London Modernism Seminar: Science, 8 Feb 2020

The next London Modernism Seminar will the place on Saturday 8 February, 11.00-13.00 at King’s College London, Room S0.12 in the Strand Building.

The theme of the seminar is Science and we’re delighted to have Cleo Hanaway-Oakley and Rachel Murray as our speakers. More details about their talks can be found below. Everyone is welcome to attend and there is no need to pre-book a place.

You can find directions to the venue here:


Cleo Hanaway-Oakley, ‘a most curious look towards the red light’: Colour Blindness across the Victorian-Modernist Divide

In 1891 Thomas H. Bickerton, a leading ophthalmologist, declared: ‘COLOUR-BLINDNESS has now passed from the category of ailments denominated interesting, and is recognized as a visual infirmity the importance of which cannot be over’. Indeed, during the late-19th and early-20th centuries, non-normative colour vision acted as a keystone in discussions on economics, public safety, employment, medicine, philosophy, anthropology, and genetics.

This multifaceted fascination with colour vision is reflected, in various ways, across the literature of the period. Dickens’ and Conrad’s texts engage, albeit indirectly, with debates about shipping and railway accidents – with Conrad also alluding to ‘primitive’ colour vision. Woolf’s and Joyce’s considerations are more abstracted, but they continue some of the earlier discussions surrounding colour vision’s connection to knowledge, language, power, and other senses.
By discussing canonical modernists alongside writers on the margins of modernism, as well as those usually labelled ‘Victorian’, this paper demonstrates how colour vision caught the attention of different writers in different ways. As well as analysing literary texts, I will be drawing upon research conducted as part of my fellowship at the Science Museum, London. Blending object-based research, historical study, and literary analysis, I am starting to investigate the changing cultural status and signification of colour blindness, c. 1860-1940.

Dr Cleo Hanaway-Oakley is Lecturer in Liberal Arts and English at the University of Bristol. She is also a Science Museum Research Associate and Membership Secretary for the British Association for Modernist Studies. Her first monograph, ‘James Joyce and the Phenomenology of Film’, was published by Oxford University Press in 2017. She is currently working on a new book-project provisionally entitled ‘Multifocal Modernism: Literature and Non-normative Vision’.

Rachel Murray, ‘Modernism and the Insect Body’

From the carapaced figures of Wyndham Lewis’s war paintings to the human swarms of D. H. Lawrence’s interwar fiction, modernism teems with entomological imagery. Identifying a shared fascination with the aesthetic possibilities of the insect body, my paper will propose that this order of life can shed new light on modernism’s formal innovations, its engagement with key socio-political concerns, as well as its questioning of the boundaries of the human.

Rachel Murray is a postdoctoral research fellow at Loughborough University. Her book, ‘The Modernist Exoskeleton: Insects, War, Literary Form’, will be published by Edinburgh University Press in April 2020.