I first became interested in the ‘fashionable diseases’ of the long eighteenth century when I was working on my book Bad Vibrations: The History of the Idea of Music as a Cause of Disease. In that period, especially in Britain, the notion that music was a matter of nervous stimulation became widespread, bringing thinking on music into the wider debate on nervousness, sensuality and sensibility. Until the 1790s, music was generally depicted as refining rather than damaging the nerves with the context of the Cult of Sensibility. Thereafter, however, musical nervousness became a full-blown fashionable disease, with a moral-medical critique of its excesses and the whiff of emotional and spiritual superiority.
By the eighteenth century British contributions to the discussion of music’s physical effects, such as Richard Browne’s 1729 Medicina Musica and Richard Brocklesby’s 1749 Reflections of Antient and Modern Musick, tended to assume that music’s power over emotions was experimentally verifiable, that the body worked on Newtonian principles, and that the nerves were responsible for music’s impact.1 There was an extensive debate about how the nerves transmitted sound to the brain, with a variety of theories on the nature of the nerves co-existing, …read more
Judith Hawley is Professor of English at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her doctoral work at Oxford was on Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, which remains one of her major interests, but she has also published widely on science and literature, eighteenth-century women writers, and coteries, groups and sociability. Her current projects include a group biography of the Scriblerus Club and a new edition of Tristram Shandy. In this interview, though, we discuss her ongoing collaborative work on amateur theatricals: approaches and publications; the series of conferences organised under the ‘What Signifies A Theatre?’ rubric; and the new Research into Amateur Performance and Private Theatricals network, which she co-directs with Mary Isbell.
1) How did you first become interested in amateur performance and private theatricals?
My interest came initially from personal experience. As a teenager and then as a student at Cambridge, I was very involved in amateur dramatics as a performer, director and producer. As well as the opportunities to explore different selves, I loved the collaborative aspect of theatre making. As an undergraduate writing an essay a week, …read more
This week we’re very happy to be welcoming Professor Christoph Bode back to Oxford, where he will soon be taking up a visiting fellowship at St Catherine’s College. He will be speaking about ‘De-frosting the Discourse on the Subject’, unsubtly represented here by this extremely on-the-nose image of frost and midnight . . . All welcome as ever!
Soon, the Blake Archive will publish its second batch of Blake’s correspondence, making the bulk of Blake’s ninety or so letters available online. One of the side projects that I’ve been working on has been a Master List of all of Blake’s correspondence. I’m compiling the most recent provenance information about Blake’s letters into a big spreadsheet, which will give us a sense of the future work to be done on Blake’s letters, especially regarding:
1) Newly discovered, newly acquired, or not-yet-acquired letters by Blake
These represent a continuation of our current project of acquiring photography of manuscript pages, encoding transcriptions, and publishing letters written by Blake. Our Collection Lists give a sense of where Blake’s works currently reside.
2) Letters not by Blake
At the moment, the Archive has only published one letter not written by Blake: from George Richmond to Samuel Palmer on the occasion of Blake’s death. Publishing letters written about and especially to Blake has an obvious value for contextualizing Blake’s correspondence and his work more generally. But it represents a move beyond the Archive’s priority of publishing Blake’s works and therefore is a longer-term project for us.
By Anthony Mandal It is striking that the turn of the nineteenth century saw the earliest use—and swift adoption—of both autobiography and biology and their cognates in European languages.  Two very different disciplines of ‘life-writing’ that took βίος as their common object were named, if not born, together. Over a period in which ontogeny, or individual history, was […] …read more
By Anthony Mandal A reliable treatment of the work of ‘Robert des ruines’ (Hubert Robert, 1733–1808) has been wanting for many years, and Nina Dubin’s Futures and Ruins will amply meet this need for a considerable time. It is certainly the best we have in English, and in many respects at least as good as any treatment of […] …read more
By Anthony Mandal Anna Seward: A Constructed Life is the first biography of the ‘Swan of Lichfield’ since Margaret Ashmun’s 1931 account of the writer and her famous literary friends. However, this critical biography is more than just a long overdue study of one of the most fascinating women of letters of the eighteenth century; Teresa Barnard’s biography […] …read more
By Anthony Mandal Angie Dunstan (University of Kent) will be presenting her paper, ‘Romantic Literary Societies and their Victorian Afterlives’, at 5.30pm on Tuesday, 25 February 2014. The talk will take place in Cardiff University’s John Percival Building, Room 2.48. Abstract In 1889, Andrew Lang bemoaned the rise of literary societies devoted to Romantic poets, complaining ‘They all demonstrate that people have […] …read more
In addition to talking to scholars who’ve recently completed monographs and editions, I thought that it’d be interesting to talk with teams of scholars who are currently working on large research projects, so I contacted the Fashionable Diseases team to find out what they’re currently up to. Since the project team introduce themselves in the course of the interview, I’ll keep this introduction short and just thank Anita O’Connell for co-ordinating this and point out that the Call for Papers for the project’s international conference is still open; please see the last answer for further details. If you’re interested in following the project, Twitter and Facebook have you covered.
1) What was the initial inspiration for the Fashionable Diseases project?
The seedling idea for this project first germinated when Clark Lawlor was researching for his volume, Sciences of Body and Mind, in the eight-volume anthology Literature and Science, 1660-1834(Pickering & Chatto, 2003). He included an essay from 1786 by James Makittrick Adair (1728–1801), a Bath society doctor, called ‘On fashionable disease’. Clark was, and remains, fascinated by the issues raised by Adair, not …read more