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23 May 2022

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Margaret Belcher Lecture: “In Praise of Happy Endings: Precarity, Sustainability, and the Novel” 

We are delighted to be able to welcome Caroline Levine, American literary critic and the David and Kathleen Ryan Professor of Humanities at Cornell University, to St Hugh’s College on Thursday 9 June to deliver the Margaret Belcher Lecture entitled “In Praise of Happy Endings: Precarity, Sustainability, and the Novel”.

Neither critics nor literary novelists have shown much love for happy endings over the past century. Scholars have been especially committed to open-endedness as the only way to point beyond present conditions to a genuinely different world. This talk will make the case that this insistence on openness has reached its limit. We live in an age of acute precarity. As neoliberal economics undoes hopes of secure work, and as fossil fuels radically disrupt longstanding ecosystems, the most urgent threat facing people around the world is not oppressive stasis but radical instability—intensifying poverty and food insecurity, flooding, forest fires, violent conflicts over water, the rapid extinction of species. Predictability and security have been bad words for artists and intellectuals, but they have also been much too easy to take for granted. It is therefore time for novel critics to rethink our relationship to endings. This talk will turn to nineteenth-century novels, including Pride and Prejudice and Esther Waters, and two twentieth-century novels—Bessie Head’s The Question of Power and Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues—to consider the political value of happy endings that focus our attention on the ongoing, collective labor of sustaining living bodies over time.

Caroline’s published works are in the fields of Victorian literature, literary theory and criticism, formalism, television and climate change.

This lecture is supported by the Margaret Belcher Visiting Fellowship in Victorian Studies at St. Hugh’s College Oxford. Although it is not required, we request that you register for the event by emailing Jessica R. Valdez at or Sharon Aronofsky Weltman at


Thursday, 9 June, 4:30 p.m.

MGA Lecture Theatre

St. Hugh’s College

St Margaret’s Rd


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