«  RenaissanceS »

CFP atelier couplé: Société d’Études Anglaises Contemporaines (SEAC) / The Journal of the Short Story in English

Even as literature and the arts of the 20th century were setting new horizons for creation, they often engaged in an inventive dialogue with the Renaissance period. From the end of the 19th century to the early 21st century, the period has offered a rich reservoir of texts, historical subjects, interrogations and experiences that have been rewritten across the centuries to constitute part of the organic fabric of literature and the arts. 

The influence of the Renaissance has taken many forms, from direct intertextual references to less identifiable traces. In most cases however, the Renaissance has, as expected, been read as the founding moment of our humanist model, as well as the matrix of an individualism that has been endlessly reassessed without being radically disqualified. This explains the return of modernist and contemporary writers to a period that works as an allegorical mirror for current interrogations. Virginia Woolf sets the early moments of her historical fantasy, Orlando (1928) during the Elizabethan period, to better ground her exploration of identity fashioning in an age that was both foundational of individualism and already harboured dissenting views of what constitutes selfhood. Lytton Strachey also understood the extraordinary potential of the period which he reinvented in Elizabeth and Essex (also published in 1928). Today, the Renaissance has enjoyed a renewal of interest, both in the field of historical fiction (see Peter Ackroyd’s fantasised reinvention of Renaissance occultism in The house of Doctor Dee [1993], or Jeanette Winterson’s own take on Renaissance expansionism in Sexing the Cherry [1989]), popular culture, life-writing as well as more experimental artistic forms (see Martin Crimp and George Benjamin’s reappropriation of Marlowe’s Edward II, in their latest collaboration, the opera Lessons in Love and Violence [2018]).  

On the other side of the Atlantic, the term Renaissance has been used to describe books released by major authors in the middle of the 19th century, a period during which the short story established itself through magazine publications. Major authors produced work they felt inferior to their longer endeavors but some of them started reflecting, as Poe famously did, on the art of the short story, writing almost exclusively short forms (poems and short stories). This “Renaissance” is closely related to the renewal of American letters, to the exploration of the American space and the American psyche. Critics then located a “lesser” Renaissance in the 1920s, in the cultural boom that followed WWI. There again, the short story imposed itself with such writers as Cather, Anderson, Fitzgerald, Toomer or Boyle, who were influenced by the emerging modernist movement developing in Europe. For some short story writers, Europe also appears as the locus for renaissance—Henry James, Constance Fenimore Woolson, Edith Wharton, and later John Cheever and Elizabeth Spencer all spent time in the Old World and made their characters reflect on their identity.

“RenaissanceS” can thus refer to experiment both in form and content. The term should be read as a metaphor for aesthetic renewal and reinvention. The short-story and 20th and 21st century English literature have often revisited past forms in order to self-reflexively explore the mecanisms of fiction-making and the ideological economy of representation. One should however distinguish between the revival of past forms and parody, although parody may constitute one of the chosen instruments of aesthetic revival. The renaissance of pastoral poetry in the 20th century, as well as that of gothic fiction, or of utopian writing in feminist fiction, testify to the creative potential of looking back in order to invent the literature to come and to critically embrace the present.

The workshop organised jointly by the Société d’Études Anglaises Contemporaines (SEAC) and by the Journal of the Short Story in English welcomes proposals that will address the category of the “RenaissanceS” from an intertextual perspective as well as contributions exploring the history and critical rationale of aesthetic renaissance. Contributors may also turn to the philosophical and theoretical legacy of the Renaissance, whether it be in the form of a critical humanism — for instance in the permanence of dystopian fiction since the 1940s —, or in the deconstruction of travel or discovery narratives. Choosing to revive past forms or subjects is thus more than playful. It allows modern and contemporary art and literature to fathom their own historical and epistemological determinisms and to historicize their own situation as regards their legacy as well as their future.

Corpus to be addressed:

— 20th and 21st century British literature or visual arts

— The genre of the short-story (19th – 21st centuries, GB / US)

Proposals for papers in English (300 words, plus critical bibliography,) should be sent to

Catherine Bernard: catherine.bernard@univ-paris-diderot.fr

Gerald Preher: Gerald.PREHER@univ-catholille.fr

by November 2nd.