CFP: Intoxication, Desire, and Fiction, 1850-1950

A one day conference co-hosted by the University of Leeds and City University of Hong Kong

Location: School of English, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
Date: Monday 22 July 2015

In 1889, the British moral crusading organisation The National Vigilance Association set out its ideological objections to sexually-suggestive fiction. ‘Pernicious literature’, it claimed, was now ‘a ready and abundant feast spread before’ the nation’s youth, in which ‘every draught of wine is drugged, and no true thirst quenched’. Forty years later, The Sunday Express critic James Douglas notoriously damned Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928) in similar terms, deeming it ‘palatable poison’. While condemning writing about sexuality, both censors evinced an important element of the cultural construction of fiction in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century: that novelists, and novel-readers, were ‘under the influence’. The provocative correlation between intoxication, desire, and fiction animates the work of writers including Arthur Conan Doyle, the Brontë sisters, Bram Stoker, Robert Louis Stevenson, James Joyce, Evelyn Waugh, Truman Capote, Ian Fleming, and Jean Rhys. In the century from 1850 to 1950, the glamour of intoxication was regularly countered by narratives of abjection and catastrophe, echoing the social, medical, and legal attempts to define and regulate both desire and intemperance.

This one-day conference will consider the connections between intoxication, sexuality and fiction between 1850 and 1950. We seek papers investigating how the act of writing a novel–and the experience of reading it–might be experienced as altered states, by authors, readers, reviewers and censors. Topics might include, but are not limited to:

• intersections between intoxication, desire and creativity
• representations of creative inspiration and exuberance in literary coteries
• constructions of reading as a process modelled on compulsion and craving
• representations of drunkenness and drug-use in fiction
• Orientalism, decadence, and intoxication
• the association between psychoanalysis and psychotropic drugs
• relationships between sexually-frank writing and ‘demoralisation’
• the implications of intoxication on the novel’s aesthetics and form
• the pathologising of overlapping figures: the ‘addict’, the ‘homosexual’, the ‘writer’.

The organisers intend this conference to begin a conversation resulting in the publication of a collection of essays for a journal special edition or book collection. Delegates are invited to consider their conference paper proposal as the beginning of a longer work for publication.

Abstracts of 300 words should be submitted by 20 April 2015 to both conference organisers:
Katy Mullin, University of Leeds (
Allan Johnson, City University of Hong Kong (