Seminar in Dissenting Studies, the Lecture Hall, Dr Williams’s Library, 14 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0AR. All are welcome.
Wednesday 14 January 2015 5.15 to 6.45 pm
Felicity James (Leicester), ‘Writing the Lives of Dissent: Community, Biography, and Historiography in Late Eighteenth-Century Rational Dissent’
Can we use the term ‘community’ in relation to a disparate religious group such as Rational Dissenters – lacking a unifying creed, drawn from a range of backgrounds and often professing different and sometimes contradictory theological beliefs? This talk explores the ways in which Dissenters may have nourished a collective identity, particularly through their life-writing practices. Through biography, autobiography, familial memoir, and conversion narratives, I argue, they sought to construct a story of Dissent and a sense of community across time and place. The paper will discuss specific examples including the MS biography of Theophilus Lindsey, written by his wife, and some narratives surrounding Essex Street Chapel. In particular, I want to think about how Lindsey’s story of secession and exile might shed further light on the complicated narratives of Dissenting culture in the late eighteenth century, and the development of a Unitarian identity through the nineteenth century.
Felicity James teaches eighteenth and nineteenth century literature at the University of Leicester; her research focuses on sociability, friendship and creative exchange amongst writers, and, most recently, on life-writing. Her publications include Charles Lamb, Coleridge and Wordsworth: Reading Friendship in the 1790s (Palgrave, 2008) and Religious Dissent and the Aikin-Barbauld Circle, 1740 to 1860 (Cambridge, 2011) co-edited with Prof. Ian Inkster, which arose from a day conference at Dr Williams’ Library. She is working on a monograph on life-writing by women connected with Rational Dissent, and is also one of the editors of the new Collected Works of Charles and Mary Lamb, to be published by OUP in 2018. She will be speaking at Community and its Limits, 1745-1832 at Leeds, 4-6 September 2015, and is organising a conference Writing Lives Together: Romantic and Victorian Biography, to be held in Leicester on 18 September 2015, which would welcome papers on any aspect of collaborative/community life-writing in the period, and particularly those with a focus on religious Dissent.
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