Writing and Society Centre member Dr Chris Fleming on Conspiracy Theories

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Our Next Seminar

The Writing & Society Research Centre at the University of Western Sydney
warmly invites you to 

Lana Starkey on Essay and Character in England 1600-1750

Friday 1 August
11.00am -12.30pm
Building 3.G.55, Bankstown Campus, UWS

My paper examines the emergence of a distinctively sceptical outlook in the seventeenth-century English essay. In particular, I will explore a number of authors who found religious zeal problematic. I will argue that these writers, from Francis Bacon to Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, tended to regard religious enthusiasm sceptically, and that they found the essay a fit genre in which to articulate these doubts. I will explore to what extent the essay in this period may have evolved a distinctive rhetoric, style, and topoi, and also to what extent it owed its English form to Francis Bacon via Michel de Montaigne and Nicolò Machiavelli.

I will also address the relationship of the essay genre to biography and character in the seventeenth century. In particular, I will explore the effect the sceptical essay had on the writing of lives and plays. I will argue that characters at this time emerge not as a series of exemplary figures but as figures exploring a number of particular moral paths. As such, characters 'lives', like Montaigne's essays, are works-in-progress, as no life is without some inner contradiction or complexity. Like the essay, the writings of characters or lives need to be read as an experiment in an overall enterprise of self-making. Seventeenth century character writers then, were preoccupied with personal freedom and self-direction.    

Lana Starkey is a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland working on genre and forms of writing in Seventeenth century England.

View the 2014 seminar program.

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