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News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

Five Questions: David Higgins on British Romanticism, Climate Change, and the Anthropocene: Writing Tambora

David Higgins is Associate Professor in English Literature at the University of Leeds and Deputy Director of the Leeds Humanities Research Institute.  He has written widely on Romantic literature and culture, including the monographs Romantic Genius and the Literary Magazine and Romantic Englishness: Local, National, and Global Selves, 1780-1850 (which he has previously discussed on the BARS Blog).  Last year, he published two books: a co-edited collection (with Russell Goulbourne) entitled Jean-Jacques Rousseau and British Romanticism (Bloomsbury) and a monograph called British Romanticism, Climate Change, and the Anthropocene: Writing Tambora (Palgrave), which we discuss below.

1) How did you first become interested in the implications of the Tambora eruption?

I’m not sure where I first read about Tambora – perhaps in Jonathan Bate’s The Song of the Earth – but a few years ago I started thinking about the possibility of producing a kind of popular cultural history of the eruption and its effects in time for the bicentenary of the ‘Year without a Summer’ in 2016.  Through writing my monograph, Romantic Englishness, and working with some brilliant colleagues at Leeds, I had started to see myself as a researcher in the environmental humanities.  Tambora seemed a great case study for such an approach, as well as a potential springboard for public engagement work around culture and climate.

2) Why did you decide to write a short book specifically, and how was the experience of writing compared with that for your previous two monographs?

I ended up abandoning the cultural history, partly because I didn’t think that it would play to my strengths and partly because Gillen D’Arcy Wood beat me to it with his excellent 2014 book.  I decided instead to write a shorter book that, rather than simply telling the story of Tambora, would analyse it as a process in which material and discursive elements were profoundly intertwined.  I had started reading theoretical work on speculative realism/new materialism and realised that contemporary ideas about non-anthropocentric agency had a great deal to offer this project and the environmental humanities more broadly.  My case studies seemed to suit a shorter book and I felt that publishing with Palgrave Pivot would allow me to make a more urgent intervention than a longer monograph, as well as roughly coinciding with the bicentenary of the post-Tambora crisis.

The writing experience was very different from my previous research books.  My first was based on my PhD thesis.  It required a lot of primary research and was worked on quite intensively during the course of my PhD and then intermittently for a couple of years afterwards.  My second was a very slow burner as various other things intervened.  In contrast, I wrote this book in not much more than a year, largely during research leave kindly funded by my institution and then by the AHRC.  During this period, I also had some leadership responsibilities associated with the AHRC funding, which took up some time but also very much fed into to my research.  I hope that the resulting study seems timely rather than rushed, and reflects that I had been thinking about the book for a long time before having the chance to write it.

3) How did you come to select the three case studies on which your book focuses: the official narrative of the eruption compiled by the British administration in Java; the 1816 writings of Byron and the Shelleys; and political periodical writings regarding the ‘distresses’ of 1816 and 1817?

Including Byron and the Shelleys was an easy decision as I have a longstanding interest in their writings.  It also struck me that, although their 1816 works were often invoked in relation to Tambora, there was very little actual analysis of the complex ways in which they imagine environmental catastrophe.  Similarly, I noticed that the colonial narrative of the eruption was known as a key source for understanding how Tambora unfolded across the Indonesian archipelago, but nobody had paid any attention to its rhetorical construction of the catastrophe.  Finally, I felt that a chapter on political periodical writings offered a good way to address the impact of Tambora in Britain, as well as to explore the complex relationship between human and nonhuman agents that creates a supposedly ‘natural’ disaster.  I felt, too, that all the case studies would show the value of a close textual analysis of disaster narratives within the broader intellectual framework provided by the environmental humanities.  I have always tried in my work to bring canonical and non-canonical texts into close relationship, and without treating the latter as mere background or context.  The case studies, while manageable for a short book, offered a transnational and generic reach that I felt was vital for a project of this nature.

4) What for you are the most important kinds of insights that can be gleaned by using the lenses of climate change and the Anthropocene to view the art and culture of the Romantic period?

I am very aware of the dangers of ‘presentism’ and I would certainly resist the idea that the Romantic period speaks to us in any straightforward (or moralistic) way about climate change.  I also accept that the present-day environmental crisis may well require new ways of thinking.  However, understanding the Anthropocene as a kind of epistemological breach (as some thinkers do) risks dehistoricising environmental change and presenting it as the inevitable result of human ‘progress’, rather than as the result of a range of contingent factors over time.  As scholars such as Mike Hulme have shown, climate and culture have been understood as intertwined by many human societies.  I believe that understanding how the Romantics address the complex interactions of human and nonhuman agencies that create an environmental catastrophe can contribute to a better understanding of our current predicament.  This genealogical approach requires an attentiveness to the significant differences between then and now, as well as the similarities.

5) Now that this book is finished, what are you planning to work on next?

I’m currently involved in Landlines, an AHRC-funded collaboration between academics at Leeds, Sussex, and St Andrews to write a history of British nature writing over the last two centuries for Cambridge University Press.  We’re not offering a survey, but a pointed and (I hope) sophisticated account of nature writing as a complex literary form.  The project has also involved some very enjoyable public engagement, including a poll to discover the nation’s favourite nature books.  Increasingly, I am motivated as a researcher by the opportunity to engage with broader audiences and so I hope to develop some new impact collaborations around culture and climate over the next twelve months.  In the longer term, I’m planning a book on the relationship between philosophical pessimism and environmental thinking: a project that will take me well out of my Romantic-period comfort zone…

Conference Report: ‘Blood, Sweat, and Tears: Bodily Fluids in the Long Nineteenth Century’

Dr Abigail Boucher (Lecturer in English Literature, Aston University) reports on her conference, which was partially funded by the BARS conference support award.

Anxious Forms 2018 Conference Funding Report: ‘Blood, Sweat, and Tears: Bodily Fluids in the Long Nineteenth Century’

It has oft been a stereotype that those living during the long nineteenth century were prudish to the point of self-disembodiment. Although more recent criticism has sought to undo this century-long cliché, ideas of the abject – in this instance, bodily fluids – still seem conspicuously absent from both primary texts of the long nineteenth century and in much of the academic work about that period. The conference ‘Blood, Sweat, and Tears: Bodily Fluids in the Long Nineteenth Century’ engaged with such perceived omissions.

