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The University of Southampton

‘Blessèd, cursed, Memory: Remembering and Forgetting in Victorian Literature’ Seminar

Southampton Centre for Nineteenth-Century Research
16:00 - 18:00
16 March 2016
Building 32, Room 1015, Highfield Campus, University of Southampton, SO17 1BJ

For more information regarding this seminar, please email Tracy Storey at .

Event details

Part of the SCNR Seminar Series 2015/2016


“There is a goddess of Memory, Mnemosyne; but none of Forgetting”, Richard Holmes writes; “Yet there should be, as they are twin sisters, twin powers, and walk on either side of us, disputing for sovereignty over us and who we are, all the way until death.” In this lecture, I set out to explore some of the ways in which memory and forgetting work alongside each other in Victorian literature. Beginning with popular systems of memory training in the period, and performers who were capable of extraordinary feats of recall, I examine some of the ways in which different literary forms, from long novels to lyric poems, attempted to test the reader’s own powers of memory. Placing these forms in the context of developing debates in psychology and philosophy, I go on to show they engaged with the methods of composition that were used by writers such as Tennyson. I conclude with a reading of Edward FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, where the competing pressures of memory and forgetting produce a poem in which Memosyne and her twin compete and collaborate in richly comic ways.

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst is Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Magdalen College. His books include Victorian Afterlives (2002), Becoming Dickens: The Invention of a Novelist (2011), which won the 2011 Duff Cooper Prize, and The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland (2015), which was shortlisted for the 2015 Costa Prize. His other publications include editions of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, and Other Christmas Books and Great Expectations, Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, and Charles Kingsley’s The Water-Babies, all for Oxford World’s Classics. He contributes regularly to TV and radio programmes, writes for publications including the Daily Telegraph, Guardian, Times, New Statesman, and TLS, & has also worked as a literary advisor on the TV dramas Jane Eyre (2006), Emma (2009), Great Expectations (2011), and Dickensian (2015-16). In 2013 he was one of the judges of the Man Booker Prize. In 2015 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.


Speaker information

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, University of Oxford. Professor of English Literature

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