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Department of English Studies

Event Archive

This is an archive of past events within the Department of English Studies. Please see our current events for forthcoming activities.

Some of our public events are recorded and are available as podcasts via our Research English At Durham blog.

The Poisoned Gift of Forgiveness in Jane Eyre

2nd May 2013, 17:00 to 18:45, Seminar Room, Hallgarth House, Professor Henry Staten (University of Washington)

In the mid-19th century the new materialist “physio-psychology” of Alexander Bain, Herbert Spencer, and G. H. Lewes, which reduced “mind” and “soul” to movements of “nerve energy,” held sway. Under its influence, the Brontës and George Eliot developed a radical new form of novelistic moral psychology, one that was no longer bound by the idealizing presuppositions of traditional Christian moral ideology, and which is closely related to Nietzsche’s physiological theory of will to power (itself directly influenced by Spencer). This lecture explains how, through the figure of St. John Rivers, Charlotte Brontë in Jane Eyre investigated the “free gift” of forgiveness in terms of the physio-psychology of vengeance—a paradigm case of the poisoning of the aggressive instincts when they are repressed by a moral ideology that ignores their physiological hydraulics, forcing them to find covert expression.

Henry Staten's work has always explored the boundaries between literature, philosophy, and psychology. His lecture at Durham, which continues this exploration, is drawn from his recently completed book, Spirit Becomes Matter: the Brontes, George Eliot, Nietzsche, which argues that these three English novelists are involved, like Flaubert, Baudelaire, and Nietzsche, in the modernist turn toward a moral psychology that is strictly naturalistic, therefore non-moral or post-moral. His earlier books are Wittgenstein and Derrida (1984), Nietzsche's Voice (1990), and Eros in Mourning: Homer to Lacan (1995). He is currently Lockwood Professor in the Humanities at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Contact p.n.waugh@durham.ac.uk for more information about this event.


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