‘Believe me, there is such a thing as a broken heart!’ Heartbreak, Emotions and Embodiment in Britain c. 1720-1850, by Sally Holloway

A woman weeping over her dead lover. Drawing, c. 1793. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk

The 2021 Bedford Centre Annual Lecture 2pm on Wednesday 17th March

The broken heart in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Britain was no mere poetic image, with physicians recording cases where the heart literally ruptured following romantic rejection or the death of a loved one. This lecture will explore the embodied experience of loving and losing love, asking, what did it mean to die from a broken heart? The lecture’s title derives from a letter sent from the philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft to her faithless lover Gilbert Imlay in 1795, where she described how ‘There are characters whose very energy preys upon them; and who, ever inclined to cherish by reflection some passion, cannot rest satisfied with the common comforts of life’. Others described symptoms including loss of appetite, drooping spirits, pining, distraction, and overpowering sorrow, culminating in the death or breaking of the heart. This lecture will use letters, case notes, medical notebooks, novels, paintings and prints to explore heartbreak as both a pathological condition and pervasive cultural phenomenon. Studying the causes, symptoms, and cultural constructions of heartbreak sheds light on gendered experiences of emotion, and the changing relationship between emotions and the body in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Britain. It also reveals the nature of love as an intense but capricious passion with potentially deadly consequences.

The ’emotional turn’ has recently had a major impact on women’s and gender history so we are delighted to welcome former Royal Holloway alumna Sally Holloway, a historian of emotions, gender, and visual and material culture, to deliver this years Annual Lecture.

Sally is a Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow at Oxford Brookes University and co-convenes the programme for the British History in the Long Eighteenth Century seminar at the Institute of Historical Research in London. She is the author of a much praised book entitled The Game of Love in Georgian England: Courtship, Emotions and Material Culture (Oxford, 2019). She recently co-edited a special issue of Cultural & Social History titled ‘Interrogating Romantic Love’ with Katie Barclay, and is co-editor of Feeling Things: Objects and Emotions through History with Stephanie Downes and Sarah Randles (Oxford, 2018). Her new research explores the cultural history of heartbreak.

Jessica Harrison, ‘Karen’ (2014)

To Book a Place for this Free Lecture:

Please register here via Eventbrite

The event will be run via MS Teams and we will email you a link and password several days before the event takes place. Do circulate this post to anyone else you think might be interested in attending and, as usual, the Bedford Centre is particularly keen to encourage students of all levels to join us. If you have any questions, please do get in touch with Centre Director Nicola Phillips. We look forward to seeing you there online!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s