Though anecdotal, one of the most vivid and tangible signs of the Little Ice Age which affected Europe between the 14th century and the middle of the 19th century is the frozen Thames, which became a recurrent sight around the turn of the 17th century (1564, 1595, 1608, 1621, 1635). The frost turned the Thames into a “wonder” and the magnitude of the cold, and its customary companions (ice, snow, fog, tempestuous winds turning into storms and blizzards), turned what may be qualified as a natural hazard into a natural disaster, both at home and in far-away places. This paper proposes to observe the frost in two radically different modes : the tragic mode of the Willoughby expedition in 1553-1554 in what turned out to be the first of a long list of Arctic disasters, and the carnivalesque and comical mode of The Great Frost : cold doings in London, published in 1608 and describing the Frost Fair on the Thames. The comparison highlights an unexpected proximity between the pamphlet and the genre of travel-writing: it shows how domestic and global concerns intersected in the local pamphlet and how the frost became the natural territory of British imperial expansion. The apocalyptic description of the frost highlights the ambivalence of the North which is both a living hell, the land of the dead, of silence and agony, and yet holds the promise of heaven on an economic level with its natural resources, and also more mystically as the country of eternal light.
Sophie Lemercier-Goddard (IHRIM, Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon)
Nicholas Hilliard’s Arte of Limning warns limners against the deleterious effect of “some ayers, especially […] the sulfirous ayre of seacole and the guilding of Gowldsmithes” on pigments. Besides showing Hilliard’s chemical understanding of the materials he used, his awareness of some pigments’ liability to discolouration and blackening tells us a great deal about both the London climate in the closing years of the 16th century and limners’ working conditions in and around Cheapside. I will be showing how Hilliard’s concern for the preservation of lustre in the disastrous London air ties in with a threefold environmental, aesthetic and social perspective.
Anne-Valérie Dulac (Sorbonne Université)
William Shakespeare’s King Lear and George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire are both built around a natural disaster imbued with multiple layers of meaning. The motto “winter is coming” in the fantasy saga literally announces an upcoming winter, which paves the way to the supernatural threat of the White Walkers, but also symbolizes the political crisis which destabilize the Seven Kingdoms. In King Lear, the storm can be read as Lear’s materialized tumultuous state of mind provoked by the disunification of both his kingdom and family. The semantic syllepsis of the saga and the polysemic storm thus act as the warning signs of the impending systemic collapse looming over the two crumbling worlds.
Since the multiple catastrophes destabilize the kingdom and lead to the downfall of the society, it opens the way to a collapsological reading of the two works. As collapsology has mostly studied the collapse of societies from a civilizational perspective, this paper aims at focusing on two fictional collapses and, therefore, on their literary construction. First, I will highlight the apocalyptic imagery of the collapse built around the entanglement between the natural, the supernatural and the political. Then, I will focus on the character’s rejection and denial of the warning signs announcing the collapse. Finally, among the numerous reactions regarding the downfall of society, some characters accept the warning and try to confront the upcoming collapse.
Vincent Martins (Université Clermont Auvergne)
This study (work in progress) seeks to trace the emergence of the multifarious concept of natural disaster in the burgeoning published science of the second half of the seventeenth century, particularly in the Royal Society’s innovative Philosophical Transactions.
Exploring how the Philosophical Transactions, as repositories of what we might call cutting-edge investigative practice, addressed the occurrence of events that are today labelled « extreme, » may be useful in generating a foil to parallel literary processes, allowing insight into potentially osmotic pressures, identifying – in terms of the representation of natural disaster – who or what informed whom and what, and how. Adopting 21st century benchmark definitions, however wide-ranging, of terms like “natural”, « extreme », and « disaster” and using these to conceptualize the emergence of the natural disaster concept in the Philosophical Transactions – might constitute methodological entry into the bulk of the archive. As well as considering the articles themselves, another data set may also be taken into account in literature-content analysis – the Philosophical Transactions were divided up into Volumes, and a Preface opened each of these. These prefaces could also then be discursive spaces in which concepts of extreme events, disaster and disturbance emerge.
For this Round Table discussion, in order to test these methodologies, I have focused on the first Volume of Transactions which covers the initial two-year period (1665-1666). Ensuing research would look at the emergence of the concept, in the above terms, in more than 350 years of material as the notion seemingly continues to lack semiotic cogency even today.
Sandhya Patel (Université Clermont Auvergne)
Following the latest catastrophic acqua alta in November 2019 and the current Covid-19 pandemic, Venice effectively provides a mirror to the world when it comes to natural disasters. Coping with natural calamities is a challenge the city has been facing since its foundation. This paper will be dealing with the representation of flooding and plague from an early modern British perspective and study to what extent these events participate in the cultural perception of Venice. How is the City-state’s management of these disasters analysed or imagined? The representation of the City’s resilience will be looked at through the prism of travellers’ accounts, histories, and fictional works. Starting with a lexical overview of key words, this paper argues that British authors predominantly reproduced the lagoon mythology created by Venetian historiographers. Natural disasters are mainly seen through the lens of social and political contexts rather than the contemporary scientific debates. It further considers how fictional discourses explore Biblical, metaphorical or satirical narratives allowing insights into the City’s various strategies of survival.
Anne Geoffroy (Université Versailles Saint Quentin)