The generous contribution from BARS to the conference budget went toward the travel and accommodation costs for the keynote and plenary speakers: Professor Talia Schaffer (CUNY) opened the conference with a paper entitled ‘Fluid Reading: Subjectivity, Sentimentality, and Sociality’, which interrogated emotion in nineteenth-century novels, focusing on ideas of tears, sentiment and sympathy in theories of care. Professor Schaffer also discussed the metaphorically ‘fluid’ ideas of community within these theories of care. Plenary speaker Dr Kate Lister (Leeds Trinity) gave a paper in the afternoon session entitled ‘Buzzkill: The Victorians and the Vibrator’, which discussed sexual fluids, hysteria, and the myths surrounding sexual repression, kink, and anxious illness in the long nineteenth century. Dr Lister also brought to the forefront many pertinent issues about modern scholars who deal with still-taboo subjects and the ways in which the academy deals with them.

The research presented by other delegates covered a wide swathe of territory, with papers on nineteenth-century stigmata, breastmilk, tears, ectoplasm, blood and heredity, syphilitic incontinence, blood magic and anthropology, menopause, hormones, vomit, ‘night-soil’, and other effluvia. Conference delegates were especially successful in addressing why our current conception of the long nineteenth century is so skewed in terms of bodily function and excrescence. In part, the delegates debated how actual social, scientific, or moral anxieties played a role in muffling certain conversations. Others found that racial, class, and gender structures kept certain topics out of hegemonic – or at least the best recorded – discourses. Delegates also traced how various paradigm shifts over the long nineteenth century led to certain topics becoming more or less acceptable for public consumption. And, perhaps most significantly, several papers reported that certain bodily fluids were not considered as taboo as a modern audience would have them; authors instead recorded them in euphemistic or idiomatic language that has ceased to be fully recognised by the modern reader.

The conference was the third in the biennial Anxious Forms conference series which seeks, with every event, to interrogate a different point of anxiety – overt or implied, addressed or ignored, contemporaneous or a later construction – in the literature and culture of the long nineteenth century. The inaugural conference ‘Bodies in Crisis’ was held in 2014 and the second ‘Masculinities in Crisis’ was in 2016; both were held at the University of Glasgow, although this third entry was held at Aston University in Birmingham to commemorate the opening of the English Literature department (2017) and the History department (2018).

 

 

The BARS Review, No. 51 (Spring 2018)

William Blake, from A Small Book of Designs: The First Book of Urizen (1794). ©Trustees of the British Museum. Used under a Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

The Editors, led by Mark Sandy, are pleased to announce the publication of the 51st number of The BARS Review, the ninth available in full online through our open-access system.  The list of contents below includes links to the html versions of the twenty-one articles, but all the reviews are also available as pdfs.  If you want to browse through the whole number at your leisure, a pdf compilation is available.

If you have comments on the new number, or on the Review in general, we’d be very grateful for any feedback that would allow us to improve the site or the content.  Mark Sandy would also be very happy to hear from people who would like to review for BARS.

Editor: Mark Sandy (Durham University)
General Editors: Ian Haywood (University of Roehampton), Susan Oliver (University of Essex) & Nicola J. Watson (Open University)
Technical Editor: Matthew Sangster (University of Glasgow)

Table of Contents

Reviews

Dafydd Moore, ed., The International Companion to James Macpherson and The Poems of Ossian
Gerard Lee McKeever
Timothy Michael, British Romanticism and the Critique of Political Reason
Elias Greig
Robert Mayer, Walter Scott and Fame: Authors and Readers in the Romantic Age
Caroline McCracken-Flesher
Saree Makdisi, Reading William Blake
Katherine Fender
Claire Trévien, Satire, Prints and Theatricality in the French Revolution
Ian Haywood
Richard Lansdown, ed., Byron’s Letters and Journals. A New Selection
Gioia Angeletti
Brycchan Carey, ed., The Interesting Narrative by Olaudah Equiano
John Bugg
Alan Rawes and Diego Saglia, eds., Byron and Italy
Maria Schoina
Lily Gurton-Wachter, Watchwords: Romanticism and the Poetics of Attention
Andrew Franta
E. J. Clery, Eighteen Hundred and Eleven: Poetry, Protest and Economic Crisis
Lisa Vargo
Beth Lau, ed., Jane Austen and Sciences of the Mind
Inger S. B. Brodey
E. J. Clery, Jane Austen, The Banker’s Sister
Claire Harman
Mark J. Bruhn, Wordsworth Before Coleridge: The Growth of the Poet’s Philosophical Mind, 1785-1797
Adam Potkay
Ewan James Jones, Coleridge and the Philosophy of Poetic Form and Michael Tomko, Beyond the Willing Suspension of Disbelief: Poetic Faith from Coleridge to Tolkien
Philip Aherne
Michael D. Hurley and Marcus Waithe (eds.), Thinking through Style: Non-Fiction Prose of the Long Nineteenth Century
Andrew Hodgson

Spotlight: Romantic Heirs and Inheritors

Juliet Shields, Nation and Migration: The Making of British Atlantic Literature, 1765-1835
Clare Elliott
Anahid Nersessian, Utopia, Limited: Romanticism and Adjustment
Christopher Geary
Andrew Burkett, Romantic Mediations: Media Theory and British Romanticism
Ralf Haekel
Beatrice Turner, Romantic Childhood, Romantic Heirs: Reproduction and Retrospection, 1820-1850
Malini Roy
Tom Mole, What the Victorians Made of Romanticism: Material Artifacts, Cultural Practices, and Reception History
Richard Cronin
Andrew Radford, Mary Butts and British Neo-Romanticism: The Enchantment of Place
Sam Wiseman

Whole Number

The BARS Review, No. 51 (Autumn 2018) – review compilation
The BARS Review Editors

Report from ‘Romantic Novels 1818’ – Susan Ferrier’s Marriage

We present a report by Ruby Hawley-Sibbett from the latest ‘Romantic Novels 1818‘ seminar which took place in July 2018. This series is sponsored by BARS and seminars are held at the University of Greenwich. 

