BARS First Book Prize 2019-21: Call for Nominations

The British Association for Romantic Studies (BARS) is delighted to announce the current round of The British Association for Romantic Studies First Book Prize, 2019-21.

Awarded  biennially  for  the  best  first  monograph  in  Romantic  Studies,  this  prize is  open to first books  published  between  1  January  2019  and  1  January  2021.  In  keeping  with  the  remit  of  BARS, it is designed to encourage and recognise original, ground breaking  and interdisciplinary  work  in  the  literature  and  culture  of  the  period  c.1780-1830.  The prize  will  be  awarded  to  the  value  of  £250 and will  be  announced  in August  2021.The three runners up will receive £100 each.

Eligibility and nomination procedures

The  competition  is  open  to  books  by  authors  who  have  not  published  a  monograph  before. Authors must have  been  awarded their  PhD after  2014. Books  must  be  nominated  through  the BARS  membership  or  by  publishers.  Copies  of  nominated  books  must  be  received  by the committee by the closing date, 1st March, 2021. Books received after this date are not eligible for consideration.  

Please  send  4  copies  of  each  nominated  book  to  the  Panel  of  Judges:

Dr. David Fallon David.Fallon@roehampton.ac.uk; Prof. Francesca  Saggini fsaggini@unitus.it; Dr. Tess Somervell tess.somervell@worc.ox.ac.uk; Prof. Angela Wright A.H.Wright@sheffield.ac.uk.

In the current round of the BARS First Book Prize, books must be submitted as pdf copies or free / open downloadable  copies. If  you  wish  to  send  paper  copies,  please  contact  Francesca  Saggini  for further instructions.

Special Issue of European Romantic Review: Worlds of Maria Edgeworth

European Romantic Review is pleased to announce the publication of a Special Issue, ‘Worlds of Maria Edgeworth’, guest edited by Susan Manly and Joanna Wharton. 

‘The seven new essays published here explore the reach and ambition of Edgeworth’s ideas and writings, showing how she built on and rethought Scottish and French Enlightenment philosophies, experimented with the ideas of fiction and reality, voice and print, and used the opportunities granted to her as a member of the “republic of letters” to gain a political life and influence. They connect her not only to prominent thinkers of her time, many of whom were personally known to her or her father, but also to global networks of commerce, colonization, and empire’ (Manly and Wharton, Introduction).

Articles:

Introduction: Worlds of Maria Edgeworth, Susan Manly and Joanna Wharton

The Secret of Castle Rackrent, Claire Connolly

Correspondence and Community: Maria Edgeworth’s Scottish Friends, Jane Rendall

Maria Edgeworth and Anna Letitia Barbauld: Print, Canons, and Female Literary Authority, Aileen Douglas

“A desert island is a delightful place”: Maria Edgeworth and Robinson Crusoe, Clíona Ó Gallchoir

Maria Edgeworth’s Private Theatricals: Patronage, Zara, and 1814, Gillian Russell

Maria Edgeworth and the Telegraph, Joanna Wharton

Maria Edgeworth’s Political Lives, Susan Manly

Full details are available here.

Midlands Romantic Seminar 2021: ‘Burns, Satan, and the Sin of Rhyme’

Online seminar: Matthew Ward (University of Birmingham): ‘Burns, Satan, and the Sin of Rhyme’

Wednesday 27th January, 17.30-18.45pm (GMT)

The Midlands Romantic Seminar is moving online for a series of talks in 2021.

You are warmly invited to the first of this year’s digital Midlands Romantic Seminar events. Matthew Ward (University of Birmingham) will deliver a paper on ‘Burns, Satan, and the Sin of Rhyme’ (especially fitting as the seminar falls in the same week as Burns Night!). There will also be a short Q&A after the talk.

Seminar abstract:

Matthew Ward’s talk will consider the ways that two of the chief influences on Burns’s creative life, the satanic and the sexual, are bedfellows and reveal Romantic ribaldry. Both sources of inspiration were discovered in his youth; both appear as mysterious, uncontrollable impulses that are not only depicted with humour but also suggest that, for Burns, comedy is drawn from and aligned with transgressive powers that are instinct with the making of poetry. Burns’s comic demonic is crucial to appreciating the distinctive character of his writing, but it also allows us to better appreciate the ways in which the ridiculous is aligned with the Romantic. Burns was no ‘Heaven-taught ploughman’ as we know. Though he played up to the image, he must have been tickled by it too, given how far from ‘heaven taught’ he liked to imagine his muses being. The laughter of Burns’s Satanism provides a vital contrast to the sublime, visionary company we have long associated with Romanticism. Encouraged by and combining the bawdier moments of Milton’s Paradise Lost with the supernaturalism of rural Scottish folklore, Burns’s comic demonic is something we would do well to take more seriously if not more solemnly as regards Romantic Satanism.

