Rewley House Research Seminar: Desire

Dr Elizabeth Gemmill, Dr Roger Willoughby, Dr Tara Stubbs
Event date
Event time
16:30 - 18:00
Rewley House
1 Wellington Square
Venue details

Sadler room

Event type
Lectures and seminars
Event cost
The seminar is free. If you chose to join us for dinner, there is a £15.00 fee.
Disabled access?
Booking required

Dr Tara Stubbs
The OED defines ‘desire’ as: ‘the fact or condition of desiring; that feeling or emotion which is directed to the attainment or possession of some object from which pleasure or satisfaction is expected; longing, craving; a particular instance of this feeling, a wish’. But such ‘craving’ has always had negative or prurient connotations: as early as 1340 ‘desire’ was being associated with ‘physical or sensual appetite’ or ‘lust’. And in a translation of the Aeneid from 1887 we see how the late Victorians opposed ‘desire’ to more noble attributes: ‘against enkindled desire / Honour itself was feeble’. Desire, then, is an emotion that incites strong responses. But how do we quantify or analyse such a feeling within academic research? How can we understand ‘desire’ both in a contemporary sense and against its complicated social, psychological and psychoanalytic history? Come along to the RHRS and find out more.

Dr Elizabeth Gemmill
The later fourteenth and fifteenth centuries are seen as a time of economic downturn, with a collapse of the wool trade and slump in prices of goods produced domestically. It is against this backdrop that I am examining the spending practices of the monks in Durham Cathedral Priory. Arguably, the north east was a region hard hit by economic problems as well as by the impact of the Anglo-Scottish war. Yet, the expenditure on what seem to have been luxuries – wine, lavish foods, expensive kinds of cloth - seems to have been robust. In this paper I explore the paradoxes surrounding this, and the impact on the regional economy of the purchasing power of this large and prestigious ecclesiastical household.

Dr Roger Willoughby
Freud’s ideas on psychoanalysis, particularly on the sexual aetiology of the neuroses, commonly met with shock, derision and widespread rejection in Britain prior to the Great War. Or at least that is the received story. Champions of the psychoanalytic movement, such as Ernest Jones, unsurprisingly promoted this picture as a backdrop to their own narratives of heroic persistence with unpopular and rejected ideas. The British medical establishment was claimed to be a particular bastion of such resistance. Siegfried Sassoon’s psychiatrist, the critical Freudian WHR Rivers, thus declared that psychoanalytic ideas were: ‘the subject of hostility exceptional even in the history of medicine’ (1920, p. 3). However, by the time Rivers wrote this in 1920, the actual and publicised situations were changing. The ‘new psychology’ was gaining traction within medicine and was the subject of significant interest within art, literature and wider British culture. I will here consider this transition, through a discussion of emerging psychoanalytic ideas and the variegated responses to them as captured in both the private correspondence and published works of several of the protagonists. Refocussing discussion in this dialectic on grass-roots characters (rather than the likes of the hegemonic Ernest Jones), may offer a greater insight not only into the vicissitudes of the development of psychoanalytic ideas in Britain during this period, but also into concomitant social changes around desire.