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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Postgraduate Research Feedback Session

2nd March 2016, 15:00 to 17:00, Seminar Room, Institute of Advanced Study

Postgraduate Research Feedback Session

This event is open to research postgraduates, academics across the Faculty of Arts and Humanities.

This two-hour session is the first of a series of termly meetings that aim to share good practice and promote collaboration among postgraduate research students across the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. The sessions will provide a friendly, interdisciplinary setting in which academics and research students from across the Faculty meet up to discuss and give oral feedback on work-in-progress authored by research students. Each session will discuss the work of up to two research students. After briefly introducing their work, students will take comments, suggestions and questions about their written work from those in the audience (who will have read it in advance). Each student will have a few minutes at the end to respond to comments or ask for clarifications. The length of the pieces of work to be discussed will be between 3,000 and 5,000 words. These could be an extract from a chapter of the student’s PhD thesis, a conference paper or an article (work-in-progress in all cases). Light refreshments (tea/coffee) will be served.

In this first session, two students from the School of Modern Languages and Cultures (French Studies in both cases) will present work from their PhD thesis. Titles and short abstracts of the work will be available nearer the time. Catherine Ellis's thesis is entitled 'Libertine Digestion: Ingestion and Digestion in Eighteenth Century Libertine and Erotic Fiction’. Niall Oddy’s thesis is entitled ‘Ideas of Europe in Sixteenth Century France’. Work for this session will be circulated by email by Monday 22nd February for those who register for the event.

Capacity at this event is limited to 30, and registration is essential. To register follow this link.


  • Catherine Ellis

‘sera-ce le contre-poison de la fatale Justine?’: Textual antidotes, edible prostitutes and cannibal monks in Rétif de la Bretonne’s l’Anti-Justine (1798)

In the epilogue to Book One of his unfinished novel L’Anti-Justine,Rétif de la Bretonne acknowledges the dangerous ambivalence of his pornographic tale of romanticised incest, intended as a rebuttal to the violence and cruelty of the Marquis de Sade. He tells the reader: ‘I am not so senseless as to think that l’Anti-Justine is not a poison, but [...] could it be antidote to the fatal Justine?’ However, while most of the sexual pleasure depicted in L’Anti-Justine is not ‘fatal’, one scene surpasses Justine in its visceral horror: the violent rape, evisceration, cooking, and eating of a syphilitic prostitute at the hands of a depraved monk, who is then poisoned by her corrupted body.

While gruesome eating and cannibalism is a well-worn theme of Sade scholarship, critical appraisals of l’Anti-Justine have foundered in the face of this incongruous scene, approaching it either as a parodic critique of Sadean violence, or even a sign of the author’s senility. In this paper, I offer an alternative explanation for this peculiar episode. By marrying the metaphorical poison/antidote alluded to in Rétif’s epilogue with a close reading of the literal consumption of the prostitute’s body and the circumstances in which this occurs, I suggest that this lethal meal neatly encapsulates Rétif’s belief in the simultaneous poisonous and curative potential of consuming pornography (literally, ‘writing about prostitutes’). By focusing on Rétif’s understanding of eating, drinking, and reading, I reveal the internal logic that makes this much-maligned cannibalistic scene one of l’Anti-Justine’s most curious, yet most coherent moments.

  • Niall Oddy

From 'Christendom' to 'Europe'? Representing Religious Fragmentation in Early Modern France

Histories of the idea of Europe have demonstrated that the word 'Europe' had become identified with the concept of Christendom in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. As the Protestant Reformation destroyed the notion of a unified Christendom, so the historical narrative goes, Europe gained traction and replaced Christendom as the largest unit of collective allegiance by the beginning of the eighteenth century. This paper examines the conceptions of Europe and Christendom in the writings of two Calvinists who lived and suffered through the French Wars of Religion (c. 1562-98), Jean de Léry (1536-1613) and Théodore-Agrippa d'Aubigné (1536-1630). I ask what role the grand narratives of Christendom and Europe played in an era of religious and political fragmentation.

Léry's Histoire d'un voyage faict en la terre du Brésil (1578) - a personal account of his journey to the New World - explores the fragmentation of an individual caught between the competing loyalties of country and religion. D'Aubigné'sHistoire universelle (1618-20), a history of the religious conflicts of the late-sixteenth century, offers a portrayal of the world's geopolitical and religious fragmentations. In these texts the words 'Europe' and 'Christendom' are fluid, their definitions unfixed; they can be used interchangeably or distinctively, neutrally or emotionally. Both terms are at stake in a politics of language that would advance a particular confessional cause, Calvinism, at the expense of a larger Christian unity. With this synchronic approach, I aim to supplement existing linear accounts of the development of the idea of Europe by highlighting the varied and competing meanings of 'Europe' when the transition from Christendom was taking place. In doing so, I present a messier, more complex picture of the processes of conceptual change.

Contact for more information about this event.