All are very welcome to attend. The event will run from 17.30-18.45pm (GMT) on Wednesday 27th January 2021, and will be held via Microsoft Teams. Registered attendees will receive a link to the event nearer the time. Please click here to register.

BARS Stephen Copley Research Awards: Deadline 1 Feb

Postgraduates and early career scholars working in the area of Romanticism are invited to apply for a Stephen Copley Research Award.  The BARS Executive Committee has established the bursaries in order to help fund research expenses up to a maximum of £500.  Expenses may include but are not limited to the cost of travel and accommodation related to archival or research-focused trips, as well as photocopying, scanning, and childcare.  A postgraduate must be enrolled on a doctoral programme in the UK; an early career scholar is defined as someone who holds a PhD (from the UK) but has not held a permanent academic post for more than three years by the application deadline.  Application for the awards is competitive, and cannot be made retrospectively.

Successful applicants must be members of BARS before taking up the award.  The names of recipients will be announced on the BARS website and social media, and successful applicants will be asked to submit a short report to the BARS Executive Committee within four weeks of the completion of the research trip and to acknowledge BARS in their doctoral thesis and/or any publication.  Reports may also be published on the BARS Blog where this is appropriate.  Previous winners or applicants are encouraged to apply again.

Please send the following information in support of your application (up to two pages of A4 maximum in word.doc format):

Your full name and institutional affiliation (if any).

The working title and a short abstract or summary of your PhD or current project.

A brief description of the research to be undertaken for which you need support.

An estimated costing for the proposed research trip.

Estimated travel dates.

Details of current or recent funding (AHRC award, &c), if applicable.

The name of one supervisor/referee (with email address) to whom application can be made for a supporting reference on your behalf.

The name and contact details (including email address and Twitter handle) of whomever updates your departmental website or social media, if known.  And your own Twitter handle, if applicable.

Applications and queries should be directed to the bursaries officer, Dr Daniel Cook (d.p.cook@dundee.ac.uk) at the University of Dundee. The deadline for applications is 1 February in any given year.

Announcing a New Collection in RÊVE: Romantic Sounds

Romantic Sounds is an experiment in ways of engaging online publics, both immediately with the virtual exhibition of RÊVE (Romantic Europe: The Virtual Exhibition), and, in the longer term, with the collections of the museums gathered together within the AHRC-funded DREAMing Romantic Europe network. It was inspired by the sense under the lockdown of 2020 that Romantic object and place were revealing themselves to be as much virtual as material. Perhaps the affect that the material heritage of Romanticism still exerts could be voiced in that most Romantically virtual of the arts, music.  So DREAM, with additional funding from The Open University, commissioned 7 early-career composers and 14 early-career performers to conceive and put together this suite under the challenging conditions of COVID-19 restrictions. Each composer was given free rein to explore the exhibition, shortlisting a couple of exhibits to work with; from that list 9 exhibits were selected to showcase a range of materialities.  Like RÊVE itself, therefore, this suite is in conception an experimental conversation between individually-authored components, and until it was put together in its entirety it was not clear what each piece might have to say to the others, how they might end up answering and provoking each other, or what they might say collectively about how the Romantic still resonates within the present.  Each piece is a miniature — anything between one and half minutes and four minutes long – accompanied by the relevant images from RÊVE, along with a few notes by the composers reflecting on their creative choices. The suite as a whole runs for just under 30 minutes.

Embark on an acoustic adventure through the collection of Romantic dreams and fantasies held in RÊVE, transfiguring disparate Romantic materialities – paintings, a watch, an engraving, a tourist attraction, a tie-pin, a stethoscope, a guidebook, a few names in a book – into sound.  You find yourselves first in a pastoral landscape crowned by a ruined castle where time seems to have stopped. Then you enter a soundscape that recreates the regular, rational tick of the Enlightenment in the shape of Cowper’s pocket-watch only for its beat to stutter, race, and break. Watch as a cloud-wisp drifts, mutates and then gathers threatening power; listen to the half-choked pantings of Vesuvius; be mesmerised by the flickering light that unsteadies the engraved geometry of Fingal’s Cave; be ravished as a diamond-studded lyre draws breath and spins singing phrases from the air; catch through the newly-invented stethoscope the optimistic sound of the future; and climb England’s highest mountain with Dorothy Wordsworth into visionary stillness. Finish, as is appropriate to the season, with the crackle and wit of a Christmas cracker.

