Reading Walter de la Mare, 1873 – 1956:
‘a voice which has no fellow’
20th-21st September 2018, Cambridge, U.K.
By whom, and by what means, was this designed? The whispered incantation which allows Free passage to the phantoms of the mind? . . .By the delicate, invisible web you wove —The inexplicable mystery of sound.— From T. S. Eliot, ‘To Walter de la Mare’
Walter de la Mare’s ‘whispered incantation’ echoes on in the memories of countless readers from the late nineteenth century onwards, many of them having memorized his poems by heart as children. It ‘sticks like a splinter in the mind’ was how Angela Carter described his novel Memoirs of a Midget (1921): ‘lucid, enigmatic, and violent with the terrible violence that leaves behind no physical trace’. Elizabeth Bowen claimed that there was ‘something perfectly distinctive and different about the de la Mare sentence, written or said’. As for de la Mare’s poetry, it gave Virginia Woolf a ‘shock of surprise’ when she encountered it by chance; his was ‘a voice which has no fellow’. Deemed ‘one of the best of the best’ by Robert Frost, de la Mare initiated W. H. Auden and a throng of others into poetry through his inimitable anthology, Come Hither (1923); and Auden never ceased to admire ‘the delicacy of his metrical fingering and the graceful architecture of his stanzas’. J. H. Prynne, in an apparently impromptu poetry reading on Chinese national television in 2014, chose de la Mare’s ‘The Listeners’ for his text — a poem which, on his deathbed in 1928, Thomas Hardy exclaimed to be ‘possibly the finest poem of this century!’ De la Mare remains a noteworthy presence for scholars of writers as diverse as Edward Thomas, Katherine Mansfield, and Vladimir Nabokov. ‘One of the masters of whispering’, as George Steiner calls him, de la Mare is also an important figure in scholarly accounts of supernatural and fantasy literature. Especially in the last decade, there has been increasing critical appreciation for the breadth and significance of his oeuvre.
This conference aims to re-evaluate de la Mare’s place in literary history; to read his work on its own terms; to consider what it meant for him to write as he did during the turbulent period of revolutionary changes in literary and cultural values; and to explore the ways in which the legacy of de la Mare’s writing might challenge current conceptions of literary ‘modernism(s)’. All aspects of his work will be discussed: poetry, prose fiction, plays, essays, anthologies, and archives. Fresh consideration by scholars in diverse fields will be encouraged, including, but by no means limited to, literary studies, sound studies and musicology, theology, philosophy, and cognitive science.
Because of the remarkable number of musical settings of de la Mare’s poetry — at least 800 songs from across the world — the programme will also include a musical concert, juxtaposing classical song settings and more recent adaptations by an independent band based in London.
Our keynote talks will feature leading scholars of Walter de la Mare, and there will be an opportunity for a special Q&A session with Giles de la Mare. We are inviting paper proposals from any researcher interested in Walter de la Mare for our panel discussions, until 31 March 2018. For further information, please visit our website <https://readingwalterdelamare.wordpress.com/> or get in touch with the organisers. We look forward to seeing many of you there.
Time and Location
Date: 20th – 21st September 2018
The programme will begin after noon on the 20th (Thursday), and end by 6 p.m. on the 21st (Friday). The musical concert and dinner will take place on the evening of the 20th.
Location: Faculty of English, 9 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DP (daytime events)
Newnham College, Cambridge CB3 9DF (concert in the Clough Dining Hall; dinner in the Old Labs)
Registration: This will open in July 2018.
It is anticipated that the main programme, including lunch and refreshments, will be free for all, or there may be a minimal ticket price of £5 to £10. There will be a booking fee for those who wish to attend the dinner at Newnham College on the 20th. More details will be confirmed closer to the event.
Organisers: Yui Kajita and Anna Nickerson (Ph.D. Candidates in English, University of Cambridge)
Post: Yui Kajita, Newnham College, Sidgwick Avenue, Cambridge CB3 9DF
Confirmed Keynote Speakers
Professor Angela Leighton (University of Cambridge)
Angela Leighton is a Senior Research Fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge. She has worked mainly on nineteenth and twentieth-century literature, on women’s writing, on aestheticism and the aesthetic, and on poetry generally. She has published many articles and various critical books – including On Form: Poetry, Aestheticism and the Legacy of a Word (Oxford UP, 2007) – as well as four volumes of poetry, most recently Spills (Carcanet, 2016). Her current projects include Hearing Things: The Work of Sound in Literature (Harvard UP, forthcoming in 2018). A book about listening in literature, its scope covers poetry, novels, letters, and philosophical writings; and it includes a chapter that focuses on Walter de la Mare, Robert Frost, and Edward Thomas.
Dr William Wootten (University of Bristol)
William Wootten is a Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Bristol, a literary journalist, and a poet. His writings on modern and contemporary poetry in English include The Alvarez Generation: Thom Gunn, Geoffrey Hill, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and Peter Porter (Liverpool UP, 2015). He has published the poetry collection You Have a Visitor (Worple, 2016). He also writes for newspapers and magazines including the Guardian, the London Review of Books, Poetry Review, and the Times Literary Supplement. An active member of the Walter de la Mare Society, William Wootten is currently preparing several publications on de la Mare’s work and is editing an annotated edition of de la Mare’s Selected Poems for Faber and Faber.