Epiphanies in Literature, from the New Testament to Philip Larkin Event

Epiphanies in Literature, from the New Testament to Philip Larkin

14th August 2020 from 1-2pm

Zoom: Lunchtime lecture

In Western Christianity, epiphany refers to the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child. The Feast of the Epiphany, on January 6, commemorates Jesus’ Incarnation. In common usage, an epiphany is a sudden understanding: Archimedes’ bathtub, Newton's apple. And in literature, epiphanies are moments of culminating beauty, when some apparent insignificance helps us recognise the truth. Poems exist to lead us to epiphany.

It was not always so. Romanticism started it. In ‘The Prelude’ (1850), Wordsworth sought revelation in everyday life; he called such experiences “spots of time.” Proust’s “souvenir involontaire” is a similar notion, as are Joyce’s “sudden spiritual manifestations,” as are Woolf’s “moments of being.” Each brings about an enigmatic hint, perhaps of something divine.

This Lunchtime Lecture by Luke Maxted, will ask what poetry was for in the centuries preceding the late-eighteenth. It will ponder why this pseudo-religious tendency in literature emerged alongside a burgeoning secularism. And, with reference to the poetry of John Keats and Philip Larkin, it will consider why these moments of ecstasy and sublimity are so often expressed using negative grammar. Since Romanticism, has revelation come hand-in-hand with sadness?

Luke Maxted has been teaching in the English Department at Latymer since 2017. Before he joined LUS, Luke worked as a Policy Adviser under George Osborne and wrote book reviews for the Times Literary Supplement. In October, he will begin writing a D.Phil. at Balliol College, Oxford, the thesis of which is the subject of his Lunchtime Lecture.

Free to register with a suggested donation of £10 towards the Upper School Bursaries Appeal.

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