19 November 2013 | 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm

Reading and Reception Seminars: Dr Sibylle Erle

G31, Foster Court, Malet Place, UCL, London, WC1E 6BT
Open to

‘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.

Open to: Academic, Alumni, Public Student
Admission: Free
Ticketing: No ticketing required