Past Event

For the Love of Broken Things: My Father, Edward Gibbon, and the Ruins of Rome

October 17, 2018
7:00 PM - 8:30 PM
4, rue de Chevreuse, 75006

Lecture by Jenny Davidson, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and Fellow with the Institute for Ideas and Imagination

It was in the eighteenth century that historians first fell in love with the idea that one of the best ways of understanding the past must involve studying its broken remnants. Ruins and fragments, monuments and traces: a fascination with broken things has much to do with how Edward Gibbon came to write his magisterial History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Jenny Davidson will read two short excerpts from her book in progress, which interweaves some of her own family history with Gibbon’s story and the story of Rome and its ruins. The talk will conclude with a close look at some passages from Decline and Fall to show how much it has to offer readers today.

This lecture is part of the "Wednesdays at the Institute" lecture series organized by the Institute for Ideas & Imagination.


A.B., Harvard-Radcliffe (1993); Ph.D., Yale (1999). Jenny Davidson writes about eighteenth-century literature and culture; other interests include British cultural and intellectual history and the contemporary novel in English. She is the author of four novels, Heredity (2003),The Explosionist (2008), Invisible Things (2010), and The Magic Circle (2013). She has published two books about eighteenth-century literature, Hypocrisy and the Politics of Politeness: Manners and Morals from Locke to Austen (Cambridge, 2004) and Breeding: A Partial History of the Eighteenth Century (Columbia, 2009). Reading Style: A Life in Sentences was published in 2014 and her latest book of criticism is Reading Jane Austen. She is currently at work on a short book about how Edward Gibbon came to write The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and other long-term projects include a literary history of the footnote and a book about reading long books (special focus on Richardson’s great novel Clarissa). Honors include a Lenfest Distinguished Teaching Award (2005), a Guggenheim Fellowship (2005-2006) and the Mark Van Doren Teaching Award (2010).

Jenny Davidson