There are times in every person’s life when they find themselves badly out of their depth. It happens to us all, I suspect. The last time that this happened to me was last night at the Art Centre. I ask for no pity, the circumstances were self-inflicted. Before the Swindon Festival of Literature started I’d been looking through the 2018 programme and I saw that Rachel Hewitt – author and academic – was giving a talk on her new book: “A Revolution of Feeling: The Decade that Forged the Modern Mind”.
That sounds interesting, I thought, I might give that a go.
Which would’ve been fine, in itself, if I’d just gone along as a casual punter. It was very interesting. The gist of the book is as follows:
“In the late eighteenth century, Britain underwent what was then called ‘the most important of all revolutions…a revolution in sentiments’.
British radicals concocted new political worlds to enshrine healthier human emotions and relationships.
But by the end of the century, feverish optimism had given way to bleak disappointment, and changed the way we think about human need and longing.”
And Doctor Rachel Hewitt, on stage at the Art Centre last night, took us through some of the themes of her book last night. She did so expertly. It wasn’t a dry academic lecture. She was clear and knowledgeable. She spoke confidently, accessibly and with humour on the topic. I’m very keen to read her book after hearing her speak. No blame sits with her, please believe me.
It’s just that I’m supposed to be reviewing her talk, but I’ve been sat staring at an empty screen for two hours and I’ve got nothing. The book and the talk covered a decade of radicals, revolutions and stymied Utopic ideas on a number of levels – historical, psychological, sociological and political – as well how the crushing of the ‘revolution of sentiments’ still effects out lives to this day and I don’t feel I’ve got the level of understanding to properly review the content without ballsing it up.
The Swindon Philosophical Society were in last night as well. That makes it worse. They obviously followed and absorbed every word, all of them, and would be able to accurately review last night’s talk without breaking a sweat. If I tried to blag any sort of clumsy analysis of Rachel Hewitt’s presentation on this website and any of them read it, they’d chase me out of town in an instant.
You know what they’re like…
Even worse I was sat next to my friend Simon at the show and he’s very, very clever man. He knows his history. He eats history for breakfast. During the Q & A at the end he asked a searching question, a long and involved one which Rachel Hewitt answered in depth. I was lost. I just sat next to him and tried to nod thoughtfully during the exchange so that I wasn’t found out. It was like one of those dreams where you’re in an exam and suddenly realised that you’ve forgotten to put on your trousers.
The only part of the talk I feel confident about reviewing with any conviction was the part about Ebeneezer Sibly, occultist and astronomer, and that was only because it was slightly rude. He was obsessed with the Hydraulic theory of being and posited that man’s health and emotions were controlled by their bodily fluids. One bodily fluid in particular, to be precise. The “elaborate tincture”.
But I couldn’t base the review on that, could I? Not on a serious academic work and presentation. The Swindonian would never invite me back again. They don’t peddle filth. I’m not sure they will have me back in any case. I’m probably going to have to pay them the price of the ticket back out of my pocket money. Or they’ll have me doing the dishes for a month.
I’ll end this sorry fulmination of woe like this: don’t let me put you off going to see shows at the Literary Festival on topics outside of your sphere of knowledge and/or expertise. I genuinely found Doctor Hewitt’s talk fascinating and it left me wanting to know more. I’m delighted I went.
Just be careful what you choose if you’re supposed to be reviewing it after. You might be tiptoeing into a calamity.