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Bio-Lit Talks is an interdisciplinary collaboration exploring topical themes from the perspectives of the Arts, Sciences and Humanities. Organised as a three-event series and focusing on a new topic each month, this series discusses Death and Dying and their inextricable connection to our everyday cognition, imagination, behaviour, and societal structures.  

The events are taking place at the Advanced Research Centre (ARC) on the University of Glasgow main campus. Online attendance via Zoom is also possible.     

Attendance is free.   

  To register, please click below or visit Eventbrite. 

To view Bio-Lit Talks' previous events, visit their website.


List of events:  

Wednesday, 25 October 2023, 6-8 PM - Vital Breathing: a workshop connecting how we breathe to how we live 

Tuesday 7 November 2023, 6-8 PM: Envisioning 'the End': exploring our understanding and imagination of death across medical, social, and musical perspectives 

Tuesday, 5 December 2023, 6-8 PM - Live Alone, Die at the Mercy of Others: a multidisciplinary conversation on the social experience of death 


How Can Literary Studies Contribute to a Just Transition to Sustainable Society?

An online symposium organised by the University of Birmingham (Birmingham, UK, and Dubai, UAE) and the Commission on Science and Literature (DHST/IUHPST)
Thursday 2 November 2023 (09:30-14:00)

Two of the designated themes for COP28, to be hosted by the United Arab Emirates in November and December 2023, are a ‘Just Energy Transition’ and ‘Youth, Education and Skills’. Science is fundamental to our understanding of climate change, while technology will have a key role to play in addressing it. At the same time, Arts and Humanities subjects such as literature have a vital contribution to make. Literary studies can help to foster empathy with those on the front line in the climate crisis, to process emotional responses to the changes happening to our world, to focus attention on the value of nature and our part within it, and to imagine the sustainable future we need to create together. This online symposium brings together early career scholars and research students from around the world to present case studies showing how research and education in literature can contribute to a just transition to a sustainable future. 

To see the full programme and register for the event, click here.

In 1932, on the stage of Boston’s Colonial Theatre, a human-sized bacterium complained to the audience that its human host had infected it with measles. Through this very human voice, George Bernard Shaw’s new play Too True to be Good gave a comical take on biology which reversed the perspective from the human to the microbial. Its appearance was brief, but Shaw’s talking microbe anticipated the emergence and foregrounding of microscopic actors in contemporary performance, and many of the questions raised by their appearance. Are our relations to other scales inevitably mimetic? Can we see microscopic agency without anthropomorphizing it, or the microscopic scale without colonizing it? How does biology trouble the expected roles of humans and nonhumans? And how are the categories of actor, actant or plot renewed and transformed by living microscopic processes?

Following a first symposium on literature and the microscopic organised in November 2023, this symposium will ask how 20th and 21st-century performance has engaged with invisible microscopic life. We define performance as a broad spectrum of artistic work that includes living exhibits and installations, as well as the staging of dramatic or post-dramatic work. Building on recent conceptualizations of microperformativity (Hauser & Strecker, 2020), this symposium will focus specifically on artworks that involve forms of microscopic life, such as microbes and microbiomes, or living microscopic processes, such as DNA transcription, as actors and collaborators. We ask how these actors affect agency, which shifts away from the human actor towards multi-species and multi-scalar collectives; temporality, which extends over new timescales and requires new forms of stage management and curatorial work; and relationality, where artworks involving microscopic living entities raise new ethical and biopolitical issues.

We welcome proposals for 20-minute papers in English or French, and encourage speakers to explore the following topics:

- key moments and turning-points in the performance of microscopic life over the 20th and 21st centuries

- technological and non-technological engagements with microscopic life

- the epistemic dimensions of performance aesthetics

- the role of performance in changing scopic paradigms, or moving beyond scopic paradigms towards other sensory modes of knowledge

- the ethical and political dimensions of performance involving microscopic life

- the conceptual shifts provoked by microscopic life, around notions such as community, agency, self, individual or environment

- how microscopic life affects categories such as actor, agent, plot, character, spectator, creator, collaborator, author

- the reception of performance involving microscopic life, and evolving relations to audiences

- relations between popular science and performance

- transformations of critical terminology and theoretical frameworks in reaction to microscopic life

Proposals should be sent in Word or PDF documents by the 5th of November 2023 to the organisers:,

Answers will be sent out by the end of November. The symposium will take place at the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme in Paris on 15/03/2024, with the support of the FMSH Biohumanities programme (, the Institut Universitaire de France, and the BioCriticism project (

The JLS and the British Society for Literature and Science would like to announce the 2023 prize for the best new essay by an early career scholar on a topic within the field of literature and science.