You can see details of upcoming seminars in the series here.

Seminar: Andy McInnes on ‘The Death of the Authoress in Susan Ferrier’s Marriage’ by Ruby Hawley-Sibbett

 

 

Andy McInnes delivered a thought-provoking seminar which focused on suspicion towards female literary authority in Ferrier’s first novel. McInnes began by considering how we read Marriage in 2018, including the minor revival of interest sparked by bicentenary events and the writer Val McDermid. McDermid’s observation that while Scott considered Ferrier his ‘sister shadow’, she is now overshadowed by him, was juxtaposed with Leah Price’s criticism of the use of Ferrier for national or gender balance in literary historical narratives. As well as Ferrier’s status as a shadow of Scott and of Austen, McInnes also discussed her work as sharing qualities with Edgeworth’s national tales.

McInnes highlighted that Marriage features many potential author figures, but also that Ferrier appears suspicious of the term authoress, leading him to argue that Ferrier begins to marginalise the woman writer, thus undoing the work of the Scottish national tale. McInnes compared Juliet Shields’ position in From Family Roots to the Routes of Empire: National Tales and the Domestication of the Scottish Highlands with that of Ian Duncan in Scott’s Shadow, but he challenged their reading of hybridisation in Ferrier as a potential way of reconciling the British nation, suggesting this view is too idealised.

Close reading of the passage relating to the authoress ‘Mrs Blanque’ in Bath, added by Ferrier to the 1841 text, led McInnes to argue that Ferrier was looking back at the situation of female authorship in 1818 and considering the vogue for anonymity, as an anonymous author herself. Alongside the ‘Mrs Bluemitts’ episode, this led McInnes to the conclusion that Ferrier was antagonistic to the public facing roles of authorship, applying Kowaleski-Wallace’s idea of the ‘scapegoating’ of women. Introducing Barthian ideas, McInnes considered whether Ferrier’s focus on reader relationships also demonstrates suspicion of authorship.

This led to an engaging group discussion which covered national hybridity and potentially Utopian Britishness, suspicion of authorial power in other Romantic novels, and the ways in which our impatience with anonymity remains evident in 2018.

On This Day in 1818: Percy Bysshe Shelley writes to Thomas Love Peacock

In this series, we celebrate the 200th anniversary of literary and historical events of the Romantic period. Today, on 25 July 2018, we present a discussion of Peacock’s Nightmare Abbey by Rebekah Owens. Her post was inspired by a letter written by Percy Bysshe Shelley to Peacock on this day in 1818, an extract of which is shown below.

Contact Anna Mercer (mercerannam@gmail.com) if you want to suggest a future post for this series.

To THOMAS LOVE PEACOCK, Marlow

Bagni di Lucca, July 25th, 1818.

My dear Peacock,

[…]

You tell me that you have finished Nightmare Abbey. I hope that you have given the enemy no quarter. Remember, it is a sacred war. We have found an excellent quotation in Ben Jonson’s Every Man in his Humour. I will transcribe it, as I do not think you have these plays at Marlow.

MATTHEW. Oh, it’s your only fine humour, sir. Your true melancholy breeds your perfect fine wit, sir. I am melancholy myself divers times, sir; and then do I no more but take pen and paper presently, and overflow you half a score or a dozen of sonnets at a sitting.

ED KNOWELL. Sure, he utters them by the gross.

STEPHEN. Truly, sir; and I love such things out of measure.

ED KNOWELL. I’ faith, better than in measure, I’ll undertake.

MATTHEW. Why, I pray you, sir, make use of my study; it’s at your service.

STEPHEN. I thank you, sir; I shall be bold, I warrant you. Have you a stool there to be melancholy upon? — Every Man in his Humour, Act III, scene i.

The last expression would not make a bad motto.

 

Thomas Love Peacock’s Nightmare Abbey: a Gothic City Comedy?

by Rebekah Owens

In the letter marked 25 July 1818, Percy Bysshe Shelley suggested an ‘excellent quotation’ from Ben Jonson’s Every Man In His Humour (1598) that Thomas Love Peacock might like to use in his forthcoming novel Nightmare Abbey: ‘I am melancholy myself divers times sir; and then do I no more but take pen and paper presently, and overflow you half a score or a dozen of sonnets at a sitting’. He rightly guessed from Peacock’s remarks to him about his work what its content would be, and so supplied him with a useful motto illustrating Jonson’s own preoccupation with the theme of ‘morbidity’ in modern literature.

Peacock had much in common with that particular early modern dramatist. Both were classicists; and both were satirists who used the medical theory of the humours to expose human foibles in their work. Peacock also pays homage to his distinguished predecessor in one other important way. Although Nightmare Abbey is a novella, it is also a drama. Felix Felton considered that the book resembled an opera with ‘libretto’ and music and even that it would make a good stage play (1973, pp. 155-6). He was right. The structure of the book, and the story it tells, use many conventions of both forms; but I think the homage to stagecraft goes much further than this. In the novella, theatre appears in all its permutations, sometimes indirectly.

For example, Peacock presents character archetypes of the sort used by Jonson himself. He creates representative characters who engage in conversational set-pieces in which the fashionable concerns of the literary minded are discussed. As with Jonson’s characters, such affectations mean that Peacock’s creations have an inflated sense of their own self-worth. This is shown in his story by the characters performing in dramas of their own making, although they insist that they are merely players on the stage of life, directed toward some higher purpose. Mr Flosky is convinced that events like the French Revolution and its outcome are a cosmic sign of the futility of action, and a directive that one can only profitably spend one’s life in philosophical contemplation. Celinda Toobad imagines herself the put-upon heroine of a Gothic romance, a sort of female Byronic hero, persecuted and forced into exile. Her father, Mr Toobad thinks that the devil has a hand in everything, including the farcical moment when he tumbles downstairs after colliding with Scythrop. The son of Christopher Glowry, who believes that all are ‘slaves and puppets’ to ‘necessity’ (p. 55), Scythrop is himself convinced that a grand directive lies before him. So intense is his ‘passion for reforming the world’ (p. 47) that he feels obliged to rehearse the moment of its realisation by donning a nightcap and dressing gown and practising his speeches from an improvised throne.

