Conference Report: ‘The Pleasures of Hating, 1660-1830’

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Conference Review by Francesca Gardner

Introductory talk by Daniel Brooks and Francesca Gardner (credit: Dr Elizabeth McDonald)

‘The Pleasures of Hating, 1660-1830’ was an international, interdisciplinary conference held on 18th November 2023 at Trinity College, Cambridge, co-convened by Daniel Brooks (Trinity College, Cambridge) and Francesca Gardner (St Catharine’s College, Cambridge). Within the walls of the Old Common Room, fittingly redolent of yellow bile and thus the choleric temperament of humoural theory, ten speakers delivered papers on hatred in the long eighteenth century. Inspired by the notion of Johnsonian ‘good hating’ and taking its name from Hazlitt’s famous essay, the conference theme invited responses to the following questions: is hating a pleasure? Is it constructive or destructive, edifying or corrosive? Is it inextricable from other similar, or even ‘opposite’, emotions? How does it intersect with philosophy, politics, genre, form?

After coffee, biscuits, and a short introduction from the convenors, the conference was opened by a panel entitled ‘Contempt and Critique’, chaired by Professor Adrian Poole (Trinity College, Cambridge). Joseph Turner (Christ Church College, Oxford) began with a quotation from G. K. Chesterton contending that Pope’s hatred ‘illuminated all things, as love illuminates all things’. He went on to investigate the relationship of Pope’s hatred to a feeling akin to it in his paper entitled ‘Pope’s Contempt’, paying attention to microscopic and entomological imagery across Pope’s work. This was followed by a paper from Fauve Vandenberghe (Ghent University), ‘“We Merit not your Hate”: Hatred and Women’s Satire during the Querelle des Femmes’, which examined rebuttals to notorious anti-women pamphlets by female writers such as Judith Drake, Sarah Fyge Egerton, and Mary Chudleigh, contemplating the gendered nature of hateful feelings in the period.

After lunch at the market in the centre of Cambridge, Freya Johnston (St Anne’s College, Oxford) delivered the day’s fantastic keynote lecture, ‘Regulating and Hating: D. W. Harding and Jane Austen’ – the British psychologist and literary critic thought the novelist to have ‘none of the underlying didactic intention ordinarily attributed to the satirist’. Ranging across Austen’s work, from Pride and Prejudice to Persuasion (in which Lady Russell listens composedly whilst ‘her heart revel[s] in angry pleasure, in pleased contempt’), her paper considered the relationship of hatred to politeness culture, to internality, and to shame. Our audience were also helpfully encouraged to reflect on the way in which the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have augmented or diminished the turbulence and hatefulness of the long eighteenth century, as exemplified by a comment on Austen’s work from Winston Churchill: ‘what calm lives they had, those people!’. The Q&A which followed was animated and engaged, with questions ranging from the affordances offered by the novel as a form when it comes to the depiction of hateful characters, to the way in which hatred manifested in Austen’s early works.

Our next panel was ‘The Politics of Hatred’, chaired by Professor Philip Connell (Selwyn College, Cambridge). It began with a presentation by Dr Daniel Sperrin (Trinity College, Cambridge) on Swift’s hatred – specifically as rooted in his belief, absolutely consistent across his work, that reason, law, and Anglican statecraft (all identical) hold society together. This was followed by a paper from Dr Dylan Carver (St Peter’s College, Oxford) on ‘Hazlitt and the Antinomies of “Party Spirit”’. Concentrating on a neglected series of articles published in the middle-class reformist journal The Atlas between 1829 and 1830, he stressed that we find Hazlitt revisiting arguments and images with significant shifts of emphasis, scrutinising some of the social and political developments which may have pushed Hazlitt to revise his earlier ethics of partisanship. In these later articles, he argued, Party Spirit is no longer a necessary prejudice, and hatred and enmity are no longer necessary evils in an unjust world – they are unambiguously bad. Dr James Peate (Independent Scholar) closed the panel with his paper ‘The Case of Mary Squires and the Resurgence of Romani Racism 1753-1754’, which looked at the written and visual culture surrounding the case of Mary Squires, a Romani woman convicted of kidnapping maidservant Elizabeth Canning and sentenced to death; prior to her being acquitted due to Canning’s perjury, this was one of the most famous criminal cases of the eighteenth century, reviving anti-ziganist sentiment which had been on the wane since its peak in the early modern period. His final slides exhibited some vital statistics on Romani racism in contemporary Britain.

Following a short coffee break, the next panel, ‘Hatred and Response’, was chaired by Dr Daniel Sperrin. Jane Cooper (All Souls College, Oxford) delivered a paper on ‘Hateful Humour: Scriblerian Responses to Sublime Theory’; ranging from the mocking of the ‘Pindaric’ Philips by the Scriblerus Club, to discussions of Peri Bathous (1727) and Three Hours After Marriage (1717), to the figure of the pedant as anti-Longinian, our audience were prompted to ponder the proximity of the sublime and the ridiculous. This was followed by Dr Adam James Smith (York St John University); his talk on ‘Healthy Hating in Eighteenth-Century Satire’ suggested that certain satirical models function by correlating physical ailments with moral failings, ‘correcting’ a distempered constitution, such as an excess of spleen (hating too much) – the hateful feelings of the critic, however, create a paradox to explore. His presentation also introduced us to further definitions of hatred in the period, such as Johnson’s notion that it is ‘the passion contrary to love’.

The final panel of the day, ‘Hatred as Response’, was chaired by Dr Anne Toner (Trinity College, Cambridge). Sam Webb (Trinity Hall, Cambridge) firstly proposed another emotion adjacent to hatred in his talk ‘Wollstonecraft’s Indignation: Style as Politics in ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Men’ (1790)’. The treatise, commencing Wollstonecraft’s career as a political nonfiction writer, was written hastily as the first reply to Burke’s controversial commentary; this paper probed the extent to which a style can be deemed a declaration of politics. The final paper of the day was then given by Dr Thomas Leonard-Roy (Independent Scholar), who is currently finishing a book entitled Writerly Hatred in Eighteenth-Century Britain. ‘Frances Burney’s Right to Hate’ surveyed widespread efforts in the eighteenth century to suppress and restrain how women – particularly young women from the middling and genteel ranks – expressed their hostile feelings in both speech and behaviour (for example, via conduct books), inspecting how this plays out in the writings of Frances Burney; her resentment, disdain, and bitterness found expression in her writing, even as she observed strict royal requirements to be timid, loyal, and obedient.

The event was rounded off by a drinks reception, followed by dinner at local Cambridge pub The Anchor, where the lively discussion and debate continued into the evening. We were delighted with the quality of the papers throughout the day, and with the (perhaps ironically) amiable conversation amongst panelists and audience members. We would like to thank everyone for coming, and also to extend our thanks to our generous sponsors, without whom the event would not have been possible: The British Association for Romantic Studies, The Jane Austen Society UK, and Trinity College, Cambridge.

Trinity College Old Common Room

Francesca Gardner is a PhD student and Harding Distinguished Postgraduate Scholar at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge. Her thesis explores pastoral competition in the long eighteenth century; other research interests include the literary essay, machines, and puppets. She can be found on Twitter @frankiegardner_.