Essays should be currently unpublished and not under consideration by another journal. They should be approx. 8,000 words long, inclusive of references, and should be sent by email to both Jordan Kistler, Communications Officer of the BSLS (, and Martin Willis, Editor of the JLS (, by 5pm on Wednesday, 31st January, 2024. The prize is open to BSLS members who are postgraduate students or have completed a doctorate within three years of the submission date. (To join BSLS, go to

The prize will be judged jointly by representatives of the BSLS and JLS. The winning essay will be announced on the BSLS website and published in the JLS. The winner will also receive a prize of £100. Read previous prize-winning essays in the JLS:

The Davy Notebook project is launching a free, online course on Humphry Davy and his times that may be of interest to members of the society and their students. The course covers Davy's life and times, links with Frankenstein, material on Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey, Davy’s poetry, scientific discoveries, and his links to transatlantic slavery and much more. The course starts on Monday 9th October and runs for four weeks. While learners can do the activities asynchronously, the Davy project team will be on hand every day to foster discussion and answer questions. You can enrol here:

University of Birmingham, 10-12 April 2024

For 2024, the annual conferences of the British Society for Literature and Science (BSLS) and the European Society for Literature, Science and the Arts (SLSAeu), together with the biennial conference of the Commission on Science and Literature (CoSciLit), will be combined into a single meeting. This will be the first time that these three societies have joined together to share research at the many intersections of literature and science. The conference will be held at the University of Birmingham, UK, over 10-12 April 2024. Confirmed plenary speakers include Brian Hurwitz, Emeritus Professor of Medicine and the Arts at King’s College London; Isabel Jaen Portillo, Professor of Spanish at Portland State University; and the Directors of the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research, the Birmingham Institute for Sustainability and Climate Action and the Institute for STEMM in Culture and Society at the University of Birmingham.

In addition to the main programme, there will be tours available of the Lapworth Museum of Geology, the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Winterbourne House and Garden and the National Buried Infrastructure Facility, with an additional optional visit to the BIFoR FACE forest research facility and the Ruskin Land forest site on 13 April. The conference will be semi-hybrid, with differential pricing for attendance in person and online and for waged and unwaged participants. Papers may be presented in person or online, and online delegates will be able to watch the plenary sessions live and recordings of papers from other panels. There will also be a follow-up session online (date to be confirmed) for all delegates, including a panel for postgraduate students specifically. For more details of the conference as planning develops, please see the conference website. For other enquiries about the conference, please email the conference organiser, Prof John Holmes (, directly.

We would like to hear about as wide a range of research on literature and science as possible, so there will be no set theme for this conference. We welcome proposals for papers of 20 minutes and for panels of 90 minutes including three or more speakers and time for questions from the audience.  Individual papers may be delivered in person or online, and panels may be in person, online or combine presentations in both formats. We especially welcome panels and presentations reporting on collaborations between literature scholars or writers and natural scientists; showcasing the work of research institutes and networks; or taking stock of the state of the field in specific regions or countries. We encourage participation by scientists and creative writers as well as scholars, and we are happy to consider papers on creative writing, teaching practice and public engagement as well as research. While papers should be presented in English, we are keen to hear about literary and scientific texts and encounters in any language, from any period and from anywhere in the world.

Please send proposals to by 18:00 (UK time) on Friday 1 December 2023. Proposals should be up to 250 words for individual papers or up to 750 words for a panel. Please include a biography of up to 50 words per speaker and specify whether you hope to attend the conference in person or online. Proposals will be evaluated by a panel drawn from all three societies.

The conference fee will be waived for two graduate students in exchange for written reports on the conference, to be published in the BSLS newsletter. If you are interested in being selected for one of these awards, please mention this when sending in your proposal. To qualify you will need to be registered for a postgraduate degree at the time of the conference.

John Holmes
Professor of Victorian Literature and Culture, University of Birmingham, UK
President, Commission on Science and Literature

Jenni Halpin
Professor of English, Savannah State University, Georgia, USA
Chair, British Society for Literature and Science

Aura Heydenreich
Chair of Modern German Literature, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany
President, European Society for Literature, Science and the Arts

The latest issue of Interdisciplinary Science Reviews brings together papers on literature and science from different countries and using diverse methodologies, mostly presented at the last Commission on Science and Literature conference in Girona in July 2022. To view the issue online, click here. The full contents of the issue are given below.

