Annonce de publication

Écrire la catastrophe. L’Angleterre à l’épreuve des éléments (XVIe-XVIIIe siècles).

Sous la direction de Sophie Chiari

Parution le 14 novembre 2019 aux Presses Universitaires Blaise Pascal [cliquez ici]

De par sa situation insulaire, l’Angleterre n’a cessé de s’approprier les récits des catastrophes naturelles qui ont façonné son histoire pour se forger une identité́ poétique qui lui est propre et affirmer une sensibilité particulière aux phénomènes extrêmes. Cet ouvrage se propose d’explorer la première modernité anglaise (XVIe – XVIIIe siècles), époque du « petit âge glaciaire » où l’écriture du moi l’emporte peu à peu sur l’écriture du nous, à travers le prisme de catastrophes naturelles vécues ou fantasmées par les dramaturges, les poètes, les théologiens, les philosophes et les explorateurs de la période.

Entre mathématisation du monde et reconstruction du réel, l’écriture de la catastrophe participe autant d’une volonté de résilience que d’un désir de mise en scène, comme le montrent les treize chapitres du livre : les récits d’événements hors-normes sont tous soigneusement construits et contribuent à unir une contrée en proie à des tensions religieuses et à une forte instabilité politique. Il s’agit pour les écrivains de dépasser la terreur suscitée par les inondations, les vents violents, les tremblements de terre et le froid glacial, afin de promouvoir une vision sociale prônant l’entraide et une réflexion sur la manière dont foi et science peuvent se nourrir l’une l’autre, sans oublier de mettre en avant l’image d’une Angleterre endurante et conquérante.

Cette poétique du cataclysme permet en outre de mettre en lumière les rapports que les contemporains de Shakespeare, de Bacon ou de Cook entretenaient avec une Nature désenchantée et progressivement muée en « environnement ». Plus encore, elle nous conduit à mieux comprendre comment et pourquoi l’avènement de l’Anthropocène, ère géologique qui correspond au moment où les effets de l’activité humaine ont véritablement commencé à modifier notre écosystème, est situé par certains climatologues au début du xviie siècle.

Continuer la lecture

Tending One’s Own Garden: Husbandry, Weather Lore and Prognostication in Early Modern England

Julie Van Parys-Rotondi (Université Clermont Auvergne)

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In his Essays, Civil and Moral, Francis Bacon (1561–1626) offers the following insight into gardening: “GOD ALMIGHTY first planted a garden. And indeed it is the purest of human pleasures[1]”. Both a pleasure and, when it comes to agriculture, a necessity, this earthly practice was and still is strongly dependent on meteorological conditions, at the time believed to be controlled by God’s hand. Accurate weather predictions, crop preservation and protection techniques remained largely unknown to the farmer of the early modern period, whose crops were often destroyed by natural disasters. Whether they originated from the sky in the diverse forms of storms or frost, depending on the season, or from the ground, carried by pests and diseases, disasters were seen as a form of divine punishment, or trial by ordeal. Indeed, the failure of a crop was considered as the expression of divine desire and wrath, since undeserving sinful men and women would be punished by having to cope with the hardships and outcomes of the disasters themselves. With the increasing abundance of publications dealing with topics unrelated to religious matters, such as almanacs, which offered information regarding tide and moon cycles, a plethora of inexpensive pamphlets as well as more thorough volumes started to circulate massively during the Renaissance. Books dedicated to husbandry[2], intended for farmers and gardeners, started to circulate, proving instrumental in dealing with specific agricultural issues. They offered a range of gardening techniques, weather predictions and recipes for potions to encourage growth or eradicate pests. Although the level of interest in the matter would not match the level of scientific understanding, advice was based on experience and observation, adopting a deeply didactic format known as weather lore[3]. With an absence of efficient air and pressure measuring tools, prognostication based on practical knowledge only was an accepted method of weather prediction and would also play a key role in the organization of time throughout the farming year. To that end, each season, following a regular pattern, was mostly dictated by proverbs, beliefs and superstition. Though people accepted the postulate that it was impossible and ungodly to prevent disasters, they would offer observations, remedies and advice first orally, then in written form. Continuer la lecture

The Renaissance commonplace of the storm at sea: Rabelais, Camoes and Shakespeare

Jonathan Pollock (Université de Perpignan Via Domitia)

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This paper will attempt to reconsider the topos of the tempest as portrayed in the writings of the 16th and early 17th centuries as an archetypal figure of the unexpected event which befalls mere mortals and about which they can do very little. Such a chance event can be neither anticipated nor mastered : by subjecting its victims to the possibility of imminent death, it exposes the very core of human nature. What then is the right attitude to adopt in the face of such overwhelming natural and (perhaps) supernatural power ? Action or prayer? And to whom should the prayers be addressed? The onus is placed on the response of the suffering subject. Rabelais (in the Quart Livre), Camoes (in Os Lusiadas) and Shakespeare (in The Tempest) all expoit the topos as a means of delineating character. However the religious dimension – and especially the conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism – is never far from the surface: the virtues of a true Christian are never more apparent than during a storm at sea.

