The History of Emotion – with Rachel Hewitt
A vivid and absorbing account of revolution, utopianism and the dramatic end of the Enlightenment.
In the 1790s, Britain underwent what the politician Edmund Burke called ‘the most important of all revolutions…a revolution in sentiments’. Inspired by the French Revolution, British radicals concocted new political worlds to enshrine healthier, more productive, human emotions and relationships. The Enlightenment’s wildest hopes crested in the utopian projects of such optimists – including the young poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the philosophers William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, the physician Thomas Beddoes and the first photographer Thomas Wedgwood – who sought to reform sex, education, commerce, politics and medicine by freeing desire from repressive constraints.
But by the middle of the decade, the wind had changed. The French Revolution descended into bloody Terror and the British government quashed radical political activities. In the space of one decade, feverish optimism gave way to bleak disappointment and changed the way we think about human need and longing.
A Revolution of Feeling is a vivid and absorbing account of the dramatic end of the Enlightenment, the beginning of an emotional landscape preoccupied by guilt, sin, failure, resignation, and repression, and the origins of our contemporary approach to feeling and desire. Above all, it is the story of the human cost of political change, of men and women consigned to the ‘wrong side of history’. But although their revolutionary proposals collapsed, that failure resulted in its own cultural revolution – a revolution of feeling – the aftershocks of which are felt to the present day.
‘Remarkably ambitious… An exhilarating journey through the 1790s’ – Guardian
‘[A] vivid and convincing new interpretation of the revolutionary decade’ — BBC History
Part of the City of Literature programme at Norfolk & Norwich Festival.
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This event is captioned and BSL-interpreted.
About Rachel Hewitt
Rachel Hewitt is a writer and academic. She has written the award-winning Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey (Granta, 2010), and articles for publications including the Guardian, Telegraph, Financial Times and New Statesman. She reviews for, among others, the Guardian and TLS, and has appeared on the BBC’s Coast and Timeshift programmes. She was a New Generation Thinker for the AHRC and BBC Radio 3; a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow; and she won the Royal Society of Literature Jerwood Prize for Non-Fiction for Map of a Nation. Rachel is the Weinrebe Research Fellow in Life-Writing at the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing, at the University of Oxford, where she also teaches English Literature. She is a life Common Room member of Wolfson College, Oxford. She lives in London with her partner, three children and cat. Website
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