That particular moment in the novella reflects Peacock’s propensity for detailed scenic description, some of which recalls the illustrated backdrops that provided the setting for works acted in the early nineteenth-century theatre. Peacock’s word painting creates a vividly realised background to the action which unfolds before the reader as it would upon a stage, providing the setting for more direct homages to the theatre. The narrative structure of the story, though it has the expected story arc of a novella, is punctuated with small episodes, each a scene enacted before the reader. This is even emphasised by those moments when Peacock resorts to presenting the action in the form of a play – with dialogue and character notes. Two of these exchanges feature Marionetta, the one character who is perfectly adept at stage-managing scenes, especially where the matter of Scythrop’s devotion is concerned; and so, appropriately enough on these occasions, she is the instigator of the dialogue. On one of these occasions, she is even responsible for directing the action. While she plays the piano before an enchanted Mr Listless, the two of them have a conversation about the preoccupations of contemporary life. In the midst of the dialogue is a stage direction, alerting us to Scythrop seated with a copy of Dante. We learn that he is reading it in a manner which has just been described by Marionetta to be the perfect representation of a melancholy man hopelessly in love.

Given all these indirect and direct homages to dramatic form, then, while we (rightly) think of Nightmare Abbey as a parody of the Gothic novel, it is also worth considering Peacock’s novella as a Romantic reinvention of the Jonsonian city comedy. Peacock’s book has all the hallmarks of the city comedies of the seventeenth century but given a characteristically Romantic twist in its deployment of the taste for the Gothic. Nightmare Abbey in its ‘picturesque’ setting might not be a city, but it is still a place where the follies indigenous to urban life are exposed and mocked. The gloomy, mist-shrouded fens, the crenelated turrets, the crumbling, ivy-covered edifice is a monument to the contemporary Romantic fashionable taste for the Gothic, a propensity in literature mocked by Peacock as surely as Jonson mocked the literary pretensions of his own time. When a parcel arrives for Mr Listless, its contents are a representation of all the Regency foibles of the urban reading public which Mr Flosky delineates as he unpacks the parcel. There is the new type of novel centred on ‘misanthropy’, a new poem with a fashionably disaffected hero and a popular Review magazine in which authors are permitted to comment favourably on their own work. This summary of the work of William Godwin, Lord Byron and Robert Southey is as pertinent to Peacock’s audiences as were Jonson’s diatribes against his contemporaries’ literary pretension. Just like Jonson, Peacock saw in his colleagues’ work a disconcerting trend for ‘morbidity’ in literature, a too-intense focus on melancholy.

And, as everyone knows, an imbalance of the humours is invariably injurious to the health, a surfeit of melancholy leading to an unhealthy self-centredness. It results in a disengagement from life that can harm the wider society by displacing all virtue. In this novella, exploring the effect of such excesses of ‘black bile’ in contemporary literature, Peacock creates a cast of characters who feel that that they have no great part to play in the drama of life, no role to play in the betterment of the human condition. That there is, as Mr Cypress puts it ‘no hope for myself or for others’ (p. 99). And so they only feel that, as Scythrop himself says, gloomily paraphrasing another well-known early modern author: ‘the world is a stage and my direction is exit’.

 

Works Cited:

All quotations from Peacock’s Novel are from the Penguin edition, edited by Raymond Wright (Harmondsworth, 1969, reprinted 1981).

Roger Ingpen. 1914. Ed. The Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley. London: G. Bell & Sons. 2 Vols. Vol 2, p. 607.

Felix Felton. 1973. Thomas Love Peacock. George Allen & Unwin.

Rebekah Owens is currently studying for her PhD at Anglia Ruskin University, focusing on the reception of early modern dramatists in the 19th-century, and especially on how those responses still inform critical works today. She has published widely on early modern literature, from matters relating to the dramatist Thomas Kyd to Shakespeare on Film.

Stephen Copley Research Report: Hannah Moss at Chawton House Library

Hannah Moss (PhD Candidate, University of Sheffield) reports on her research at Chawton House Library. Her trip was funded by a BARS Stephen Copley Research Award.

Stephen Copley Research Report: Hannah Moss

Chawton House in Hampshire hardly needs an introduction as it is so frequently spoken of with such great fondness by everyone who has been lucky enough to spend some time working in the Library Reading Room. Just a few minutes’ walk down the leafy lane from the cottage where Jane Austen lived and worked between 1809-17 stands the ‘Great House’ inherited by her brother Edward after being adopted by the Knight family. Chawton House Library now makes an idyllic and inspiring setting for a collection of early women’s writing, and thanks to a Stephen Copley Award, I have been able to spend a productive week conducting research towards my thesis here.

My PhD thesis seeks to reappraise the representation of female artists in women’s writing of the period 1760-1820. With a wide-ranging artistic education considered a prerequisite for being accepted as an accomplished female, novels of the period tend to be populated by women who are adept at everything from painting portraits to playing the pianoforte. However, the ideal of the accomplished female can complicate the value of artistic attainment by eliding the aesthetic appeal of the artist with that of her art. When the arts are cultivated for show – primarily as a means of attracting male attention – the appearance of producing art becomes more important than what is actually produced. My aim is to look beyond the allure of accomplishment to explore how the arts can provide an avenue for independent self-expression whilst functioning within accepted boundaries of behaviour.

Chawton House Library

I began my week at Chawton House Library extending my research into what art forms are encouraged as a mark of virtue by looking into the conduct advice written for women. The collection held at Chawton House Library includes numerous conduct manuals, from Hannah Woolley’s compendious Gentlewoman’s Companion (1673), through to an ‘improved edition’ of Mrs Hemans’ Young Woman’s Companion (1840). Whilst some works, including Mrs Hemans’ Young Woman’s Companion, provide practical advice on perspective, shading, and the dangers of putting your paint brush in your mouth (‘King’s yellow’ is basically arsenic coloured with sulphur), other texts are more concerned with which arts constitute the proper use of a young lady’s time. There is distinct anxiety around spending too much time cultivating the arts and neglecting family or household duties, and Hannah Woolley warns that the hours of recreation should be kept in moderation. However, she does recommend painting, or limning, as a suitable pastime, noting: ‘Limning is an excellent qualification for a Gentlewoman to exercise and please her fancy therein’. Woolley then goes on to acknowledge that ‘There are many foreign Ladies that are excellent Artists herein; neither are there wanting Examples enough in his Majesty’s three Kingdoms of such Gentlewomen whose indefatigable industry in this laudable and ingenious Art may run parallel with such as make it their profession’.[1] So much has been written about the supposed lack of female artistic talent and the limitations imposed upon women artists in terms of training – therefore this quotation is significant as it recognises the skill possessed by women artists at home and abroad. However, one point to note is her use of the word ‘gentlewomen’. Status is of importance when it comes to what skills women are taught, and this message is reinforced in the novels and short tales delineating virtue and vice that I consulted whilst visiting the library.

