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Durham University

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.

Postgraduate Seminar on T.S. Eliot and H.G. Wells

6th December 2017, 17:30 to 18:30, Seminar Room, Hallgarth House, Suzannah Evans and Olly Teregulova

This Inventions of the Text seminar sees two postgraduate speakers giving papers on Eliot and the influence of Jules Laforgue, and H.G. Wells's short stories.

Suzannah Evans - Post-Prufrock: The Persistence of Laforgue

Critical consensus is that Jules Laforgue’s influence on T. S. Eliot’s writing steadily dimmed, or came to an abrupt end with the publication of Eliot’s 1917 Prufrock and Other Observations. ‘L’année 1910 marque la fin de la crise de croissance poétique provoquée chez Eliot par l’œuvre de Jules Laforgue’, Edward J. H. Green declared definitely in 1951, and critical attitudes have altered little since. A small number of Eliot’s own statements seem to support this view, and these, combined with Greene’s initial assessment of the situation, have formed the backbone of scholarly thought regarding Laforgue’s presence in Eliot’s later stages of career.

This paper will investigate Eliot’s own attitude towards the role Laforgue played in his thinking and writing, seeking to discover the extent to which the French poet remained in his mind at later stages of his career. In terms of the theme of ‘order’, I will ask the following questions. Is there an order to Eliot’s statements on Laforgue, or are these subject to continual change? Where does Eliot place Laforgue in the literary canon? Can we, like earlier critics, see an ‘order’ of influence in Eliot’s writing – with Laforgue an early, short-lived influence, before Eliot moves on to poets such as Dante (Stephen Romer, 2011) – or is Laforgue’s influence less easily categorised? I will draw upon Eliot’s inclusion of Laforgue in his theory of metaphysical poetry, developed particularly in his 1926 Clark lectures and 1933 Turnbull lectures, to suggest that the French poet’s import for Eliot’s intellectual development may be more persistent than earlier critics have allowed.

Olly Teregulova - What Is It Like to Be a Word?: The Order of Living Signs in H. G. Wells’s Short Stories

‘[T]he world,’ as H.G. Wells wrote in his Text-book of Biology, ‘is not made and dead like a cardboard model or a child’s toy, but a living equilibrium’. In his early short stories titled ‘The Remarkable Case of Davidson’s Eyes’, ‘The Plattner Story’, ‘The Truth About Pyecraft’, ‘The Man Who Could Work Miracles’, ‘The Story of the Late Mr Elvesham’, and ‘The New Accelerator’, Wells presents the cosmos as being ordered by and composed of a living network of interconnected signs, ‘a law beyond all other natural laws.’ Lexical signs are not merely used for ordering experience by classifying the external world. As these narratives demonstrate, it is the creative exchange of signs that causes the evolutionary order of flux, effecting the synchronised development of life across all systems and planes.

Each of the six short stories emphasise signs as allowing the exploration of ineffable laws underlying paradigmatic frameworks. Wells employs his protagonists as personified synecdoche of physical forces and phenomena, with human corporeality being used to represent the following across the texts: an elementary particle under the presence of an electromagnetic force; the inversion of a chiral centre of a molecule during a chemical reaction; the struggles of a conceptual term across multiple planes of lexis, semantics, physics, reality, and representation; the relationship between the world-modelling system of linguistic constructivism and the external universe; the process of natural selection; and the phenomenon of geological time. Signs, due to their mutability, are able to cross these different planes of existence.

In ‘The Outline of History’ and ‘Human Evolution; An Artificial Process’, Wells asserts that it is through the conscious development of the communicative exchange of signs that human progress will be achieved. These short stories demonstrate how signs are indeed bestowed with the agency to restructure the framework of the universe and to grant access to alternate forms of realities.

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