Stoker’s visual arts and hedging in academic writing: the 2nd Bentobox Lecture of 2018-2019

3 Oct 2018

The second FAH Bentobox session of the 2018-2019 academic year was held in our Faculty on Thursday the 27th of September. This successful session attracted more than 30 participants who contributed with relevant questions and comments. This time we had Prof. Matthew Gibson (Department of English), and Prof. Sun Yuqi (Department of Portuguese) as speakers.

In his presentation “The Impression of the Visual and Scenic Arts on the Fiction of Bram Stoker”, Matthew Gibson outlined the effect of Bram Stoker’s interaction with the theatre, both as Dublin reviewer in the 1870s and as Acting Manager of Henry Irving’s Lyceum Theatre afterwards, on his practice as a writer of fiction. He described how Stoker, through his work, was inevitably influenced by the visual arts in terms of both orthodox picture -painting and of stage-design. Beginning with an early review of a Christmas pantomime for the Dublin Evening Mail (1872), in which the young reviewer had written at length on the importance of artificial colour on the stage, Matthew developed two key points. First, Stoker’s characterization of the fictional characters dwelling his novels largely testify the author’s significant appreciation of paintings, and of the great masters in particular. This is well documented by the writer’s numerous – tacit, yet obvious to the well informed reader – references to set designs and costumes, as well as to paintings; such a form of visual referentiality allowed the reader to concretize a scene through comparison to well known works by Velazquez, Rossiter, and Rossetti, among others. Second, Stoker’s understanding of the symbolic use of colour in the visual arts and on stage, which he frequently interprets in his criticism, also affects the very allegorical way in which he depicts fictional characters, which are often widely characterized by a non-naturalistic use of chromatic features. Matthew discussed in particular Staker’s description of the heiress from the novel The Man (1905), Stephen Norman: this complex and ambivalent fictional character is effectively described by means of a specific and symbolic colour scheme. He further showed how Stoker’s depiction of the character also made use of the architectural effects in stage designs, and straddled the movements from Turner’s archeological, mid century masterpieces, to the Neo-Hegelian, elliptical, “Advanced Movement” of Edward Craig, with Margaret Trelawney of The Jewel of Seven Stars (1903) being described in a way which drew upon resuscitated interest in the “symbolic” phase of Hegel’s art history, with her bodily form compared to a harmonious, impersonal temple.


Prof. Sun Yuqi’s talk “Hedging in Chinese (L1) and Portuguese (L2) bachelor degree theses” focused on the use of hedging in academic writing. Yuqi defined hedging as any linguistic means used to modify the illocutionary force of the speaker and the commitment value of assertions or utterances. She explained the vital importance of the use of hedging in academic texts, and highlighted its inextricable intertwinement with discourse markers. In her presentation, Yuqi proposed a taxonomy of hedging and divided it in five groups: performance (in sentences that represent desire, such as “It’s hoped that”); (de)personalization (in order to dilute the authors’ presence in the text by the use of questions such as “how do we compare A and B?”); discourse preparation (through the use of expressions that add new topics and keep the progressivity of the text); statement intensity modification (when authors upgrade or downplay their statements and thereby strengthen arguments by admitting limitations); and conclusion emphasis (e.g., the use of words such as “clearly”, “obviously”, etc.). Yuqi analyzed the use of hedging in 40 theses, 20 written in Portuguese and 20 written in Chinese, prepared by Chinese students. The resulting data were discussed as suggesting a positive correlation between the frequency of use of hedging and the academic writing practices in L2, at least with respect to the analyzed academic texts. The use of hedging linguistic expressions was shown to be significantly more frequent in the theses written by Chinese students in Portuguese (L2) rather than in Chinese (L1). This might suggest that the lack of confidence or a poor feeling of ‘self-assurance’ on the part of the Chinese students when writing in their L2 play a role in their writing style and in their recourse to hedging, in particular.


The next Bentobox will be held on 8 November with Profs. Jeremy de Chavez (English) and Lee Ting-Mien (Philosophy and Religious Studies) as speakers. Prof. de Chavez’s talk is titled: “Positive Affects and the Postcolonial Condition”, and Prof. Lee will talk about “The Rise of China and the Rise of New Confucianism”.

We are looking forward to seeing you there!