Listen to the suite and explore the exhibits here.

Five Questions: Jacques Khalip on Last Things

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Jacques Khalip is Professor of English at Brown University. His research interests include Romanticism, critical theory, photography and queer theory; he has recently published work on William Blake, Michel Foucault, Percy Shelley and ‘The Last Animal at the End of The World’. He is the author of Anonymous Life: Romanticism and Dispossession (Stanford UP, 2009); his editorial projects include Constellations of a Contemporary Romanticism (with Forest Pyle; Fordham UP, 2016), Minimal Romanticism (with David L. Clark; Romantic Circles Praxis, 2016), Romanticism and Disaster (with David Collings; Romantic Circles Praxis, 2012) and Releasing the Image: From Literature to New Media (with Robert Mitchell; Stanford UP, 2011). His most recent monograph, which we discuss below, is Last Things: Disastrous Form from Kant to Hujar, published by Fordham University Press in 2018 as part of the Lit Z series.

1) How did you come to realise that you wanted to write a book on lastness?

I was initially working on a manuscript that centered on historical “disasters” and Romantic responses to them; more specifically, I wanted to explore the multiple ways (aesthetic, ethical, political) in which texts ambivalently process, respond, and provide the contours for understanding what counts as a disaster. When I was halfway done, however, I was invited to contribute to a MLA panel on the “Triumph of LIfe,” organized by Joel Faflak, and I found myself reshaping my manuscript around the terms of my talk (so I have Joel and Orrin Wang to thank for that opportunity). Additionally, constant collaborative conversations with David L. Clark also helped me morph that talk into an entirely new chapter and, as a consequence, a redefinition of my book.  As a new starting point, then, I became interested in how Shelley’s fragment of a poem powerfully evoked and explored its own deployed figures of lastness–last of life, of romanticism, of “Romantic studies,” etc. The critical work surrounding that poem’s incomplete state led me to think about how to reflect on lastness otherwise–not as a marker of a late period, a point of termination, or a nostalgic threshold of sorts, but rather as a particular formal unit of unfinishing, undoing, or unmaking that crystallizes the extent to which Romanticism urgently ponders the “ends” of normative worlds, lives, identities, and whether or not we need not hold onto these in our various vocabularies. Additionally, in an era where we face professional ends like the “end” of the humanities, thinking about something like the end of Romanticism as a field might seem relatively parochial, but this question massively energized my book’s polemic. How to take seriously the last of Romanticism in a way that isn’t wistful or melancholic, but rather as a provocation for other forms of thought that do not assume the survival of the “human,” for example, as their bedrock.

2) Your introduction opens with Kant, and your earlier subjects are mostly drawn from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  To what extent would you locate a shift in understandings or activations of the possibilities of lastness within this chronological window?

Kant’s “The End of All Things” doesn’t directly deal with lastness–it is a takedown of the kind of catastrophic logic that my book also wants to critique–but it became a touchstone because of what Kant wonderfully suggests but doesn’t develop. He opens the door, as it were, to ask the following: What is a “last thought,” and what would that mean as something that already inscribes thinking? It would be a thought within thinking itself, in other words, an unthought, that inhibits knowledge. Kant’s last thought becomes a kind of thinking that exists unto itself, and in this way, quite counterintuitively, it severs itself from the humanist aspirations of the Enlightenment. Indeed, it is this philosophical species of  lastness that interests me as the thought within Romanticism, a period that emerges out of and yet responds to the sense of dark crises dominating that time in history–a time, moreover, of endless world warfare, human enslavement, economic exploitation, and despotic retaliation.

3) Rather than confining its attention to the Romantic period, your book considers a longer heritage or constellation of Romanticism, juxtaposing film, installation art and photography with poetry, philosophy and painting.  How important is this sustained perspective for your conception of how Romanticism can help us better articulate or understand lastness?