Interfaces: Studies in Science and Literature – Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 48.3 (2023) Edited by Carlos Gamez-Perez and John Holmes

  • Humbert Massegur, Preface [open access]
  • Carlos Gamez-Perez, Introduction [open access]
  • Benito García-Valero, ‘Queerness in science and literature: towards a “naturalization” of the queer in the crossroads of physics, biology, and literary theory’
  • Lidia Bocanegra Barbecho, Salvador Ros Muñoz, Elena González-Blanco García and Maurizio Toscano, ‘Digital humanities at global scale’
  • Julien Jacques Simon, ‘Why do we engage (and keep engaging) in tragic and sad stories? Negativity bias and engagement in narratives eliciting negative feelings’
  • Isabel Jaén-Portillo, ‘Can fiction lead to prosocial behaviour? Exclusion, violence, empathy, and literature in early modernity’ [open access]
  • Jorge García López, ‘Science, philosophy and literature in the early Spanish Enlightenment: the case of Martin Martinez’
  • Wolfgang Funk ‘“Life built herself a myriad forms”: epics of gestation and co-operation in late nineteenth-century women’s poetry’
  • Michael H. Whitworth, ‘Wide horizons: science and epic in Mina Loy’s “Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose” and C. Day Lewis’s From Feathers to Iron’ [open access]
  • John Holmes, ‘The poetics of enquiry in Ronald Duncan’s Man’ [open access]
  • Sophia Denissi, ‘Sherlock Holmes saving Mr. Venizelos: using science in an early Greek crime fiction novel’
  • Maria Vara, ‘The magic lantern as a Gothic literary instrument’
  • Timothy Ryan Day, ‘Immortal codes: genetics, ghosts, and Shakespeare’s sonnets’
  • Constantin Canavas, ‘When a woman becomes a plant: looking at philosophical discourses through literary narratives’
  • George Levine, ‘Science and literature: the importance of differences’

Natalie Berkman, OuLiPo and the Mathematics of Literature (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2022) xiv 326 pp. £51.85 ebook. £51.85 Pb. ISBN: 9781789977806

In OuLiPo and the Mathematics of Literature, Natalie Berkman traces the origins of Oulipo and its connections to the history of mathematics. She explores the influence of mathematics on Oulipo, an avant-garde movement which produces experimental literature and art, and through close readings and genetic criticism, Berkman challenges C. P. Snow’s ‘two-culture distinction’. In a lecture on the two cultures, Snow differentiated between the Humanities and the Sciences, arguing that there is a ‘gulf of mutual incomprehension’ separating the two disciplines (6). Snow’s 1959 lecture was given just before the inception of Oulipo in 1960, and Berkman points out that Oulipo is an ‘interdisciplinary endeavour’ because of its engagement in ‘mathematical thought’ (269). This kind of thought, as Berkman defines it, is used in literature and mathematics when ‘recognizing abstract patterns and making generalizations’ (18).

In the introduction to the text, Berkman poses three general questions which are central to her thesis. These questions are underpinned by Berkman’s critique of the two cultures debate:

‘1. Given the ludic nature of Oulipo and its tendency toward humor, is it wise to take the members at face value when they declare an explicit mathematical project? In other words, is Oulipo’s use of mathematics a serious scientific exploration of language and literature or rather a symbolic, metaphorical reference to another discipline?

2. If Oulipo’s use of mathematics is indeed to be taken seriously, is it feasible? Mathematical language is a formal, non-natural language and seems incompatible with literary language. How then does Oulipo propose to write literature with mathematics?

3. If Oulipo is using mathematics to write, the resulting texts are meant to be read by a reader who may have little to no formal mathematical training. What can literature teach such a reader about mathematics or rather, about mathematical thought?’ (16).

In an attempt to answer these questions, Berkman explores mathematical thought through Oulipo’s pedagogical methodologies. Methods, such as the constraint, are aimed at teaching the reader different reading strategies. The mathematics within Oulipian productions is difficult, and Oulipians do not excessively simplify it, but its aims are to encourage active reading which is intended to be beneficial to learning, not just about mathematics, but also the structures of language.

In terms of the wider context, Berkman’s text is part of the Modern French Identities series, which includes studies on Modernism (Volume 50) and Camus (Volume 38). Berkman notes some texts in the wider field of Oulipo studies, such as Philip Terry’s edited volume The Penguin book of Oulipo (2019) and Dennis Duncan’s The Oulipo and Modern Thought (2019). In the introduction, Berkman evaluates the ‘State of the Field’, which is a good structural tool with which to discuss ‘constrained’ literature. These type of texts contain a constraint, which is a ‘rigorously defined rule for composition: sometimes a generative device that produces a text through an easily applied procedure; sometimes, it is rather a challenge that incites textual production on the part of an author’ (11).  This section of the book also reveals Berkman’s major point in her thesis that Oulipo is ‘more relevant than ever’ in the age of Digital Humanities (13).

