Public Lecture – Ugly Meanings in Beautiful Things

Ugly Meanings in Beautiful Things: Reading and Desire in Fin-de-Siècle Fiction 
31 January, 18:15 to 19:15, Elvet Riverside 140, Dr Simon J James (Durham University)
A public lecture in The Persistence of Beauty Lecture Series.

This lecture series is organised by the Romantic Dialogues and Legacies research group in Durham’s Department of English Studies, and supported by the University’s Institute of Advanced Study.

What might it mean to speak or write in words, of beauty, especially physical beauty? Is to do so always redundant, since beauty itself is beyond the power of language to depict? Is it the case that the literary arts can only ever portray not beauty itself but the effect of beauty? – whether awe, ecstasy, sexual desire….

The aesthetics of Oscar Wilde sought to celebrate the artificiality of beauty, severing the Romantic connection of the beautiful from the good on the one side, and the true on the other. This lecture will focus mostly on the first of Wilde’s legal trials, in which his opponents sought to find unspeakably ‘ugly meanings’ in the ‘beautiful things’ of his literary works.

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