The Oak and The Acorns: Recovering the Hidden Carlyle

July 6-8, 2016

To be held at

The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH)

Oxford University



“It is an idle question to ask whether his books will be read a century hence: if they were all burnt as the grandest of Suttees on his funeral-pile, it would only be like cutting down an oak after its acorns have sown a forest. For there is hardly a superior or active mind of this generation that has not been modified by Carlyle’s writings; there has hardly been an English book written for the last ten or twelve years that would not have been different if Carlyle had not lived.” 

George Eliot, “Thomas Carlyle” (1855)


Several generations read the works of Thomas Carlyle with surprise, awe, inspiration, fervor, excitement, and occasionally anger—and they went on to shape the rest of the 19th century and much of the 20th century with the words and prophecies of Carlyle embedded in their politics, philosophy, art, literature, history, and ideals for a better world.


Some of these impacts would have pleased Carlyle; others would have greatly surprised him, and a few, perhaps, would have dismayed him.  But for good and ill, Carlyle left an impact that in some ways is hard to see because it is so deeply pervasive.


This conference aims to retrieve that hidden Carlyle, and to recognize how he served, and continues to serve, as a bedrock of far-ranging ideals for several generations of readers and admirers.


For this conference, we invite proposals that explore the rich diversity of where Carlyle lies hidden in the vision and hopes of eminent Victorians, Edwardians, and Modernists throughout England, Scotland, Ireland, Europe, and across the ocean in America and beyond.  Because Jane Welsh Carlyle had a similar effect on the readers of her letters, both in her lifetime and afterwards, we also invite proposals that address her continuing influence as well.


We especially welcome papers that delineate how the reception of Carlyle’s works shaped critical movements in politics, art, historiography, literature, including (among many):




Muscular Christianity

The Gospel of Work

Pre-Raphaelite Art

The New Biography


Young Ireland/Irish Nationalism



We also welcome papers that explore individual figures from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and their relation to the writings of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle.  A short list of significant figures influenced by the Carlyles includes:


Charles Dickens

John Stuart Mill

Karl Marx and Frederic Engels

Benjamin Disraeli

George Eliot

Erasmus and Charles Darwin

James Anthony Froude

Leslie Stephen

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Robert Browning

Elizabeth Barrett-Browning

William Morris

John Ruskin

Lady Jane “Speranza” Wilde

Oscar Wilde

W.E.B. DuBois

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Margaret Fuller

Henry David Thoreau

Friedrich Nietzsche

Virginia Woolf

James Joyce


Conference website:


Proposals of no more than 500 words, along with short CV, should be sent by February 15, 2016 to:

Marylu Hill (Villanova University):


Paul E. Kerry (Oxford/BYU):