In the novel The Reward of Virtue; or, the History of Miss Polly Graham (1769), Bounty Hall is a utopian vision of female education promoted by female philanthropy akin to that presented by Sarah Scott in Millenium Hall (1762). The ‘second rank education’ is designed for those in the middling rank with ‘no prospect of considerable fortunes’. Therefore, the focus is on teaching useful rather than ornamental accomplishments: ‘Even drawing was not taught, except where so extraordinary a genius appeared as might give room to believe it might prove a useful and profitable art’.[2] ‘The Story of Melinda’ in the didactic collection The Portrait of Life (1770) promotes a similar message, warning of the dangers of educating a woman beyond her station in life. Melinda’s accomplishments make the heroine a desirable companion for her rich friends even if she lacks their wealth, but she neglects her own family and is subsequently left with no money to her name. Her so-called friends then describe millinery as the only option she has left to support herself.

The second thread to the research I conducted whilst at Chawton House Library related to the British reception of Germaine de Staël’s Corinne, or Italy (1807). The talent of de Staël’s famed improvisatrice is stifled by English manners, but in Italy her genius is celebrated. Published just two years later, The Corinna of England, and a Heroine in the Shade: a Modern Romance (1809) constitutes one of the earliest responses to de Staël’s novel and provides valuable insight into how it was received. Attributed to E.M. Foster, this parody presents its artist heroine as no more than a deluded imitator of de Staël’s woman of genius.

Clarissa Moreton is the orphaned daughter of a wealthy industrialist, whose independent fortune and equally independent manners attract a circle of sycophantic musicians and artists to her salon. Refusing to be bound by convention, Clarissa’s unorthodox conduct risks the safety and reputation of her innocent young cousin, Mary Cuthbert. Upon reading de Staël’s work, Clarissa identifies with Corinne to the extent that she calls herself Corinna and decides to go out and address the people of Coventry in the manner of Corinne at the Capitol. There is bathos in the shift from Rome to a provincial English town, and rather than being heralded as a great speaker, Clarissa unwittingly incites a riot. Clarissa’s singularity does not mark her out as a woman of genius. In fact, her talents as a musician, poet and public speaker are decidedly lacking in comparison with de Staël’s heroine.

Foster does not present a model for the female artist to thrive in England. Display is presented as particularly unfeminine, leading the exemplary Clara Davenport to hide her talent. Even though she was ‘always engaged in some piece of useful or entertaining work of invention or fancy’ she ‘carefully concealed that she had pursuits of a higher nature from the eye of common enquiry, lest she should be thought to have strayed from the path prescribed to her sex’.[3] The challenge to female modesty posed by the display of talent will definitely be an idea that I will consider further as I continue to research the influence of de Staël’s Corinne on the representation of female artists in Romantic-era novels.

Hannah at Chawton

I would like to thank BARS for the generous bursary which enabled me to undertake research which is invaluable to the progress of my PhD. The staff at Chawton House are so helpful and supportive, and I would highly recommend a research visit here to anyone with an interest in early women’s writing. The Library Reading Room is a quiet haven where you have the time, space and materials at your disposal to make research breakthroughs, and I have left feeling inspired to push on with my project and pursue the various leads that I have identified.

[1] Hannah Woolley, Gentlewoman’s Companion, or, a Guide to the Female Sex, (London: A. Maxwell for Dorman Newman, 1673), p. 84.

[2] Anon, The Reward of Virtue; or, the History of Miss Polly Graham, (London: J. Roson and William Cooke, 1769), p.209-11.

[3] [E.M. Foster], The Corinna of England, and a Heroine in the Shade: a Modern Romance, (London: B.Crosby, 1809), p. 15.

On This Day in 1818: 17 July, Percy Bysshe Shelley translates Plato’s Symposium

We continue to celebrate the 200th anniversary of literary and historical events in the Romantic period with the BARS ‘On This Day’ blog series. Following a post by Alan Weinberg in March on Shelley’s arrival in Italy in 1818, we now present this commentary by Amanda Blake Davis on the poet’s translation of the Symposium, a task that he undertook during his stay in Bagni di Lucca, Tuscany.

On This Day in 1818: 17 July, Percy Bysshe Shelley translates Plato’s Symposium

By Amanda Blake Davis (University of Sheffield)

This summer marks the bicentenary of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s translation of Plato’s Symposium into English, an exercise of remarkable speed that was conducted over ten days in the summer of 1818.  For James A. Notopoulos, ‘[t]he translation of the Symposium was one of the most important things in Shelley’s poetic life.  It is valuable not only in itself but also for its influence on Shelley’s subsequent poetry’.[1]  In light of this comment, I would like to briefly consider the history of the translation’s composition and its impact upon Shelley’s poetic thought.

‘The Symposium’, Pietro Testa (1648)

Shelley began translating the Symposium on the 7th of July and continued on a daily basis until its completion on the 17th.  Shelley then made corrections from the 19th and finished these on the 20th when Mary Shelley took up the task of transcribing that lasted until the 6th of August.

