Subterranean Fire in the Sky: How Vesuvius Fuelled 19th-Century British Imaginations

Bio:  Anne Sullivan is a lecturer in the University Writing Program at the University of California, Riverside, where she completed her PhD in English in 2018. Her book project, On Fire: Industrialization, Media Technologies, and the Imagination, 1800-1900, considers the intersecting discourses of media literacy and industrialization, and argues that fire, in its multiple forms, is a media technology that must be recovered and situated within an archive of moving images. An article drawn from that project appears in an issue of 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century, which she co-edited with Kate Flint.



Despite archaeological and scientific evidence that mud and ash had buried the Roman cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii, Vesuvius’s 79AD eruption remained central to nineteenth-century England’s fascination with, and horror of, subterranean fire as an indomitable force, a potential industrial energy, and a spectacular entertainment. This talk analyzes the reanimating potential of subterranean fire as it was represented across print and visual forms of media, ranging from Felicia Hemans’s 1828 poem “The Image in Lava” to James Pain’s late nineteenth-century pyrodrama The Last Days of Pompeii, a massive pantomimed and pyrotechnic spectacle that dazzled British and global audiences.

Thursday, January 10 at 2:30pm to 4:00pm

Humanities & Social Sciences Building, 2212

Event Type

Lectures & Presentations


Faculty & Staff, Graduate Students

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