Reading & Reception Seminars

Old books

Key Information

Day: Tuesdays
Time: 5.30pm - 7.30pm
Venue: G24, Foster Court, University College London, Gower Street, WC1E 6BT, unless otherwise indicated.
Contact: Dr Elinor Shaffer


  • Dr Elinor Shaffer FBA, Research Project Director and Senior Research Fellow,  Institute of Modern Languages Research (IMLR), School of Advanced Study, University of London
  • Professor Timothy Mathews, Professor of French and Comparative Criticism, Vice-Dean Research, Arts & Humanities, UCL

Supported by Stefano Rossoni, research student, Centre for Multidisciplinary and Intercultural Inquiry, UCL.


The collaboration between the Reception of British Authors in Europe (RBAE) and UCL A&H marks the foundation of a new strand of seminars exploring relations between science and literature. It will consider the interface between scientific and literary texts, the manner of their reception, and the possibilities of reading and critical response generated by these considerations.

Science and Literature series

You may also be interested in the Reading and Reception sister series, the Science and Literature seminar series.



Autumn term 2015


Spring term 2016

3 May 2016

Dr Kate Averis (University of London Institute in Paris)

"Of Nomads and Exiles: Transnational Women's Writing in French and Spanish"

Past Events

Autumn Term 2013


19 November 2013

‘Phrenology through the Eyes of the Physiognomist: Character in the Romantic Period’

Long before phrenology, now largely discarded as a pseudo-science setting out to map and measure mental faculties via the bumps on the human skull, became established in characterisation in both Popular Culture and Victorian Literature, Johann Caspar Lavater’s ideas on physiognomy pervaded the thinking of the Romantics.

Writing on character in the Romantic period can be seen to experiment with different modes and models of expression and the conceptual problems, as evident in the many illustrated editions of Lavater’s Essays on Physiognomy (1789-98), either influenced or anticipated discussions about bodily or mental identity as well as personality.

This paper explores the tension between visual and verbal constructions of character, focuses on the confrontations between self and other and analyses the various situations in relation to the demands of literary form (travel writing, drama, poetry and the Gothic). It draws on examples from writers as diverse as Wollstonecraft, Park, Baillie, Blake and M. Shelley and links them to the larger topics within Romanticism, such as sensibility, emotion, exploration, science and the Sublime.

Dr Sibylle Erle (Bishop Grosseteste University Lincoln)

Sibylle Erle, FRSA is Senior Lecturer in English at Bishop Grosseteste University Lincoln, author of Blake, Lavater and Physiognomy (Legenda, 2010) as well as various articles on Blake, Henry Fuseli and Lavater and co-editor of Science, Technology and the Senses (Special Issue for RaVoN, 2008) and volume editor ofThe Panorama, 1787-1900: Texts and Contexts (5 vols., Pickering & Chatto, 2012). With Morton D. Paley she is now co-editing The Reception of William Blake in Europe (Bloomsbury).

She has co-curated the display “Blake and Physiognomy” (2010-11) at Tate Britain and devised an online exhibition of Tennyson’s copy of Blake’s Job for the Tennyson Research Centre (2013). Apart from reception, she is working on character, emerging on the interface between Literature and Science, in the Romantic period.

Dr Erle's paper will be followed by questions and discussion, and the meeting will conclude with a glass of wine at 7.30pm.

Spring Term 2014


Tuesday 4 February 2014

Reading and Reception Seminar

Dr Ann Lewis (Birkbeck):

'Intermedial Influence & Reception: Marivaux's "La Vie de Marianne"’

Tuesday 25 February

Reading and Reception Seminar

Professor Patrick Pollard (Birkbeck):

'When Heaven Meets Hell: William Blake and André Gide’

Tuesday 6 May

Reading and Reception Seminar

Professor Alice Jenkins (Glasgow):

‘Eternal and unchangeable’?: Victorian anti-reception of Euclid

Tuesday 3 June

Reading and Reception Seminar

Dr Carolyn Burdett (Birkbeck):

'Shareability and contagion: psychology and aesthetics at the fin de siecle'