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Changeable Conditions: British Writing about the Weather

Changeable Conditions: British Writing about the Weather
73 Queen's Park, Northrop Frye Hall room 113
Time: Feb 9th, 11:00 am End: Feb 9th, 1:00 pm
Interest Categories: History (FAS), Historical Studies (UTM), Historical and Cultural Studies (UTSC), Environment, English and Drama (UTM), English (UTSC), English (FAS), Critical Theory, Comparative Literature (FAS), 1500-1800
Lecture by Morgan Vanek, Northrop Frye Centre Fellow

The Northrop Frye Centre is pleased to present:

Morgan Vanek, Northrop Frye Centre Fellow

Changeable Conditions: British Writing about the Weather, 1700-1795

Writing for The Humourist in 1720, Thomas Gordon observed, with some anxiety, a “remarkable Sympathy between a human spirit and the Weather” that threatened to undermine both reason and ethics: “we cannot bear,” he declares, “to have our best Thoughts in Poetry…or our Speeches in the House of Commons [owing] to a cool Walk in the Garden.” Gordon’s anxiety was not uncommon among writers of the early eighteenth century – but by 1771, Tobias Smollett would tell a different story. In The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, “weather-beaten” bodies – bodies drenched with rain or shivering with cold – appear not to mark the limits of human agency, but rather to call the reader to action: these bodies, marked by bad weather, appear wherever Smollett’s protagonists identify a city or scene that could be governed more efficiently, often asserting his characters’ right to intervene to keep the most brutal effects of the weather under better control.
How, in the space of fifty years, did weather turn from a force that governs the mind and marks the body into a force that could be mitigated by more forward-thinking governance? How, during a period of massive imperial expansion, does this shift in thinking affirm the changing political and economic priorities of the British empire? Tracking the change in writing about the weather in the fifty years before the beginning of the Anthropocene (or the period in which the human species began to leave its indelible mark on the geological history of the planet), this lecture will explore how eighteenth-century writers leverage the threat of environmental influence at once to justify a British right to govern all over the world – and to establish the limited view of human agency that continues to underpin contemporary debate about the reality of anthropogenic climate change.
All are welcome! Please contact nfc@utoronto.ca for more information and to RSVP.

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