Lecture to Focus on What Victorian Literature Has To Teach Us About Aging

Like our bodies, the conditions of our emotions and sensations alter as we age.

Karen Chase, Linden Kent Memorial Professor of English Literature at the University of Virginia, has continued to explore the topic since publishing her 2009 book, “The Victorians and Old Age.” On April 16, she will talk about how the Victorian novel sheds light on our present-day understanding of the elderly, as part of the College of Arts & Sciences Endowed Chairs Lecture Series, which is free and open to the public. 

Her lecture, “Aging Sense, Heightened Sensibilities: The Shape of Late Life” will begin at 5 p.m. in the Rotunda’s Lower West Oval Room.

Nineteenth-century novelists invented an inward voice for aging characters  and a plot capable of telling their subtle story, Chase said. She will discuss the changing arc of emotions and desires in the later years, particularly as the elderly encounter scenes of pleasure and pain in novels such as Charles Dickens’ “David Copperfield,” Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and Elizabeth Gaskell’s “Cranford.”

Chase’s lecture is part of a series designed to allow faculty members at the top of their fields to share their work with the University and local community, demonstrating the wealth of intellectual resources made possible by the College’s endowed professorships, said Meredith Jung-En Woo, Buckner W. Clay Dean of Arts & Sciences.

Chase was appointed Linden Kent Memorial Professor in 2009. One of U.Va.’s earliest endowed professorships, it was funded by Lelia M. White in honor of her late husband before the 20th century. Kent graduated from U.Va.’s School of Law in 1870; he was editor of the University Magazine, a monthly literary publication produced by students, and a Washington Society debating medalist.

Some of U.Va.’s most prominent English faculty members have held the Kent Professorship, including Gorden Braden, E.D. Hirsch, former U.Va. president Edgar F. Shannon, Fredson Bowers, Atchison Hench and Charles Kent, the first recipient of the professorship, named for his older brother.

Its current holder, Chase is also the author of “Eros & Psyche: The Representation of Personality in the Works of Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, and George Eliot”; “George Eliot’s Middlemarch”; “The Spectacle of Intimacy: A Public Life for the Victorian Family,” co-written with U.Va. English professor Michael Levenson; and, as editor, “Middlemarch in the Twenty-First Century.”

The lecture series has presented four professors so far: John M. Owen IV, Ambassador Henry J. Taylor and Mrs. Marion R. Taylor Professor of Politics, in March; and last semester, John Miller, Arthur F. and Marian W. Stocker Professor of Classics and chair of the Classics Department; Butch Brodie, B.F.D. Runk Professor of Botany; and Alan Taylor, Souder Family Professor of Arts & Sciences.



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