The act of translation enabled Shelley to deeply consider the moral and imaginative properties of love and allowed him to bring the poeticisms of Plato’s language to life in the English language.  Stephanie Nelson observes that both the speed of the translation and Shelley’s intentional refusal to consult a Greek lexicon ‘preserve the flow of the dialogue’, and Michael O’Neill states that Shelley’s work is ‘closer in spirit to Plato than virtually any other translation’.[2]  Shelley’s assertion in A Defence of Poetry that ‘Plato was essentially a poet’ is anticipated by his prefatory fragment to his translation, wherein he describes how the philosopher expresses ‘the Pythian enthusiasm of poetry, melted by the splendour and harmony of his periods into one irresistible stream of musical impressions’.[3]  In her preface to Essays, Letters from Abroad, Translations and Fragments, Mary Shelley describes her late husband’s translation as a ‘noble piece of writing…which for the first time introduces the Athenian to the English reader in a style worthy of him’.[4]

Prior to Shelley’s translation, the existing English translation by Floyer Sydenham was a ‘sanitized’ and bowdlerised rendition, described by Mary Shelley as being ‘so harsh and un-English in its style’, and Nelson notes that ‘[t]he only translations of Plato available to Shelley, aside from Ficino’s Latin version, were Andre Dacier’s French translation of a number of dialogues, an English translation of Dacier’s selection, a French translation of the Republic, and Thomas Taylor’s Neoplatonic completion of Floyer Sydenham’s Collected Dialogues, first published in 1804’.[5]  However, this period of translation was not the poet’s first encounter with the Symposium.  In her journal, Mary records that Shelley read the Symposium one year prior to his translation, in the summer of 1817.[6]  Even earlier, Thomas Jefferson Hogg recalls that the two studied French and Latin translations of Plato’s works, including passages from the Symposium, while at Oxford in 1810.[7]  These studies were purely recreational, as the works of Plato were not added to the curriculum at Oxford until 1847.[8]  While it was the Phaedo that captivated the young Shelley at Oxford,[9] the Symposium seems to have had the most lasting effect on the poet’s mind, as it was this text that he returned to repeatedly throughout his career.

Shelley’s explained his reasoning for translating Plato’s dialogue on love in 1818: it was to allay ‘the despair of producing any thing original’.[10]  Rather than simply serving as a distraction from creative despondency, however, the translation in both content and purpose also reveals the significance of love to Shelley’s poetic thought.  In 1821, Shelley defines love as

…a going out of our own nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action or person, not our own.  A man to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own.

(A Defence of Poetry, 682)

Shelley’s definition of love is deeply indebted to his translation of Plato’s Symposium and particularly to the speech of the prophetess Diotima who, echoing Shelley’s Hymn of 1816, discusses ‘intellectual beauty’ and asserts that ‘the beauty which is in souls [is] more excellent than that which is in form’,[11] thereby emphasising love as a mental act.  Michael O’Neill notes that ‘“intellectual” is not present in the Greek, nor in the Latin gloss of Ficino at the foot of Shelley’s Bipont edition of the Symposium and often used by him when he was gravelled by the Greek’, positing that ‘[t]he adjective’s insertion suggests that Shelley found in Plato a subject-rhyme with his own intuitions in his earlier Hymn to Intellectual Beauty’.[12]  Shelley’s insertion of the phrase into his translation reveals his own ‘identification…with the beautiful which exists in thought, action or person, not our own’.  Shelley seems to feel that Plato’s emphasis on the beauty of the soul reflects his own belief in love as a meeting of minds and not simply of bodies.  This is further emphasised in the fragment of the essay that was to accompany the translation, wherein

…the gratification of the senses is no longer all that is sought in sexual connexion.  It soon becomes a very small part of that profound and complicated sentiment, which we call love, which is rather the universal thirst for a communion not merely of the senses, but of our whole nature, intellectual, imaginative, and sensitive…

(‘Essay on the Literature, the Arts and the Manners of the Athenians’, p. 57)

On the 10th of July, while engaged in the act of translation, Shelley wrote to the Gisbornes and declared that he hoped ‘to give Mary some idea of the manners & feelings of the Athenians—so different on many subjects from that of any other community that ever existed’.[13]  The translation is a gift of love and an encouragement for Mary to ‘put [herself] in the place of another and of many others’ by means of her imaginative recognition of the ‘inmost state of manners & opinions among the antient Greeks’.[14]  Mary reciprocates this act of love in writing to Maria Gisborne that: ‘It is true that in many particulars [the Symposium] shocks our present manners, but no one can be a reader of the works of antiquity unless they can transport themselves from these to other times and judge not by our but by their morality’.[15]  Here, Mary’s defence of the ancient Greeks and her recommendation for mental and moral transportation clearly anticipate Shelley’s definition of love in the Defence.

Shelley’s translation, edited and published by Mary as The Banquet nearly twenty years after his death, anticipated the English revival of interest in Plato’s life and philosophy.  Shelley’s engagement with the Symposium extends far beyond the summer of 1818, possibly beginning during his time at Eton and certainly remaining at the forefront of his thought up until his accidental death in 1822.  Poignantly, the last words Shelley wrote to Mary are: ‘I have found the translation of the Symposium’.[16]

Shelley’s last letter to Mary.  Pisa, July 1822 Shelley c. 1, fol. 505v Bodleian Library, University of Oxford (via Shelley’s Ghost).

 

[1] James A. Notopoulos, The Platonism of Shelley: A Study of Platonism and the Poetic Mind (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1949), p. 57.

[2] Stephanie Nelson, ‘Shelley and Plato’s Symposium: The Poet’s Revenge’, International Journal of the Classical Tradition, 14.1/2 (2007), p. 104; Michael O’Neill, ‘Emulating Plato: Shelley as Translator and Prose Poet’ in The Unfamiliar Shelley ed. by Timothy Webb and Alan Weinberg (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), p. 243.

[3] Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Defence of Poetry in The Major Works, ed. by Zachary Leader and Michael O’Neill (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 679; Percy Bysshe Shelley, ‘Preface to the Banquet of Plato’ in The Platonism of Shelley, p. 402.

[4] Mary Shelley, ed., Percy Bysshe Shelley, Essays, Letters from Abroad, Translations and Fragments, vol. 1 (London: Edward Moxon, 1852), preface vii.

[5] Steven Bruhm, ‘Reforming Byron’s Narcissism’, Lessons of Romanticism: A Critical Companion, ed. by Thomas Pfau and Robert F. Gleckner (Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1998), p. 432; Mary Shelley, Essays, Letters from Abroad, Translations and Fragments, vol. 1, preface viii; Nelson, p. 102.