Phytophthora Infestans , European Famines and heritage.

Laurence Gouriévidis (Université Clermont Auvergne)

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In the middle of the 19thC, a fungal pathogen, phytophthora Infestans, commonly known as potato blight, wreaked havoc in Europe, recurrently decimating potato crops between 1845 and 1850. It caused untold misery on those populations that had come to rely on few food crops other than the potato, such as, in the British Isles, the Irish and the inhabitants of the Western Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

In Ireland, its effects were frighteningly devastating, resulting in severe population decline due to a heavy death toll and emigration. The very wording of this sentence, however, implies a direct causal link between this fungal disease and the human misery that ensued. If the emergence of the blight in Europe led to scientific debates as to the cause of the disease[1], even more intense were the subsequent debates that surrounded the British government’s decisions regarding the management of the crisis. In such arguments, the responsibility of the British government during the crisis dovetailed with issues concerning the causes of the socio-economic vulnerability of peasant communities who had become so highly dependent on the potato as a staple food, the consumption of which had sustained their demographic growth. Continuer la lecture

Frankenstein’s Creature, a Natural ‘Catastrophe’?

Anne Rouhette (Université Clermont Auvergne)

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Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein refers to the long-awaited awakening of his creature as a ‘catastrophe[1]’, a term which echoes his famous description of an oak tree completely destroyed by lighting only a few pages before (‘the catastrophe of this tree[2]’). The word recurs a third and last time at the end of the novel as Walton is about to relate his encounter with the creature over Victor’s body: ‘the tale which I have recorded would be incomplete without this final and wonderful catastrophe[3].’ The meaning of the word evolves and circulates among these three quotations, from the natural (but not only) connotations in the first occurrence to the literary sense of the last, which crowns the ‘tale’ that the narrative of Frankenstein constitutes. How are we then to understand the second occurrence of ‘catastrophe’? Focusing on Shelley’s three uses of this term, this paper aims at exploring the interplay between the natural and the artificial in Frankenstein, wondering what sort of a ‘catastrophe” its creature might be. Continuer la lecture

Storms, Tempests, and ‘visions of romance’: Jane Austen and the weather

Katie Halsey, University of Stirling

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In the late spring and early summer of 1816, Jane Austen was at work revising the manuscript of ‘Susan’ (which would become Northanger Abbey). She was also writing her final completed novel Persuasion, completed on 6 August of that year.  In that extraordinary year without a summer (so-called because of the peculiar climactic conditions that caused heavy rains and average global temperatures to plummet, resulting in failed harvests across Europe and severe famine in parts of Ireland), Jane Austen was therefore working on two novels in which weather plays a central and key part. While this historical correspondence may be no more than coincidental, in this paper I would like to consider the ways in which Austen uses key scenes of stormy weather to structure both novels. Beginning with the storm scenes in Northanger Abbey, which Austen deploys to illuminate her heroine’s metaphorical coming of age, as she moves from viewing the world through the prism of Gothic melodrama to a more sober and empirically-determined understanding of human beings, I will then turn to the topic of rain in Persuasion in order to demonstrate the extent to which rainy weather regularly dictates crucial plot developments in that novel.

Between the earth and a hard place : John Ray’s inquiry into the dissolution of the world in Miscellaneous Discourses (1692)

Mickaël Popelard (Université de Caen Normandie)

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As a fellow of the Royal Society and the author of several botanical treatises, including the Methodus plantarum nova (1682) and the three volumes of the Historia generalis plantarum (1686, 1688, 1704), John Ray (1627-1705) is sometimes presented as « the father of natural history » (as his blue plaque in Black Notley, Essex, proudly proclaims). But he is also the author of the Miscellaneous Discourses, a curious book in which he combines biblical scholarship and natural philosophical reasoning to inquire into the future dissolution of the world. That the world will come to an end, no man can deny. It is a belief shared by both the ancient philosophers and the doctors of the Church. Yet, Ray also argues that this should not necessarily concern us since the world will not be « annihilated or destroyed » but « only renewed and purified ». In this presentation I will aim at showing how Ray distances himself from Baconian philosophy by using the book of God’s word (i.e. divinity) to study the book of God’s works (i.e. philosophy). But I also propose to analyse Ray’s thorough inquiry into the dissolution of the world from a more phenomenological perspective by focusing on his remarkably comprehensive catalogue of possible natural disasters – a catalogue ranging from landslides and flooding to the « extinction of the sun », and from « the eruption of the central fire » to « the dryness of the earth in the torrid zone ».