Romanticism is a concept, a theoretical force but also a force of theory, of speculation and the imagination’s “right,” as it were, to fail at imagining and thinking. Failure here, however, doesn’t mean something tied to matters of agency or identity, nor is it about celebrating the heroics of failing or “failing better.” Rather, to imagine theoretically or to theoretically imagine (to guess, to ponder, to assay) is to allow for a kind of non-productive, non-instrumentalized thinking that takes us outside of ourselves and our lived “needs” or practices. In this way, to think theoretically with Romanticism is to risk going to the side of life: to side step the narrow bounds of experience, and approach the unlived. After all, no thought can aspire to completion, development, termination; thinking thinks its failures. I turned to contemporary art works because I wanted to explore less how the present interrogates or inherits the past, and more how Romantic lastness rends contemporary aesthetics; the works I chose became unreal spaces where one could read and see what is impossible, what is irreducible to the socio-material.  How might the movement between two stanzas, for example, create hitherto unknown relationalities? In what way might a photograph constellate with a Romantic painting to help us consider what it means to render the last “visible”?

4) You write that your book is ‘about dwelling with the last of romanticism and romantic studies today and addressing the now no more as the midst in which we find ourselves’, but your argument also makes clear that Romanticism has seen itself as on the verge of endings from early moments of its conception.  In what manners do you think the risks or sensibilities of our time lend particular urgency to addressing lastness, and what might Romantic texts teach us about negotiating with, resisting or reconciling with these circumstances?

In our present state of things, we are confronted with lastness incessantly, and often it appears in apocalyptic terms: an “end of the world” that is being thrust up against us to fear, and rightfully so. Who would want to be in a world that is tragically perilous, a world full of contagion, class conflict, anti-Blackness, populist violence, and ecological breakdown? As we work against this world, however, we also need to reflect on what kind of world we want to hold onto or put back together. Indeed, perhaps what we can learn from Romanticism is that certain worlds need to end now in order to appreciate the kinds of humanistic privileges that often underscore our flawed intentions, good or bad. Romanticism has always responded to these crises, acknowledging its own complicities and continuities but also its differences, pushing us to various ends that throw into relief thoughts that other literary fields might otherwise not want to theoretically consider. This dynamic of resistance is extraordinarily needful right now, and it marks the intellectual power of Romanticism. On a more local level, grappling with the lastness of our own field is a profoundly valuable thought to hold to, as perverse as that may sound. Of course, no one would wish an end to Romanticism, but what might thinking about its end help bring about? How might a disastrous thinking unsettle some of the more hygenic responses (administrative, critical, affective) put forth to keep the field intact even as they prove to be utterly inadequate?

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a manuscript that deals with the concept of regret in Romantic and post-Romantic literature. A small part of that project appears in Orrin N.C. Wang’s edited collection, Frankenstein In Theory: A Critical Anatomy (2021). I also have an abiding interest in queer photography, and have an embryonic article in the works. Finally, I am again writing with Tres Pyle (Oregon) a polemical essay that derives from and further extends our earlier collaboration, Constellations of a Contemporary Romanticism (2016).

New Job Alert: Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Romantic Ridiculous

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This is an exciting position for a postdoctoral researcher to shift Romantic Studies from the sublime to the ridiculous, working with the Principal Investigator to investigate an alternative collaborative ethos in the Romantic period and in Higher Education today.

The postdoctoral researcher will explore possibilities for collaborative authorship with the principal investigator in different forms, including a co-authored article on this Research Question – How have Romantic-period writers and Romanticism itself been represented as ridiculous? – and an experimental duograph on The Romantic Ridiculous. The postdoctoral researcher would conduct their own research in one of the following areas:

• Representations of the Romantic child from the nineteenth century to the present day

• Women’s writing and/or children’s literature and aesthetics

• Romantic legacies, particularly in children’s literature, satire/caricature, and/or music

The project’s Impact elements will be collaborative, edging towards co-production, building on an existing track record of collaboration with partner cultural institutions. The postdoctoral researcher and principal investigator will work with groups of A-level students in collaboration with Windermere Jetty and the Grasmere Trust to develop a travelling exhibition on ‘Ridiculous Romantics’.

For more details about this job, visit the Edgehill website and view the job posting here

Edge Hill University is “A great success story… an institution that improves and impresses year after year” – Times Higher Education. The University has been ranked Best University Workplace (Times Higher Education 2015), judged Best UK Employer (European Business Awards 2016) and highly commended in Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards 2017 for Workplace of the Year.