[6] Mary’s journal entry for 13 August 1817 reads: ‘Shelley writes—reads Plato’s Convivium’.  The Journals of Mary Shelley: 1814-1844.  2 vols., ed. by Paula R. Feldman and Diana Scott Kilvert (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), vol. 1, p. 178.

[7] Thomas Jefferson Hogg, The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley (London: George Routledge & Sons Limited, 1906), p. 72.

[8] Notopoulos, p. 31.

[9] Thomas Jefferson Hogg, The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley (London: George Routledge & Sons Limited, 1906), p. 72.

[10] Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. by Frederick L. Jones, 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon, 1964), vol. 2, p. 22.

[11] Notopoulos, pp. 447 and 448.

[12] O’Neill, p. 242.

[13] PBS Letters II, p. 20.

[14] PBS Letters II, p. 22.

[15] Shelley, Mary, The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, ed. by Betty T. Bennett, 3 vols (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980-1988), vol. I, p. 77.

[16] ‘Shelley’s first introduction to Plato was through James Lind…who befriended Shelley at Eton.  Thomas Medwin, who took an interest in Shelley’s Platonism, mentions Shelley’s statement that he read the Symposium with Dr. Lind’, Notopoulos, p. 30; PBS Letters II, p. 444.

Stephen Copley Research Report: Eva-Charlotta Mebius on Robert Mudie and John Abraham Heraud

Unearthing Robert Mudie in the National Library of Scotland and Dundee University Archives

by Eva-Charlotta Mebius

My research trip to Edinburgh and Dundee, generously funded by a BARS Stephen Copley Research Award, was truly a wonderful experience. My thesis, which explores the apocalyptic imagination in literature and art in the long nineteenth century, and literary and artistic networks in London, has led me to the work of several lesser-known writers. One such writer is the prolific and self-taught reformer, historian, novelist, poet, journalist, editor and naturalist Robert Mudie (1780-1842). Born in 1780 in Forfarshire, Scotland, he moved to London at the beginning of the 1820s to continue his career as a writer and journalist.[1] Thus, the goal of this research trip was to gather more information on Robert Mudie’s life and career before he arrived in London.

Robert Mudie was a copious writer, and it has been reported that his oeuvre amounted to over 90 volumes, although it should also be noted that he was no stranger to self-plagiarizing. Tracking down his writings has proved very tricky indeed, especially as he often published his work anonymously.  For example, he used at least one pseudonym, the wonderfully Smolett-esque name of Laurence Langshank.

One new addition to the list, however, thanks to this research trip, was Mudie’s short history of Dundee, Dundee Delineated (1822). It takes its place alongside his other monumental volumes, such as The Modern Athens (1824) on Edinburgh, and his truly extraordinary achievement in the four large volumes on London, Babylon the Great (1825) and A Second Judgement of Babylon the Great (1828), that appeared in several editions throughout the 1820s and 1830s. My forthcoming article in The Dickensian on Charles Dickens and Robert Mudie explores the significance of Robert Mudie’s writing on London, and its potential connection to the Dickensian London of Oliver Twist (1837-39).

My visit to Dundee was very important for my research on the elusive and extraordinary life of Robert Mudie, as well as the works themselves. It was especially exciting to visit the city that informed and inspired much of his early work as a reformer, poet, novelist, and journalist. Mudie spent almost a decade in the city, where he worked as a schoolmaster for many years at Dundee Academy. Moreover, it was in Dundee that his writing career truly began – his poem ‘The Maid of Griban’ was published in 1810 – and it was also here that he wrote his first and only satirical novel Glenfergus (1820), about the Bonclair family and the town of Glenfergus, which at the time was mistaken by some to have been written by Sir Walter Scott. Mudie’s characters were even said by one reviewer in The Scotsman to be in competition with Scott’s creations, and I would argue that the novel, along with much of Mudie’s writing, is still well worth reading.

Due to Mudie’s radical reformist politics and attacks on fellow members of the Town Council, who he accused of corruption in the Dundee Advertiser (edited by R. S. Rintoul, founder of The Spectator), a move to London proved necessary shortly after the publication of his novel. He arrived in London around 1821 where he, like Dickens, began working for the Morning Chronicle. Yet he did return to Scotland on occasion. For example, he was asked to report on George IV’s visit to Edinburgh, published as A Historical Account of His Majesty’s Visit to Scotland (1822).

Another exciting find made in the Dundee University Archives was the first portrait that I had ever seen of this prolific and gifted, but oddly elusive, writer. I have since learned that it is probably based on a famous satirical print ‘The Executive’ (1821), by the Dundee portraitist Henry Harwood (1803-1868), in which Mudie appears.

 

Fig. 1 The Executive, engraving after a painting by Henry Harwood, 1821 (Photo Credit: University of Dundee Fine Art Collections). Robert Mudie can be seen wearing a light-coloured top hat in the middle, sixth from left.

 

Furthermore, in the National Library of Scotland I was finally able to have a look at such gems as Mudie’s early work in his two unsuccessful journals The Independent (1816) and The Caledonian (1821), both of which started in Dundee. I also examined his later book The Complete Governess (1824), on the reform of the education of women, which reveals his strikingly progressive views on education in general, and the education of girls in particular.

During my trip, I was able to conduct some research on other obscure writers that are part of the literary networks that I explore in my thesis. I had the opportunity to peruse some letters written to, and by, the now mostly forgotten editor, writer of Hyper-Miltonic epopeia, distinguished theatre critic, and chastised dramatist John Abraham Heraud (1799-1887). Heraud was another prolific writer, but his two most famous poems were the hyper-Miltonic epics The Descent into Hell (1830), and the antediluvian The Judgement of the Flood (1834). Seemingly, he was one of the more colourful figures in the literary world of London, and by all accounts Heraud had an interesting social circle that included prominent figures such as Thomas Carlyle, Douglas Jerrold, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Charles Dickens. He was also a devout disciple of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he was mentored by Robert Southey, and he corresponded with William Wordsworth.[2]

Thus, I am happy to report that alongside my planned research on Mudie’s early writing, this trip was full of unexpected discoveries. I would also like to take the opportunity to thank the staff of the National Library of Scotland, and the Dundee University Archives. They were all so kind, helpful, welcoming, and I cannot wait to return for more research on ‘Mudieism’ and other matters in the future. Finally, thank you again to BARS for making this research trip possible.