From the start of the text, Berkman explores the entanglement, or spiralled nature, of mathematics and literature. She chooses lesser-known, but important, mathematicians and writers to illustrate her point that mathematics and literature have intertwined histories. For example, although Berkman goes back to Euclid and famous Greek mathematics in Chapter One on ‘Set Theory’, she does not mention either Newton or Leibniz, two major and well-known figures in Western mathematics. This omission is partly due to the focus being on the (mostly) French group of mathematicians called Bourbaki, who are explored in depth so much so that the research does not suffer for these omissions. The author’s ideas are well developed, and the text represents knowledge of different areas of mathematics, as the variety of mathematical fields in the chapter titles show. However, although part of the Modern French Identities series, for a non-French speaker, the text’s untranslated French quotations come as a limitation; at times I felt like I was missing too much information. This may have been an Oulipian strategy, because it stresses the activity of the reader, and there is an essence of constraint here, which is produced by the French rather than the mathematical language. Yet, I’m not sure that Berkman’s monograph is a conscious attempt at constraint, or meaning to be self-reflexive in that way. It is, rather, an academic study intended for Anglo-French readers, as the rest of the Modern Identities series is. Another limitation is that there is not much engagement with other avant-garde movements, but Berkman reproduces quite beautiful Oulipo art, and these images complement the experimental, or potential, writing in a visual way, adding to the understanding of how the languages of mathematics and art combine.

At the end of the text, Berkman lists the aims of her research. One aim was to show that the ‘value of Oulipo’s production is not purely literary’ (270). She qualifies this aim by directing us to the relevance of mathematical literature to Digital Humanities, and to the contribution of literature, particularly, Oulipo, to mathematical thought. This engagement, Berkman argues, can help to ‘bridge the gap’ between Humanities and STEM fields (21). The obscurity of Oulipo, even in universities (perhaps less so in French universities), makes the ultimate aim of bridging of the two cultures seem optimistic, but the cultures have narrowed since Snow’s lecture. This monograph has demonstrated that mathematical thought and literary language can and do combine and mutually enhance each other. The text, finally, plays a part in narrowing the gap between the two cultures by providing examples of how Oulipian and mathematical histories intertwine, explaining that Oulipo is a major French iteration of experimental interdisciplinary work. With the rise of interdisciplinary research, particularly in the Humanities, it is important to consider how the understanding of different disciplines can contribute to knowledge, and this is what this monograph successfully does.

Elizabeth Trafford, Keele University

Hannah Freed-Thall, Modernism at the Beach (New York: Columbia University Press, 2023) 288 pp. $140 Hb. $35 Pb. ISBN: 9780231197083

‘What is the modernist beach?’ (1). Thus begins Hannah Freed-Thall’s new book, a study of the queer and more-than-human forces that cluster and converge enticingly on the coastal commons. ‘In the most basic, geological sense’, she writes, ‘a beach is nothing more than sediments accumulated on a coast—available to be moved and sorted by the uprush and backwash of the waves’ (2). Yet, in the following five expertly paced chapters, Freed-Thall crafts a perceptive, playful, and thought-provoking study of what else the beach can be for twentieth-century literature, art, and culture. Weaving queer and ecocritical theory together with sensitive and insightful close readings, this book satisfies, in her own words, the ‘rallying cry’ of modernism: it makes it new to us again (157).

Freed-Thall establishes a compelling theoretical framework from the outset. In her introduction, ‘The Beach Effect’, she proposes that ‘the beach is to modernism what mountains were to a certain strain of European Romanticism: a space not merely of anthropogenic conquest but of vital connection to the more-than-human world; a grounds on which to experiment with performances of embodiment and to devise a new grammar of sensation’ (3). In this conception of the modernist beach, she factors in simultaneously the mutability of the seashore, the fragility of its life forms, the colonial legacies of the beach, and the queer delights of the seaside. As she summarises: ‘one of the particularities of this book, therefore, is the variegated and shifting quality of its central concept. The beach is not one thing here’ (4).

