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Ebc, the SEAC, or New Directions in English Studies

Ebc et la SEAC : nouvelles perspectives dans les études anglaises
Catherine Lanone


Cette brève évocation de l’odyssée de la SEAC et d’Ebc, depuis leur création dans les années 1990, se veut un hommage aux collègues dont le travail et la présence continue ont permis le développement de la société et de la revue, et revient sur quelques événements scientifiques majeurs qui ont laissé leur marque sur la SEAC et sur Ebc.

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1It was once deemed impossible to write about a writer who was not safely dead, already wrapped in reams of references and academic discourse. Only time could tell what a suitable subject was. The academic stronghold preserved its rites of passage and safely distanced the present.

2Then came Alain Blayac, a determined defender of Evelyn Waugh, a believer in good books, good food, good wine, good nurturing discussions. He sensed that it was the right time to seek new directions, to claim right of rank among SAES peers. So he founded the SEAC. Société d’Etudes Anglaises Contemporaines. Or Simply an Extension of the Academic Curriculum. Seeking Explorers Allured by Creation.

3From the start, as societies are wont to be, the SEAC was family. Home for papers, encounters, challenging collisions of the Modernist avant-garde, Edwardian dismay, post-war grand ventures, postmodern playfulness, with its anguish, its labyrinths of allusions, its quotations and revisionist stance. Papers were given, arguments built, upheld or challenged, and the questions were pursued at lunch or dinner—mimesis? postmodernism? Copy and creation? The legacy of Modernism? And as ever the metamorphic map shifts, expands, transforms itself each year with its spate of new books, new novels that challenge and confirm until a shape becomes discernible, only to dissolve and reveal itself anew. And the shape of conversation, piecing together ideas and engaging with critical discourse, feeds new work.

4The society’s backbone, pulling it together and simultaneously opening to the world, has been its vivid blue regular-as-clockwork publication, Ebc. Much work went on behind the scenes, with careful double or triple anonymous reading before this became standard practice, impeccable type-setting and scrupulous proof-reading, the ethics of publication upheld by Michèle Théry and Jean-Michel Ganteau until Jean-Michel took on the burden with smiling consistency and prodigious tact and concern. Thus Jean-Michel became the soul of the SEAC, with his impeccable scientific research and ability to oversee publication twice a year.

5It soon became obvious that a society that placed itself on the cutting edge of the present needed a website. It was created by Dominique Vinet, keeping track of Ebc numbers; when Elsa Cavalié created the new site, Dominique Vinet sought to erase the old one, to no avail; until a weblink was added to the new site and it all became as it should be, a fitting dialogic slippage between old and new, a palimpsest.

6The conferences have always been memorable, each with its own atmosphere prompted by the topic, from poetry, championed by Paul Volsik and Lacy Rumsey, to biography or the novel, territories that ceaselessly reinvent themselves calling for exploration, with, among so many others, Barnes, Amis, McEwan, Ishiguro, Carter or Winterson, or Swift prompting close attention. Among these stood also Virginia Woolf, a lighthouse of a kind perhaps, so that a sister society was founded by Christine Reynier, and the SEW also grew to achieve international recognition, with its special Ebc numbers.

7Many close links were established with scholars abroad and with writers. It was (and is) François Gallix and Vanessa Guignery’s special gift to befriend writers, and draw the best in apparently casual, yet deeply scientific, questions and answers. Christian Gutleben, Laurent Mellet, Catherine Pesso-Miquel followed in their footsteps, and the SEAC provided memorable encounters. The flamboyant Peter Ackroyd, with his booming relish for pastiche, imitation, recycling quotations, redefining culture in the Sorbonne amphithéâtre; the white-haired, tongue-in-cheek, delighted Jonathan Coe having the audience in stitches with Monty Python jokes, at the Lyon conference on humour; the diffident Graham Swift, walking out of a conference in Bordeaux after listening to a couple of talks on Waterland (on the agrégation syllabus that year), claiming that it was like being dissected alive; years later, in Nice, returning diffident, after much hesitation and soothing help from the conference conveners, Christian Gutleben and Michel Rémy, and unexpectedly staying all day, gently responding to papers, contributing to discussion, a luminous moment that culminated in a fresh, stimulating, thought-provoking talk on his forthcoming novel which he would not tape or publish—the art of the moment.

8The SEAC has long been part of ESSE. There were joint SEAC-SAIT conferences convened with Liliane Louvel and Isabelle Gadoin in London, in beautiful Senate House and legendary Russell Square; and at the SAES, Emmanuel Vernadakis and Michèle Ryan-Sautour shared the art of the short story. As President I’ve had the honour of following Alain Blayac, Bernard Gilbert, a gentleman and a scholar, Christine Reynier, the epitome of intellectual elegance, or Frédéric Regard, a master of theory, unstoppable energy and intellectual curiosity, Catherine Bernard, with her daring insight and radiating interest in contemporary art. Catherine Pesso-Miquel was a calm precious friend during those years. Isabelle Keller helped to welcome the SEAC in Toulouse. Frédérique Amselle, ever an efficient secretary, became a conference convener and organized sessions in a museum, a moment of being; Georges Letissier also opted for a postmodern site for his conference round table. The SEAC has always been shaped by its members, its supporters from the start, like Michel Morel or Liliane Louvel, its researchers, its doctoral students who year after year open the floor to new approaches, new writers, new ways of seeing, all of whom should be mentioned here. The SEAC sails on, in troubled times; with the indefatigable energy of fresh discovery.

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Catherine Lanone, « Ebc, the SEAC, or New Directions in English Studies »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 50 | 2016, mis en ligne le 03 juin 2016, consulté le 06 février 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Catherine Lanone

An alumnus of the École normale supérieure, Catherine Lanone is Professor of English literature at the Université Paris 3-Sorbonne Nouvelle. She is the author of two monographs on E. M. Forster and Emily Brontë and has published articles on Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster, Graham Greene and Iain Sinclair, among other modern and contemporary authors.

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