[1] There is some confusion as to what year Mudie was born. Most publications, such as the ODNB, use 1777. However, as I found out on this research trip, in The Mudies of Angus (1959) the authors argue that this is unlikely since he was not baptised until 1780. Arguably, more research is needed on the life of Mudie.

[2] For the curious, I highly recommend his daughter’s, the celebrated actress Edith Heraud, Memoirs of John A. Heraud (1898).

Nineteenth-Century Matters Fellow: Lancaster University 2018-19

Applications are now open for a Visiting Fellowship at Lancaster University with Nineteenth-Century Matters.

Outline

Nineteenth-Century Matters is an initiative jointly run by the British Association for Romantic Studies and the British Association for Victorian Studies. Now in its third year, it is aimed at postdoctoral researchers who have completed their PhD, but are not currently employed in a full-time academic post. Nineteenth-Century Matters offers unaffiliated early career researchers a platform from which to organise professionalization workshops and research seminars on a theme related to nineteenth-century studies, and relevant to the host institution’s specialisms. The focus should be on the nineteenth century, rather than on Romanticism or Victorianism.

For the coming academic year Nineteenth-Century Matters will provide the successful applicant with affiliation in the form of a Visiting Fellowship at Lancaster University. The fellowship will run from 1 September 2018-August 31 2019. The successful fellow will particularly benefit from and contribute towards the University’s expertise in digital and environmental humanities. They will also be encouraged to actively contribute to events being planned by the Research Centre for Culture, Landscape and Environment.

This fellowship includes a Lancaster University e-mail address, and access to its library and electronic resources for the full academic year. There is no requirement to live in the Lancaster area during this time. The primary purpose of the fellowship is to enable the successful applicant to continue with an affiliation and remain part of the academic community. It is a non-stipendiary post, and the fellow will need to support themselves financially during the academic year. The fellowship will, however, include a week’s accommodation at the University over the summer, where the fellow will be free to develop their research and make the most of Lancaster’s archives (particularly those held in the Ruskin Library) and digital resources. The fellow will also be financially supported by BAVS and BARS with the organising of a research and professionalization event on a theme relevant to Lancaster’s collections and/or research interests. It is expected that the fellow will acknowledge BARS, BAVS, and Lancaster University in any publications that arise from their position.

Application Process

Applicants should submit a CV with a two-page proposal of their research topic and event, and explain why they would benefit from the fellowship. These should be sent to Matthew Ward (m.ward.1@bham.ac.uk) and Joanna Taylor (j.e.taylor1@lancaster.ac.uk). The deadline for applications is July 31 2018.

 

 

 

Stephen Copley Research Report: Emma Probett on Austen and Gaskell

A report from a research trip funded by a BARS Stephen Copley Research Award.

Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell – Conduct novels and the Novel of Manners at Chawton House Library

by Emma Probett

The BARS Stephen Copley Research Award afforded me the opportunity to visit Chawton House Library in Hampshire, which holds a large collection of women’s literature, predominantly from 1600-1830, including books belonging to the Knight family and borrowed by Jane Austen.

I was able to spend a fortnight in May 2018 studying conduct novels ranging from 1814, the year of Mansfield Park’s publication, to 1830, when Elizabeth Gaskell became a teenager. The research I undertook will inform the foundation of my PhD thesis in which I will track the tropes and transformation of the conduct novel, from conduct manuals such as Hannah More’s Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education, to the established conduct novels of Frances Burney and Maria Edgeworth. I will consider the collective effect these novels had on women’s writing, and on public opinion regarding what it was appropriate for women to write about.

Though a number of critics have vied to align Austen with contemporaneous conservative and radical novelists alike, there is a distinct lack of research exploring her far-reaching effects on Victorian women novelists and the conduct novel canon. My thesis explores Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell as subversive novelists and analyses their codified references to morally dubious behaviour, and their process of experimenting with and undermining established conduct novel tropes. As part of this research I am surveying once-popular female novelists and ideologists of the conduct novel who, though now obscure and out of print, provide a rich insight into the building blocks of the genre. This cross section demonstrates not only the rules of the genre but the rules of conduct for women novelists.

Women novelists could be outspoken on social and political matters, prominent figureheads being Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Hays; however, when they were, their private lives were often intruded upon and harshly criticised by the general public. In order for women novelists to retain social standing, a degree of privacy, and the ability to write for an independent living, they needed the approbation of mainstream publishers, reviewers, and the general reader; any criticism regarding social and political issues required gentle satire, nuanced irony, and embedded references which required the reader to have a specialist knowledge of a saying, a limerick, or a product etc. to understand the inference.

In addition to the typical three volume novel sets which focus on conduct and manners, I was also able to review transitionary materials that strike a blend between the conduct manual (as an instruction book) and the conduct novel (as an entertaining parable). Considering how authors experimented with the novel form was not only deeply rewarding, but further emphasised the issues facing novelists in terms of communicating authentic virtue in their protagonists in a way that was not as indirect and distancing for readers as the epistolary novel, nor as direct and potentially inappropriate as passionate dialogue between a protagonist and their love interest. Borderline performative body language such as fainting fits, catatonic immobility, and unstable blushing to blanching is at the foreground of the conduct novel; the appearance of good health and ill health as an indicator of emotional health (often closely linked to moral health), is constantly publicly monitored, discussed, interpreted and policed.

I believe that this issue of dramatised bodily health – as an author’s assertion of a character’s virtue – was addressed by Austen in the development of the novel of manners, a subgenre of the conduct novel, which focuses on behaving and speaking virtuously rather than being innately and unaffectedly virtuous, effectively circumventing an author’s struggle to categorically prove that their character is truly virtuous. The research I undertook at Chawton House Library aided me in forming definitions and differentiations between the conduct novel and the novel of manners.

I am very grateful to BARS for giving me the opportunity to organise a prolonged visit to Chawton House Library, as without this funding I would not have been able to undertake such an extensive and indispensable research trip. Chawton House Library is currently housing an excellent exhibition, The art of freezing the blood’: Northanger Abbey, Frankenstein, & the Female Gothic, open until 7th December 2018.