Crucial to this methodology is her assertion that queer ecology ‘offers a set of resources for the development of a nonessentialist, nonhomophobic relation to living beings and the spaces that hold them’ (5). Modernism at the Beach is carefully and committedly ‘sensitive to the passing and the peripheral, to shades and gradations of difference [...] as a practice of slow, patient attentiveness to the look and feel of things and to their subtle interplay of forms’ (5). This attentiveness to the ‘nonhomophobic’ proves to be essential to Freed-Thall’s demonstration of how and why queer artists are drawn relentlessly to the beach. In this endeavour, this book successfully follows in the footsteps of Freed-Thall’s guiding scholars, who have already ‘shown that the binary, late twentieth-century, in-or-out Western model of sexuality simply cannot account for the rich and subtle topographies of human (and more-than-human) orientation, affection, and attachment’ (18).

Freed-Thall’s first chapter is on Proust. She opens with a claim that subsequent chapters will return to again and again: that despite the fact that the city has ‘long been recognised as modernism’s preferred narrative setting’, even ‘quintessential city novels are unable to resist the lure of the seaside’ (33). This is certainly true of In Search of Lost Time, in which ‘the seashore breaks into the novel’s city-village counterpoint like an improvisation’ (33). For Freed-Thall, ‘Proust’s beach is queer in José Esteban Muñoz’s utopian sense of the term’ (34), destabilising social hierarchies and embracing new corporeal mobilities and aesthetic experimentation. This chapter sifts through a vast range of material, incorporating dance studies and seaside kinesthetics in her analysis of ‘seaside embodiment’.

These themes really crystallise in Freed-Thall’s masterful second chapter, ‘Intertidal Woolf’. This section examines ‘the queerness of Woolf’s beach imaginary’, wherein ‘queer’ is defined ‘not in identitarian terms but as an orientation toward offbeat intimacies and “improper affiliations”’ (65). In To the Lighthouse especially, Freed-Thall identifies the beach as ‘terrain that unsettles a Victorian epistemological and domestic inheritance’, populated by ‘unmarriageable figures’ that evade heteroreproductive narrative paths (66). It’s worth noting, here, that one of the great strengths (and joys) of this book is Freed-Thall’s own prose, which is alive with swift, sharp sentences:

‘For Mrs. Ramsay, a woman’s calling is to “arrange the flowers” in a man’s house’ (81).

‘Like Mrs. Dalloway—which makes clock-time its bass line, measuring the day’s passage by the hourly chimes of Big Ben—To the Lighthouse is a text set to a beat’ (76).

On this latter subject of a beat, Freed-Thall reminds us that tidal cycles are ‘never entirely calculable or predictable’, and indeed that ‘the seashore is not a “setting” in any conventional, static sense, but a spatiotemporal chronotope characterised by persistent weathering, ceaseless change’ (77). Modernist criticism can be, I think, complacent or evasive about what it means by ‘rhythm’, but Freed-Thall’s vision of its ‘aesthetic and sociobiological force’ (77) is crystal clear, as she draws fascinating parallels between the metre of the lighthouse and ‘unconscious choreographies of gendered being’ (79).

Freed-Thall’s third chapter turns next to Carson’s queer ecological imagination. For Freed-Thall, Carson’s work offers ‘a subtle corrective to the attitude toward the oceans prevalent in postwar America—the assumption, that is, “that the sea was a virtually unlimited resource, as well as a readily available dumping ground, for the growth of American Industries”’ (99). The Edge of the Sea especially is attentive to the miniature and the precarious, written for ‘the passionate amateur’ seeking a ‘queer way of knowing’ (106). Freed-Thall’s analysis is informed by tender and sensitive readings of Carson’s epistolary romance with Dorothy Freeman, exploring the pleasures of ‘the on-again, off-again rhythm of their closeness, with its anticipations, its high and low seasons, its various mediations (the post, the telephone, the automobile, the train, the airplane)’ (107). This chapter successfully demonstrates how Carson’s ‘vision of the tidelands, like her bond with Freeman, was marked by a nonpossessive ethos of intermittency and variation’ (111). ‘Carson’s emphasis on the fragility and unfixedness of the seaside environment’, Freed-Thall writes, ‘prevents us from caressing too insistently or holding on too tightly’ (121). It is thus that we can read The Edge of the Sea as a love letter, both to Dorothy Freeman and the beach itself.

