03 June 2014 | 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm

Reading and Reception Seminars: Dr Carolyn Burdett

The Grant Museum of Zoology, Rockefeller Building, University College, London 21 University Street, London WC1E 6DE
Open to

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

Over the final three decades of the nineteenth century a growing interest is discernible amongst psychologists in the category of aesthetics.

One strand of psychological argument attempted to restate in modern terms the quality of art’s ‘shareability’: emotions elicited by art and literature could be shared, freeing humans from the ‘monopolistic’ nature of much of life’s struggle. At the end of the century, however, shared emotions were also the focus of theories of crowds where feelings are not just shared but caught, contagiously and dangerously

This paper suggests that aesthetic sharing and contagious feeling are both of relevance to an increased pressure being brought to bear by the end of the century on the notion of sympathy - that capacity to share in others’ feelings that composed a core ethical gesture for the Victorians and was central to much of their literary effort.

Using the work of the aesthetic theorist, Vernon Lee, it looks beyond the end of the century to Lee’s response to crowd theory and the value of aesthetics during World War 1 and her attempt to re-energise sympathy and replace imitative contagion by the concept of empathy.


Dr Carolyn Burdett is senior lecturer in literature and Victorian studies at Birkbeck, University of London. She was recently awarded a Leverhulme research fellowship to pursue research on her current monograph, Coining Empathy: Psychology, Aesthetics, Ethics, 1870-1920.​

Open to: Academics, alumni, students
Admission: Free
Ticketing: No ticketing required

Directions to the Grant Museum of Zoology