The Pseudo/Sciences Reading Group becomes a Research Group

In order to ensure that the Pseudo/Sciences Group appeals to a wider audience and reflects the growing research interest in the field of the pseudosciences of the long nineteenth century, we have decided to change the remit and title of the group from ‘Reading’ to ‘Research Group’. From now onwards, meetings will take the format of presentation of research papers and/or introduction of nineteenth-century texts on ‘science’ and ‘pseudoscience’, followed by informal discussion. The group continues to be open to scholars, students and researchers as well as users of the Lit and Phil library and members of the general public. We value the contribution and participation from those outside academia.

From October 2015 meetings will be held on Wednesdays between 6.00 pm and 7.30 pm. The next meeting is on 28 October and will be led by Dr. Emily Alder from Edinburgh Napier University. She will be introducing readings on the topic of ‘Edith Nesbit’s Dreadful Researches’. The readings and further information about this meeting will be posted shortly. Everyone is welcome and refreshments in the form of wine, juice and nibbles will be available.



18 June 2016

‘The Body and Pseudoscience in the Long Nineteenth Century’ 

An interdisciplinary conference to be held at Newcastle University, with keynote speaker Dr. James Mussell, Associate Professor Leeds University and Principal Investigator on AHRC Research Network ‘Making Waves: Oliver Lodge and the Culture of Science 1875-1940’.


Any enquiries about the research group or expressions of interest in presenting a research paper or introducing readings should be directed to



The Science and Art of Atmosphere

The next session of the reading group will be on Monday 20 April at 6.00 – 7.30 pm at the Lit and Phil Library in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Everyone is welcome. Refreshments will be provided.

Dr Peter Garratt, Lecturer in English Literature, Durham University, will introduce the following papers:

John Ruskin, ‘Of Truth of Clouds’, Modern Painters 1 (1843);

Mary Jacobus, ‘Cloud Studies: The Visible Invisible’, Gramma: Journal of Critical Studies 14 (2006): 219-247. Reprinted as chapter 1 of her recent book, Romantic Things: A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud (Chicago, 2012).

Clouds turn the eye upwards towards the indeterminate, towards the gathering possibility of structure and form (substance on the verge of formalization or singular structuration). Clouds trouble and fascinate early nineteenth-century aesthetic and scientific observational practices: as Mary Jacobus points out, they ‘paradoxically serve to abolish the representational realm altogether’. The cloud, in its substanceless bearing that somehow combines lightness and weight, signals mood, omen, prophecy, delight, sublimity, while challenging ‘the phenomenology of the visible’ itself. These two readings, from Jacobus and Ruskin, elaborate upon the difficult pleasures of cloud-gazing in relation to a range of writers and painters including Turner, Constable, Wordsworth, Shelley, and John Clare.

Modern Painters Clouds

Mary Jacobus

For further information please contact Pat Beesley at


Children’s Stories in Psychology and Literature

The next meeting of the Reading Group will be on Monday 2 March 2015 at 6.00 pm at the Lit and Phil in Newcastle upon Tyne. This session will be led by Roisin McCloskey, PhD candidate in English Literature at Durham University. Come along to what promises to be a very interesting session on ‘Children’s Stories in Psychology and Literature’.

James Sully was a leader in the newly emerging field of child psychology in the late nineteenth century. Frances Hodgson Burnett was one of the best-selling children’s writers of the time. Sully’s ostensibly tongue-in-cheek contribution to The Cornhill Magazine (1887) tells the story of a formidably articulate child; the protagonist of Burnett’s highly successful novel, A Little Princess (1905), is equally articulate, and equally good. What are the parallels between these two generically diverse texts? What are the differences? And what is the significance of divergent fates of the two precocious children who feature in them? Two influential writers of the period will facilitate a discussion of attitudes to precociously articulate children in this ‘golden age’ for both children’s literature and child study.

Readings attached:



Wine and nibbles available

For further information please contact Pat Beesley at

Pseudoscience in the Ghost Stories of M. R. James

The next session of the Reading Group will be on Monday 17 November between 6.00 and 7.30  at the Lit and Phil, Newcastle. Mike Pincombe, Professor of Tudor and Elizabethan Literature and with a special interest in M. R. James, will introduce a session on Pseudoscience in the Ghost Stories of M. R. James.

M. R. James was notoriously conservative in his attitudes toward almost any kind of intellectual innovation in the general area of ‘science’, especially what we would now call ‘the human sciences’. More than one of his early stories pokes fun at what he regarded as spurious new sciences, such as the ‘ontography’ professed by the weak-kneed hero of one of James’s best-loved stories: ‘”Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”‘. But what does James put in the place of this kind of knowledge? In the tale we shall be looking at tonight, it seems to be no more than ‘superstition’, maybe even ‘heathen superstition’ . . . Or is there more to it than that?

Both of the readings for this session are contained in the link below.

M. R. James, ‘”Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”‘, in M. R. James: Collected Ghost Stories, ed. by Darryl Jones (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011) pp. 76-93.

Brian Cowlishaw, ‘”A Warning to the Curious”: Victorian Science and the Awful Unconscious in M. R. James’s Ghost Stories’, in Warnings to the Curious: A Sheaf of Criticism on M. R. James, ed. by S. T. Joshi and Rosemary Pardoe (New York: Hippocampus, 2007), pp. 162-176.

M R James

In the meantime, you might want to try and find out what is meant by ‘ontography’!

The reading group is open to all. Wine and nibbles provided. Please contact Pat Beesley for further information at



Sexual Desire, Transcendence and the Edwardian Novel



The first session of the 2014-2015 programme will take place on Monday 13 October between 6.00 and 7.30 at the Lit and Phil in Newcastle.

Dr. Stacy Gillis, Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Literature at Newcastle University, will lead a discussion on the following:

In his Modernism and Romance (1908), R. A. Scott-James claimed that ‘the great sex-question’ or the ‘relations between men and women before or after marriage’ provided the heart of most modern novels. David Trotter has identified a sub-group of the Edwardian sex novels, a grouping linked by depictions of a relationship between a young man and an older woman. In this session, we will discuss Elinor Glyn’s scandalous Three Weeks (1907), which is concerned with an older married woman’s education of a younger man, in the context of thinking about sexual pleasure and, crucially, sleeping. We will also be thinking about the relationship between transcendence and desire, particularly in light of Marie Stopes’ Married Love (1918).

The readings for this session are Chapters III to VI of Three Weeks and Chapters I and VI of Married Love.

Glyn Three Weeks   Stopes Married Love

For those interested in reading the whole of Three Weeks (it’s not too long), you can get it at Married Love is available at

Wine and nibbles available

For further information please contact Pat Beesley at




Reading Group Programme for 2014-2015

The Reading Group will resume on Monday, 13 October at 6.00 pm in the Members’ Room at the Lit and Phil in Newcastle. We are in the process of compiling the programme but here are some advanced dates for your diary.

13 October 2014          ‘Sexual Desire, Transcendence and the Edwardian Novel’ : introduced by Dr. Stacy Gillis, Newcastle University.

17 November 2014           ‘Pseudoscience in the Ghost Stories of M. R. James’ : introduced by Dr. Mike Pincombe, Newcastle University.                                       

9 February 2015           Topic and presenter to be confirmed

20 April 2015                 ‘Nineteenth-Century Art and Science of Atmosphere’ : introduced by Dr. Peter Garratt, Durham University.

The readings for the first session will be posted shortly.

For further information contact Pat Beesley at