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Leila May: Mirror Imagery in Victorian Fiction English Department Speakers Series Lecture

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April 18 @ 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm

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Speakers Series Lecture: All the Reflected Light We Cannot See: Mirror Imagery in Victorian Fiction, with Prof. Leila S. May on Thursday, April 18, at 3:00-4:00, in Tompkins 123.

Abstract: There is and always has been something mysterious about mirror images.  This is partially due to their contradictory status.  Mirrors are startlingly truthful, and with that harsh truth they accuse and indict whomever they reflect.  Yet, at the same time, they always lie: all reflections are illusions, a fact noted by philosophers from Plato forward into our own century.  Social psychologist Karl Scheibe writes, “All mirrors are partial and incomplete. Never is an event or object reflected by a mirror in all of its fullness” (Mirrors, Masks, Lies and Secrets [55]).  In this paper, I approach the conference theme of vision and revision quite literally, by discussing the role of mirror imagery in Victorian fiction.  I begin by addressing certain scientific theories about mirrors (laws of light, reflection and refraction, and what happens to the physical components of a mirror when light strikes its surface) and some of the paradoxes that result from these actions.  I discuss as well the paradoxes that result from these actions and discuss as well the phenomenological experience of the beholder—usually beholding his or her own image (superstitions about the dangers of mirrors, and issues of truth and illusion). This paper will treat the Victorian superstitions about mirrors, and the rather somber views about life and death expressed by these folk beliefs—for example the fear that souls can be captured in mirrors, and the consequent draping of mirrors in black fabric in the homes in which someone has died.  Along the way, I analyze some well-known, disconcerting mirror episodes in Victorian fiction, with a particular focus on Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Villette, and Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found.  My investigation reveals Victorian obsessions with philosophical themes not only of reality and illusion but of selfhood, the passage of time, and, most persistently, an obsession with death and ghostly afterlife.



April 18

3:00 pm - 4:00 pm
Event Tags
Tompkins 123
United States
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NCSU English Department