Humanities in Class: Webinar Series

Rough Beasts and Pale Riders: Reading Interwar Literature through a Pandemic Lens

Lead Scholar: Elizabeth Outka (Professor of English, University of Richmond)

March 15, 2022

The 1918–1919 influenza pandemic killed 50–100 million people worldwide, with the United States losing more people in the outbreak than it did in all the 20th and 21st century wars, combined. Arriving just as WWI was ending, the pandemic brought a non-human, invisible horror into every community. The viral tragedy has been largely hidden, but when we recover the sights and sounds of the pandemic, and its widespread devastation, the outbreak emerges as a vast, catastrophic trauma haunting interwar culture. This webinar offers a sensory and emotional history of the pandemic and explores two key pandemic texts, W. B. Yeats’ iconic poem “The Second Coming,” and Katherine Anne Porter’s novella “Pale Horse, Pale Rider.” These works showcase the often surprising ways Anglophone literature encoded the conditions of the pandemic—and the ways this literature resonates through our current global crisis.

Subjects: Literature; Pandemics; Reading; English Literature; Trauma