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Speaker: Joanna Raisbeck (Oxford)

This paper re-examines the well-known fears about the ill effects – moral, physical, or otherwise – of aesthetic experience at the end of the eighteenth century. Pathological forms of reading (known polemically as 'Lesesucht' or 'Lesewut') became a particular object of fear, and this will be explored with a focus on texts that were written in the shadow of Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers. Such Wertheriaden did not only reproduce the narrative structure or characters of Goethe’s novel, but also thematised reading as a social practice, as is the case in Ernst August Anton von Göchhausen’s Das Werther-Fieber, ein unvollendetes Familienstück (1776), a prose work that is a satirical take on the idea of reading as a contagion. By interpreting these fictionalised social practices of reading alongside recent work on ideas of aesthetic attachment and what constitutes 'good' or 'bad' reading (Rita Felski, Merve Emre), the aim of the paper is to demonstrate the reciprocity between readers and novels – and to consider what agency is granted to readers of the sentimental novel.

This lecture will be held in person (Room G37, Senate House) and will be streamed live via Zoom. 

Attendance is free. Advance registration is essential.