Chapter Four, ‘McKay’s Dream Port’, offers alternative queer shores. For McKay, Freed-Thall writes, the ‘beach is not a specific locale but a collective practice’ (123). This chapter reads McKay through Rancière’s ‘emancipatory theory of aesthesis’, returning to this idea that the beach ‘recalibrates the given hierarchy of bodies and ideas’ (123). In Banjo specifically, ‘beach’ is a verb: ‘“to beach” in this experimental text is to dare to bask in the sun, creating space and time for the care of the self in the interstices of Marseille’s urban waterfront’ as a ‘practice of flagrant disregard for a hostile and racist world that codifies seaside relaxation as an exclusive practice and reduces Black bodies to the work they can do’ (27). In a novel that is haunted by the spectre of enslavement and police surveillance, Freed-Thall argues, ‘making art is sometimes akin to going on strike, and taking it easy can be a radical act’ (126). These ideas also apply to the artists who, ‘like McKay’s vagabonds’, flocked to New York’s deserted Chelsea piers in the mid-late twentieth century (138). This chapter concludes with analysis of how artists including Alvin Baltrop, Shelley Seccombe, and Gordon Matta-Clark ‘documented illicit practices of commoning that transformed a ruined port into a lively aesthetic and erotic contact zone’ (137).

Freed-Thall’s final chapter, ‘Tidewrack, Beckett to Sunde’, is an exploration of waste, fatigue, and the ‘“decompositional lingering” that characterises Great Acceleration aesthetics’ (173) in late modernist and contemporary visual and performance art. In this chapter, Freed-Thall suggests that works such as Severo Sarduy’s radio play The Beach, Stuart Haygarth’s sea-trash sculpture Strand, and Mandy Barker’s photographic series SOUP ‘index historical and ecological violence on multiple levels’ (155). Objects such as Haygarth’s rubber shoes, ‘eaten away by saltwater’ (153), ‘represent not the waning of historicity but a conception of historical process that includes a vast array of human and more-than-human actors’ (155). It is in the ‘tender arrangements of such debris’, for Freed-Thall, that we ‘glimpse the cracks in a containerised world’ (158), experiencing ‘a mixture of aesthetic delight, bewilderment, and grief’ (157).

‘If the modernist/avant-garde rallying cry “make it new” unwittingly anticipated the rapid-fire, “just-in-time” logic of Great Acceleration commodity production and consumption’, she continues, ‘the residual quality of tidewrack art opens onto a different temporal ethos: a strange layering of evanescence and endurance’ (157-158). This chapter is perhaps at its strongest when Freed-Thall reads Winnie’s objects in Happy Days as a form of tidewrack, forging fascinating links between sun exposure and ‘doing femininity’ (169). I wonder if the chapter as a whole might feel more cohesive had Freed-Thall structured it around Beckett’s play. Nonetheless, the chapter sustains its sense of the ‘psychic, corporeal, and ecological wastedness that characterises late capitalism—the mood of an era in which we deplete our own bodies along with the planet’s other raw materials’ (162).

Modernism at the Beach is an exceptional book. Freed-Thall covers expansive ground - and coast - yet chooses her critical texts carefully and concisely, weaving a range of literature, art, culture, and critical theory together deftly. Timely and original, creative and profound, Modernism at the Beach is essential reading for modernists and ecocritics alike.

Annie Williams, Trinity College, Dublin

Jennifer Flaherty and Deborah Uman, eds, Liberating Shakespeare: Adaptation and Empowerment for Young Adult Audiences (London: Bloomsbury, 2023), 215pp. PB £21.79. ISBN 978-1-350-32024-3

Flaherty and Uman emphasise in their introduction, ‘Taking Young Adults Seriously’, that Young Adult (YA) Shakespeare is not about ‘dumbing down’ Shakespeare’s work: ‘fun is not synonymous with inconsequential or frivolous. Contemporary adaptations of Shakespeare for young people address the darker and more uncomfortable aspects of adolescence’ (3). Specifically, at this early point, they announce the book’s focus on ‘how Shakespeare can be used to address trauma for young adult audiences’ (4). The editors explain how the book arose from a lockdown seminar at the 2020 Shakespeare Association of America conference about young adults reading Shakespeare’s works in the USA’s current social climate (conversation topics included Covid-19, Black Lives Matter, and #MeToo). Liberating Shakespeare is a worthwhile read for anyone thinking about how to take trauma into account when teaching Shakespeare, and for both general readers and scholars interested in Young Adult Shakespeare adaptations. I associate this book with other pandemic-era publications on Shakespeare, including the discussions of technology and inclusivity in Lockdown Shakespeare ed. Gemma Kate Allred et al, Erin Sullvan’s work on digital Shakespeare performances, Pascale Aebischer’s Viral Shakespeare: Performance in the Time of Pandemic, and Ayanna Thompson and Laura Turchi’s Teaching Shakespeare With Purpose (this last-mentioned features in the citations of Liberating Shakespeare). The book is divided into two sections, ‘Trauma and Survival’ and ‘Empowerment and Education’, with considerable thematic overlap between the two. Three key themes emerged for me: trauma, intersectionality (specifically in terms of race, gender, and queer sexualities), and technology.

