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Happiness Masterclass

Wednesday 28 April 2021, 4.30PM

Speaker(s): Dr Kirsty Martin (University of Exeter)

Please join us for a masterclass on happiness with Dr Kirsty Martin (Senior Lecturer, University of Exeter), called: Happiness, Literature, and Breathing.

In her short story ‘The Lady in the Looking-Glass’ Virginia Woolf suggested that she wishes to explore the state ‘that is to the mind what breathing is to the body: what we call happiness or unhappiness’.  This sense of happiness as akin to cognitive breathing will be one of the points for exploration in this masterclass/workshop.  Kirsty Martin is currently writing a book entitled Writing Happiness, on ideas of happiness in the work of writers from George Eliot to Iris Murdoch.  Her work explores how happiness matters to the writers whose work she studies, and how their work might shed light on ongoing questions about the ethics and politics of creating happiness.  Happiness has been much discussed across disciplines, with new work in economics, politics, philosophy, and so-called ‘positive psychology’.  This workshop will enable discussion on what literature has to offer to the ongoing debates at play in this research.

The workshop will begin with an overview of Martin’s research-in-progress.  She will discuss some of the ideas driving her work, as well as its challenges and current points of difficulty.  She will then open up discussion on some of the key unresolved concerns and questions in her work, and facilitate exploration of some key scenes of happiness in literature: Kitty’s moment of feeling ‘happy, completely’ in The Years (1937), and H.D’s description of Julia Ashton ‘hugging happiness’ on a rock by the sea in Zennor in Cornwall, in Bid Me to Live.  Both passages, amongst other things, share a particular attention to thinking about happiness in terms of atmosphere, weather and the quality of the air, and one of the questions to be explored might include why descriptions of happiness in literary texts often think so carefully about breathing.

Before the class, it may be helpful to read Kirsty Martin’s article ‘Virginia Woolf’s Happiness’, as well as the short pieces from Woolf and H.D. which you can find here

Location: Zoom. Please register here.


Location: Online by Zoom.