2017 Programme

Saturday 21st January Frances Wilson spoke to us on

‘Opium, Murder, and the Fine Art of Biography’ in Woodstock Town Hall

Thomas de Quincy, enfant terrible of British Romanticism, is literature’s most famous junkie. He was addicted to opium, but also to Wordsworth and Coleridge whom he stalked before worming his way into their lives. His doomed relationship with the two men is encoded in his satirical essay 'On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts' where he describes murderers as poets. Conversely, his scandalous 'Recollections of Wordsworth and Coleridge' imply that they are murderers.

Frances Wilson, the prize-winning biographer, will take you into the dark heart of Thomas de Quincy and explain why he invented us all.

Saturday 25th February Peter Kemp spoke to us on

‘Kazuo Ishiguro’ in Woodstock Town Hall

Kazuo Ishiguro, who won the Booker prize for fiction in 1989, is one of our most popular and sometimes puzzling novelists. This talk will offer an overview of his work with particular attention to three outstanding novels: An Artist of the Floating World (1986); The Remains of the Day (1989); Never Let Me Go (2005).

Peter Kemp is the former chief fiction editor at The Sunday Times, and continues to write, lecture, and broadcast as a critic. He has interviewed Kazuo Ishiguro at the Cheltenham Literary Festival.

Wednesday 22nd March Sally Bayley spoke to us on

‘The Private Life of the Diary: from Pepys to tweets’ in Woodstock Library

This talk will offer a history of the diary as an art form. It traces the origin of the diary to the 17th century naval administrator, Samuel Pepys, and continues to Virginia Woolf. Famous diarists include James Boswell, Anne Frank, Sylvia Plath, and Alan Clark. Sally Bayley will examine the importance of writing and reflection as a means of forging identity. She mourns the loss of the diary as an acutely private form of writing.

Dr Sally Bayley is a Teaching and Research Fellow of the Rothermere American Institute, Oxford University, and a lecturer in English at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford.

Thursday 20th April Michele Mendelssohn spoke to us on

‘The Making of Oscar Wilde’ in Woodstock Town Hall

This talk will relate the untold history of how one of the world’s most iconic authors fashioned myths around himself and had myths imposed upon him by others. We will learn how in less than a decade the ugly duckling from Dublin learnt the art of swanning, in Oxford, London and New York. New light will be shed for us on the dark and decadent 19th century. Based on a decade of research, this talk will reveal a new Oscar Wilde.

Michele Mendelssohn is an Associate Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford and Deputy Director of the Rothermere American Institute.

Thursday 18th May Emma Smith spoke to us on

‘From Groundlings to Grandees: How Theatre went Up-market’ in Woodstock Town Hall

Who went to Shakespeare’s plays when they were first performed? Emma Smith will discuss recent research on audiences and the changing social and cultural dynamics of this period.

The impact of the move to indoor theatres such as Blackfriars both on the type of plays written and on the make-up of their audiences, is high on the current critical agenda following the recent opening of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Emma Smith will discuss what we have learnt from these new/old theatrical spaces, and the impact on such playwrights as Shakespeare, Middleton, and Webster.

Professor Emma Smith is a Fellow of Hertford College, University of Oxford. Her most recent publication is 'Shakespeare’s First Folio: Four Centuries of an Iconic Book' (OUP 2016).

Wednesday 14th June Michael Harrison spoke to us on

‘Oxford Detectives’ in the Woodstock Library

(Our Summer Party with complimentary drinks will precede the talk at 7.30pm)

Why is Oxford known as the home of lost corpses? From Ronald Knox’s 'Footsteps at the Lock' (1928) detective novels have bloomed in Oxford with at least 175 having an Oxford connection. Some are unreadable, and some are brilliant (Ian Pears’s 'An Instance of the Fingerpost', 1975); some are funny (Robert Robinson’s 'Landscape with Dead Dons', 1956); some are tragic (J.C. Masterman’s 'An Oxford Tragedy', 1933) and Michael Dibdin’s 'Dirty Tricks' (1991) was a sustained attack on Thatcher’s Britain. Michael Harrison has produced children’s fiction, poetry, and anthologies for OUP.

Saturday 23rd September Alexandra Harris spoke to us on

‘Weatherland’ in The Oxfordshire Museum, Woodstock

Writers and artists across the centuries, looking up at the skies and walking in the same brisk air, have felt very different things. ‘Weatherland’ describes cultural climates on the move. The Anglo-Saxons lived in a wintry world, writing about the coldness of exile; the Middle Ages brought the warmth of spring and new lyrics were sung in praise of blossoms and cuckoos.

It is hard to find a description of a rainy night before 1700; but the Romantics will take a squall as a fit subject for their most probing thoughts. In this highly original illustrated talk, Alexandra Harris will range widely through the centuries from the Anglo-Saxon ‘The Wanderer’ to Jane Austen, pausing on her way to consider the rise of English landscape painting.

Dr Harris teaches English literature at the University of Liverpool. Previous books include Romantic Moderns and Virginia Woolf.

On Tuesday 24th October Rosamund Bartlett spoke to us on

‘Russian Literature and the 1917 Revolution’ in Woodstock Town Hall

This talk will consider the theme of revolution in Russian literature. After looking at how the great 19th century realists Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Turgenev anticipated the end of Tsarist power in their novels, we will explore how Chekhov exploded the short story and play-writing forms, and how the events of 1917 affected all Russian writers from Akhmatova to Mayakovsky.

Dr Bartlett is a writer, scholar, and translator, the author of 'Wagner in Russia' and of acclaimed biographies of Tolstoy and Chekhov. Her many translations from the Russian include Tolstoy’s 'Anna Karenina' (Oxford World Classics 2014).

On Saturday 25th November David Grylls spoke to us on

‘Thomas Hardy, the Novelist’ in Woodstock Town Hall

Between 1871 and 1895 Thomas Hardy published a series of novels that transformed English fiction. Combining tragic plots with social criticism, they made his native ‘Wessex’ famous. But uniquely among the great English novelists, Hardy was also a great poet and his use of description - symbolic, ominous - was a crucial part of his appeal. This lecture will look at his life and work, concentrating on three masterpieces: 'The Mayor of Casterbridge'; 'Tess of the d’Urbervilles'; and 'Jude the Obscure'.

Dr Grylls is a Fellow of Kellogg College, Oxford, and the author of books on Dickens and George Gissing.