Online Lecture Series 2020



21st September, 2020

Oedipus and the Plague: Reading Classical Literature in the Age of Covid-19
SWATI MOITRA, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Gurudas College, Kolkata
ABSTRACT: Plagues are not uncommon in European Classical Literature, and nowhere is it as central to the plot as it is in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. The catalyst that leads up to the events that mark Oedipus’ tragic fall and disgrace, the plague in Thebes could very well be a character on its own merit, wreaking immeasurable havoc on the body politic of the polis. Conventional readings of Oedipus Rex concern themselves with Oedipus’ tragic fall, and the play of destiny. However, the exigencies of our pandemic times perhaps demands a closer look at the plague and the citizens of Thebes, and reconsider reading strategies for the same. In this lecture, I hope to speak of some aspects of Oedipus Rex, re-reading the timeless classic in a manner appropriate for this moment in history.

Suggested Reading: Bernard M. W. Knox. “The Date of the Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles.” The American Journal of Philology, vol. 77, no. 2, 1956, pp. 133–147. (Source: JSTOR) [view text]


2nd October, 2020


In an e-paper article “Ten Controversial books Indian Children must Read” by Samina Mishra, a parent comments: “We do not need advice from perverts on how to bring up our children. We will keep our kids away from these evil prowlers.” The books in the above- mentioned list cover topics from homosexuality to communal riots to mental illness – issues that have always been considered inappropriate, hence controversial within children’s literature. Given that children’s literature as a separate discipline was first conceptualised around the idea of childhood as an innocent state in Victorian England, it is no wonder that this genre has always been strictly confined within set boundaries of ‘appropriateness’. What is interesting is that these boundaries have got nothing to do with the actual child reader, whose financial dependence and perceived innocence leaves them with very little say in choosing their own books. It is in fact more a reflection of the adult world, their anxieties, preoccupations and their idea of what should or should-not be given to the child reader. Although the 1960s saw the beginning of a growing awareness in the west about the ideological biases behind upholding such taboos (in the Indian market such a shift started making itself felt only in the past two decades), this new realist shift did not find a warm welcome from all quarters and till date has to fight controversies and bans. Through a reading of children’s literature then and now, in India and the west, through classics and contemporary texts, this talk will try to show how children’s literature emerges as a projection of adult fears and desires which is used by adults to manipulate the realities of childhood in trying to shape the figure of the child in a way that is not threatening to their idea of what childhood should be like.



Gupta, Nilanjana, and Rimi B. Chatterjee, eds. Reading Children: Essays on Children’s Literature. Kolkata: Orient Blackswan, 2009. 

Hunt, Peter, ed. International Companion Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature. London and New York: Routledge, 1996.

Lerer, Seth. Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Nodelman, Perry. The Hidden Adult: Defining Children’s Literature. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2008.

Rose, Jacqueline. The Case of Peter Pan or The Impossibility of Children’s Fiction. London and Basingstoke: The Macmillan Press Ltd., 1984.

Superle, Michelle. Contemporary English-Language Indian Children’s Literature: Representations of Nation, Culture and the New Indian Girl. New York: Routledge, 2011. 

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