Department of English Seminar: Rachel Franks and Benedetto Passaretti – School of Literature, Art and Media Department of English Seminar: Rachel Franks and Benedetto Passaretti – School of Literature, Art and Media

Department of English Seminar: Rachel Franks and Benedetto Passaretti

Department of English Seminar: Rachel Franks and Benedetto Passaretti

Wilful Murder: True Crime Texts and the Conscience Collective (Rachel Franks)

In 1788, the British Government established its first settlement in Australia. The colony was essentially a repository for criminals. Together, lawbreakers and law enforcers attempted to navigate new surroundings and negotiate a new society. Such a context created a perfect environment to write and read tales of true crime. This research explores Sydney’s first three newspapers – The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (1803-1842), The Australian (1824-1848) and The Monitor (1826-1841) – and in doing so reveals how the mass production of crime-based narratives (of murder and other crimes) resulted in printed works as didactic tools and entertainment pieces. This paper argues these works also offer a much richer outcome: Émile Durkheim’s idea of the conscience collective facilitates desires to write and read true crime. The conscience collective, that a sense of engagement with processes of punishment allows for the demonstrating of group norms and strengthening of moral boundaries, is presented as a significant motivator for wilfully producing and consuming true crime tales. For those of us who do not directly engage with law enforcement or the punishment of wrongdoers, true crime texts allow us to meaningfully contribute to a more stable society through reiterating ideas of right and wrong.

“I am Poor Yorick”: Farce and Left-Wing Melancholy in Christina Stead’s I’m Dying Laughing: The Humourist (Benedetto Passaretti)

The relative neglect of Christina Stead’s last four novels, conceived between the late 1940s and mid-1950s, is attributable to their transnational and historically specific settings, the idiosyncrasy and difficulty of their form, and their negative and unpleasant tone. My research explores the “ugly feelings” (Ngai 2005) surfacing in these late texts – such as irritation, paranoia, envy, and melancholy – and their ambiguous contribution to both Stead’s political critique and her mastery of the novel as a protean genre.

To exemplify how negative affects interact with politics and form in Stead’s late fiction, I will consider Stead’s posthumous novel I’m Dying Laughing: The Humourist. By focusing on the text’s multiple references to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, I suggest that Stead conjures up melancholy to mock the political inaction and ultimate betrayal of the novel’s protagonist, the renegade Communist writer Emily Wilkes. Drawing from critical work that expands Walter Benjamin’s reflections on melancholy’s ambiguous political potential, I argue that Stead constructs the heroine of I’m Dying Laughing as a twentieth-century Hamlet thrown into a capitalist world, obliged to enact change, but fated to err and become a fool, comically haunted by past ghosts. At the same time, this ‘melancholic’ novel can be viewed as a site of mourning for the loss of the revolutionary spirit, in an era where the pursuit of bourgeois happiness goes hand in hand with brutal competition, greed, and the sell-out of one’s political values. I’m Dying Laughing represents a sad, reactionary carnival: a tragic predicament orchestrated as farce.


Event location

Seminar Room 226
John Woolley Building (A20)
The University of Sydney
Camperdown Campus


May 22 2019


3:00 pm - 5:00 pm




John Woolley Building (A20)
University of Sydney NSW 2006

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