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The University of Southampton

Work in Progress Paper Seminar

Victim of Jack the Ripper
13:00 - 14:00
27 April 2016
Building 65a, Room 3057, Avenue Campus, University of Southampton, SO17 1BF

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

Event details

A series of papers organised by English. This paper will be presented by Dr Will May.

‘“A thing to do”: The Whimsical Murders of Robert Browning’

Henry James’ posthumous tribute to Robert Browning remembers a poet of appealing oddness, who seeks out ‘the dim corners where humour and the whimsical lurk’. ‘Lurk’ is a curious and telling verb: for Browning, whimsy was a way of exploring the dubious ethics of acting on impulse, whether his poetic speakers were committing murder (‘Porphyria’s Lover’, 1836) or adultery (‘The Light Woman’, 1855). As his speakers often learn, deliberating can have the same consequences as failing to act.

This paper will argue that whimsy becomes a moral category in the nineteenth century, noting the influence of Kant’s writing on spontaneity and the ethics of decision-making in 'A Critique of Pure Reason' (1781). It will explore Browning’s interest in finding the ‘thing to do’ (Browning) with reference to the neurobiologist António Damásio, and consider whether an apparently irrational action asserts or absolves our sense of agency.

This paper draws on my current research project, which traces the relationship between poetry and whimsy from Ben Jonson to Frank O’Hara.

Speaker information

Dr Will May,Senior Lecturer in English

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