Night Thoughts engravings.

    This session included a brief introduction by Luisa Calè; a reading in the spirit of visionary theatre, in which reading group participants will be invited to read the lines allotted to particular characters; and a general discussion.

‘David Hume and The Natural History of the Ignorant Multitude’, Led by Daniel Hayward

    Monday 25 February 2013, 12.30 – 14.00, room 112 Gordon Square

    Daniel Hayward, a Phd Candidate at Birkbeck College. He is currently preparing a thesis on ‘The Natural History of Attention’

    Hume’s Natural History of Religion was most likely written between 1749 and 1752 and was published In Edinburgh in 1757. The book professes to offer, over a very short compass, an account of the “origin” of religion in “human nature.” The following presentation will begin with an explanation of why it was that Hume believed that such an account ought to take the form of a “natural history.” I will briefly distinguish the meaning of Hume’s “natural history” from civil, ecclesiastical, universal, and “popular” histories, as well as from other kinds of “natural” history and from the genre (invented later by Dugald Stewart but with reference to Hume’s book) of “conjectural history”. Out of a compressed overview of the arguments in the Natural History I will develop the following questions. Who is the principal subject of Hume’s Natural History? Who is the book about? Is there a sense in which the Natural History is a popular history after all, that is, a new kind of history of the people? If this is the case, what significance should be attributed to the fact that Hume chooses to draw on the generic language of contemporary natural philosophy? In conclusion I will make the case that Hume is interested not so much in the method of the natural philosopher as he is his assumed psychology. Central to the account in the Natural History of the religious beliefs of the “ignorant multitude” is a seemingly programmatic overvaluation of the powers of attention possessed by a particular type of person – the natural philosopher. Rather than deride that overvaluation as a mistake, I will finish by asking, what are its intellectual consequences for later thinking about the “nature” of “common life”? What are its results?

    Set Text:

    David Hume, Dialogues and Natural History of Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998) - the discussion concentrated on the first ten pages of the book (pp. 134 – 144).

Reading Group with David Eldridge

    Tuesday 15 January 2013, 12.30-14.00, Room 112, Gordon Square David Eldridge, Lecturer in Creative Writing, is a distinguished playwright, who has had numerous productions in film, theatre, television and radio. To name just a few: his play The Market Boy ran at the National Theatre in 2006; Under the Blue Sky was revived in 2008 at the Duke of York's Theatre; and The Knot of the Heart played at the Almeida in 2011. His adaptation of Festen transferred from the Almeida to the West End and Broadway. And, just this year, In Basildon was directed at the Royal Court by Dominic Cooke, and the Royal Exchange Theatre presented his new version of Miss Julie by Strindberg, starring Maxine Peake.

    David is currently writing a 90 minute drama for BBC2, based Hallie Rubenhold's Lady Worsley's Whim: An Eighteenth-Century Tale of Sex, Scandal and Divorce. David's treatment for the BBC was the set text for this reading group, but if anyone would also like to read the book, here are the details.

Wordsworth’s 'Prelude', Book IV (1805), led by Kate McLoughlin

    Wednesday 28 November, 12.30-14.00, Room B06, Gordon Square

    Dr Kate McLoughlin, Senior Lecturer in Modern literature, is an expert on War Studies currently working on the history of the veteran. The reading group was an interesting opportunity to get a sense of how a scholar who works mainly in twentieth-century literature understands an eighteenth-century text as participating in the broader cultural history of the returning soldier, so we encouraged those working outside of the eighteenth century to come along.

    The text we read was a short extract from William Wordsworth’s The Prelude Book IV (1805)