UPDATE: IVLS annual event: Humanism and Freethought with Humanists UK

Portrait of Clementina Anstruther-Thomson by John Singer Sargent, 1889

Dear readers, followers and friends,

Yesterday was Violet Paget’s birthday. Born on 14th of October 1856 at Château St Léonard, Boulogne-sur-mer, she would have been 165 this year. When she was born, the doctor congratulated her mother with a typical understatement: “Madame, je n’ai rien à vous reprocher !” (Madam, I’ve nothing to blame you for)

Like every year since 2013, October 14 also marks our annual event, the 8th one since the creation of International Vernon Lee Society –doesn’t time fly! While we may be sorry we have to meet online again owing to sanitary restrictions, it cannot be denied that such cyber meetings do allow scattered Vernon Lee scholars like us to gather in a single, although virtual, place. And the general meeting of the IVLS will also be held online on October 26, with, hopefully, good news about our 2022 activities.

Now, 2021 also marks two important anniversaries. First, it is the centenary of the death of the humanist and art theoretician Clementina Anstruther-Thomson. The IVLS felt we must pay a tribute to the woman who was Vernon Lee’s long time partner and much else besides in her own right, quite apart from her romantic friendship for Lee.

Indeed, “Kit” Anstruther-Thomson belonged to the West London Ethical Society, and 2021 also happens to be the one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary of our partner association, Humanists UK founded in 1896 as the union of Ethical Societies. Our invited speaker, historian Madeleine Goodall, is a researcher in community history, the history of humanism and of the West London Ethical Society. She is the Humanist Heritage Coordinator for Humanists UK, researching and writing to celebrate the organisation’s 125th birthday, and has published an important article which attracted our attention: « Heroines of freethought: women of the early humanist movement » (Nov. 2020). She has developped the very resourceful website Humanist Heritage.

Madeleine Goodall’s lecture can be viewed here: “‘A Hundred Ways Other People Wouldn’t”: the Humanism of Clementina Anstruther-Thomson”.

The voice recording is accessible in mp4 format here.

We are particularly grateful for the members of Humanists UK for generously sharing their celebration with us. All the more so as their values and struggles have always been consistent with those that led to the Law of December 9, 1905 (Separation of church and state) in France.

“The freedom to think for ourselves is at the heart of the humanist philosophy, and humanists and freethinkers have long defended the right to do so, often in the face of significant persecution. The history of the humanist tendency contains the stories of many labelled heretics, infidels, or blasphemers, for pursuing their own reason and challenging the authority of the Church.” https://heritage.humanists.uk/themes-overview/

Today, when France is mourning for the barbaric murder of Samuel Paty, who taught History and Geography in Conflans Sainte Honorine and was decapitated for teaching secularism and freedom of belief (laïcité), freedom of speech and freedom of thought in accordance to the values and the rules of secular public education in France, we express our sympathy for our colleague’s family, friends and colleagues.

“The humanist commitment to reason, kindness, inclusivity, and freedom of thought, means the non-religious have always been the natural allies of education, whether under the label of ‘freethinkers’, ‘rationalists’, or ‘humanists’.” https://heritage.humanists.uk/themes-overview/

This year’s event would have been impossible without the involvement and brilliant suggestions of our communications officer, Dr. Sally Blackburn-Daniels or without computing engineer Richard Walter’s continued help and support as coordinator of the EMAN digital humanities platform at the UMR “Théorie et histoire des arts et des littératures de la modernité”, THALIM-CNRS-ENS-Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, who must be thanked for hosting this Zoom session. Warmest thanks are due to them all.

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