Ariane Balizet’s innovative chapter ‘Teaching Romeo and Juliet in Plague Time: A trauma informed approach’ focuses on the Covid-19 pandemic and racism in US society. Balizet argues that because Romeo and Juliet is a play about trauma, educators should take a trauma-informed approach to teaching it: ‘Romeo and Juliet’s suicides are both traumatic and traumatizing events’ (18). Balizet suggests parallels between the current pandemic and the bubonic plague in Romeo and Juliet; she writes, ‘the ubiquitous rhetoric of plague, contagion, and pestilence in Renaissance literature draws students’ attention to historical experiences of suffering and disease’ (18), noting that while both the Renaissance and the contemporary plague events are potentially traumatising, not everyone will/did respond in the same way to them. Balizet usefully provides several practical exercises and questions to consider in the classroom; for example, is the prologue to Romeo and Juliet like a trigger warning preparing Shakespeare’s audience for the play’s theme of parents losing their children? She underscores the difference between teaching about trauma as a theme in Shakespeare’s works and teaching in a trauma-informed way, stating that ‘teaching about trauma as an aesthetic category can, in some cases, ignore or even promote traumatic effects’ (19). Though Balizet does not explicitly make this connection in her chapter, her definition of the pandemic era as ‘plague time’ for me echoed the phrase and concept of ‘crip time’: the temporalities of existence shaped by disability.

Several other chapters in this volume make trauma their focus. Sarah Morrison’s ‘Self actualization after trauma’ discusses representations of women and girls’ recovery from trauma in The Winter’s Tale, its source-text Robert Greene’s Pandosto, and E.K. Johnson’s 2017 YA novel adaptation of The Winter’s Tale, Exit Pursued by a Bear which narrates its teenaged protagonist’s experience of sexual assault and abortion, and the medical, legal, and (im)personal aspects of these experiences. Morrison contrasts Johnson’s depiction of healing, collaborative counsel with the ‘unidirectional’ counsel offered to Hermione by Shakespeare’s character Paulina (58). Morrison concludes that whileGreene representstrauma as fatal to women, Shakespeare seems unable to imagine ‘a holistic recovery’ from trauma, and Johnson offers a ‘rosy’ view of healing from trauma with the aid of one’s community; she reflects that perhaps such an optimistic outlook is necessary ‘to reach students and communities’ (61).M Tyler Sasser also analyses Exit, Pursued by a Bear alongside a number of other YA Shakespeare adaptations featuring a variety of medical and mental health themes. His fascinating chapter examines how YA adaptations often represent Shakespeare as a maturation tool for US youth, ‘promoting an idealized image of trauma that can be overcome merely through engagement with Shakespeare’, something Sasser deems ‘naive' (93). Sasser argues that such an approach trivialises trauma, too glibly suggests that Shakespeare might provide mental health care, and gives a false perception to young adult readers that their traumas can have neat resolutions (102-3).

Charlotte Speilman considers racialised trauma, and the violence of racial and homophobic slurs in both YA adaptations and the classroom in her chapter ‘Exposing Hate: Violence of racial slurs in Young Adult adaptations of Shakespeare’. Speilman sensitively tracks the different ways in which educators and adaptors reproduce and/or approach slurs; she pinpoints, for example, how the avoidance of racist language in an adaptation that uses homophobic language can signal that certain types of slur are more acceptable than others. Lawrence Manley’s chapter on ‘Adaptation and Intersectionality’ examines multiple levels of intersectionality in Aoibheann Sweeney’s YA adaptation of The Tempest. In his incisive discussion of Shame the Stars by Guadalupe García McCall, Jesus Montaño deploys metaphors of appropriation as a ‘cannibalistic feast’ to examine how ‘the intermixing of Shakespeare and Latinx young literature provides young Latinx readers a mirror for seeing themselves’ (88). Montaño contextualises his discussion in terms of the lack of racial diversity in the books currently available to adolescents in the USA, and of the fact that Tejano history and culture is not currently taught as widely or justly as it should be. Montaño highlights how works like García McCall’s are ‘changing the lens of history’ to focus on marginalised groups rather than their oppressors (84). Natalie Loper’s ‘Ophelia: A New Hope’ examines Lisa Klein’s YA novelisation of Hamlet from Ophelia’s perspective, and Claire McCarthy’s filmed version of the novel, exploring the gendered possibilities that are elided in the move from novel to film. Melissa Johnson’s ‘You Should be Women’ examines witches in adaptations of Macbeth in the context of the current popularity of witches among young adults.

