Upcoming Public Lecture 2/18/16, “The Textual Diorama in the Romantic Era: Writing Virtual Ruins”

Diorama Poster

In 1822-23, a large-scale, theatrical painting show called the Diorama, invented by Louis Daguerre and Charles Bouton, debuted in Paris and London, and it riveted audiences with the recent inventions of realistic 3D illusions and animation. The sensational Diorama inspired authors and artists to invent new forms of storytelling. Building on an emerging body of critical theory and analysis that grapples with non-teleological histories of “old” media, Dr. Leuner identifies a group of authors in the early 19th century who respond to the novelty and special effects of the Diorama by trying to translate these shows into text to enliven their narratives. They transferred such visual technologies and animated virtual realism into their writing to represent histories of traumatized persons as necessarily mediated and to intensify them anew so as to make stronger psychological impacts on audiences. This talk will treat two examples. The first analyzes James Hogg’s incorporation of Louis Daguerre’s Holyrood Chapel diorama in his enigmatic Scottish Gothic novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824). The second looks at Mary Shelley’s novel The Last Man (1826), in which she places her protagonist, Lionel Verney, in a “Diorama of ages” staged in the ruins of Rome, where he mourns the recent loss of his family and the rest of humankind. The Diorama’s popularity with writers also signals the 1820s as a transition during which authors sought cutting-edge media to help them write experimentally about the past.


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