            A group of chapters in Liberating Shakespeare discuss digital technology’s role in Shakespeare adaptation. Laurie E Osborne’s ‘Nothing/Something’ deals with online shaming and Much Ado About Nothing, explaining how ‘evolving digital manipulations of reputation/identity enable increasingly complex depictions of how social media and instant communications both harm and benefit adolescents’ (35). Both Osborne and Jane Wanninger in her chapter ‘Hello People of the Internet’ discuss the literary inspired web series Nothing Much to Do created in 2014 by the (then) group of young adults The Candle Wasters. Wanninger lays out the ways in which The Candle Wasters used YouTube vlogs supplemented by Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram to re-imagine the story of Much Ado About Nothing. Like Osborne, Wanninger points to the flexibility of digital media as being neither inherently good not bad, documenting how in Nothing Much to Do,YouTube can be used to ‘slut-shame’ but also to give a platform to teenaged girls who want to be listened to. Wanninger explores the literary inspired web series as a relatable YA form of consuming and producing media, and Jules Pigott’s chapter is a great example of this. Pigott describes how Nothing Much to Do provided her with inspiration and connection with other young adults as she made her own Shakespearean web series.

Laura Turchi’s final essay, on pedagogy, ‘Promoting Companion Texts for Reading Shakespeare Plays’, is methodologically distinctive as unlike the preceding chapters it primarily offers a critique of the ways in which YA Shakespeare is taught. Nevertheless, Turchi has several themes in common with the preceding chapters including race, queerness, and the medical (in her discussion of the popularity among trainee educators of ‘sick chick lit’) (180). Turchi documents training Pre-Service Teachers and appraises the truisms that she found were frequently involved in the teacher training classroom: the difficulty of Shakespeare’s language, the relatability of modern YA adaptations, and the teacher’s role as moral guide. In considering the highly nuanced relationships between Shakespeare and adaptations, this chapter shared a strength with several other essays in this volume, like Balizet’s as discussed above. Alexa Alice Joubin’s Afterword continues this pedagogical motif, advocating practices of ‘radical listening’ and outlining assignments that educators can use in our classrooms to put radical listening into practice: communal writing, contextualised pedagogy where the students interpret a variety of evidence, and inclusive and interactive exercises using video and translation. Joubin’s anti-bardolotrous framework emphasises diversity and cooperation among students.

I found the case studies and reflective (and sometimes autobiographical) examples in this volume interesting; I personally enjoy and feel especially connected to work that documents real-world dialogues about literature, and applications of literary studies methodologies. Liberating Shakespeare’s focus on intersectionality is valuable. One thing I felt the book could have done more of is defining what trauma is. Though one essay provides a citation defining collective trauma (66), I felt that the authors tended to write as if readers already know what trauma is, perhaps having identified it in the classroom. I think it is important for educators who currently do not consider themselves au fait with trauma-informed teaching to feel able to begin exploring it; precise explanations of the basics could have helped such readers. Liberating Shakespeare left me with several questions about boundaries and the professional competencies of educators: while we often are confronted with traumatised individuals in our classes, to what extent should we intervene, and how should we ethically do so? As Margaret Price discusses in Mad at School, insidiously, even when educators might think we are on neutral ground and not engaging at all with students’ trauma, many of the pedagogical practices we have learnt to use have been designed to exclude and (re-)traumatise Mad, disabled, and neurodivergent students and colleagues.Though Exit, Pursued by a Bear features a multidisciplinary group of professionals supporting the protagonist, one thing Liberating Shakespeare elides is the relationships between literature educators and other professionals in academia who are specifically trained to work with trauma and disability, like disability advisors, harassment advisors, and school counsellors, and those involved in students’ lives beyond their school or university including carers, disability activists, rape crisis workers, and therapists. I appreciate my list may sound more authentic to a UK context, as this is where I work, so I ask readers to adapt this for themselves for their own society. In my opinion, it is essential clearly to theorise how educators can work togetherwith other trauma-informed professionals, for the best benefit of our students and colleagues, and to put this into practice.

Dr Laura Seymour, St Anne's College, Oxford

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