Literary Women: Global Encounters, Interventions and Innovations, 1750-1830 (Due 31st October 2021)

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Guest Editors:
Dr Yi-cheng Weng (National Taiwan University, Taiwan)
Dr Gillian Dow (University of Southampton, UK)

The previous decades have seen the publications of stimulating and ground-breaking works that seek to recuperate and reconsider British women writers of this period. Literary criticism and feminist literary history have celebrated the existence and achievement of women writers, and shown that they were crucial participants in facilitating changes, transitions, and innovations in social and cultural movements, as well as literary styles.

This special issue, the first to focus on women’s writing in The Wenshan Review of Literature and Culture, is scheduled to be published in June 2023. We invite essays of 6000-10000 words, that explore the diversity of women’s writing in the latter half of the long eighteenth century, when – in Britain at any rate – women writers were entering the literary marketplace in increasing numbers. Inspired by past scholarship on women’s writing, and especially narratives about women’s roles as negotiators and innovators that have consistently shaped our understanding of their work, the editors are keen to take advantage of the internationally collaborative nature of this special issue. We seek papers that explore perspectives on how women writers engaged in conversations about questions of politics, gender, war, nation, history, and art in Britain, continental Europe, and beyond. By looking across borders, and inviting contributions from colleagues working in a variety of institutional settings across the globe, we hope to weave together multitudinous narratives and responses to key cultural and literary developments of the age.

Possible topics for this special issue may include but not limited to:
❏    Women and places: home, institutions, traveling, and revisiting
❏    Women and cultures: encounters beyond borders
❏    Sociability and public roles
❏    Distance and intimacy
❏    Female aesthetics
❏    Reception and translation: women in other worlds
❏    Women and materiality: object, fashion, and material culture
❏    Women writing about changes: interruptions, interventions, and innovations
❏    Emotions and feelings
❏    Women and illness
❏    Women and cosmopolitanism
❏    Art, theatre, and literature
❏    Women’s writing about slavery, empire, and imperialism
❏    Women and enlightenment
❏    Teaching women’s writing in a global context

Please follow the submission guidelines detailed on The Wenshan Review of Literature and Culture website, and submit your articles online by 31st October 2021.

The Wenshan Review of Literature and Culture, founded in 1995, is an open-access peer-reviewed journal of literary and cultural studies, and one of the most reputable academic journals in Taiwan. It offers a unique space to bring together scholars from around the world to address important issues and debates in a wide range of research areas. It is currently indexed in: Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI); SCOPUS; EBSCOhost; MLA International Bibliography; Taiwan Humanities Citation Index (THCI).

We welcome informal enquiries, and proposals for co-authored contributions. Please contact the co-editors: Yi-cheng Weng (yichengweng@ntu.edu.tw) and Gillian Dow (G.Dow@soton.ac.uk).

Yi-cheng Weng is Assistant Professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at National Taiwan University. She holds a PhD in English from King’s College London, where she researched conservative novels of the 1790s, and has previously taken visiting fellowships at Chawton House Library (UK) and Academia Sinica (Taiwan). Her previous publications consider and explore the diversity of women’s writing in the 18th and early 19th centuries, but the novel has always been a central concern for her. She is currently engaged in a cross-disciplinary research project on visual art and literature, and is completing an article on the representations of women in portrait.

Gillian Dow is an Associate Professor in the English Department at the University of Southampton, and Vice-President of the British Association of Romantic Studies (BARS). She has been associated with Chawton House – a rare books library focusing on women writers in the period 1660-1830 – since 2005, and was seconded as Executive Director from 2014-2019. Her co-edited collections include Women’s Writing, 1660-1830: Feminisms and Futures (Palgrave, 2016), co-edited with Jennie Batchelor; Uses of Austen: Jane’s Afterlives(Palgrave, 2012), co-edited with Clare Hanson; Readers, Writers, Salonnieres: Female Networks in Europe, 1700-1900(Peter Lang, 2011), co-edited with Hilary Brown. She is currently writing a book on women translators in Romantic-period Britain and France.

On This Day: Christmas 1820/2020 special – Walter Scott and The Pirate

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It’s a few days ahead of 25th December, we know… but we wanted to share with you this special ‘On This Day’ Christmas post by Dr Anna Fancett so you have time to enjoy it in the lead up to the holiday break. In the post, Fancett explores how an idea delivered to Walter Scott on Christmas day 200 years ago inspired his 1821 novel The Pirate – and also discusses the contemporary reception of the novel.

See all posts in the ‘On This Day’ series here.

Want to contribute? Contact Anna Mercer.

A Christmas Letter: Walter Scott and The Pirate

Sir Walter Scott by Raeburn (with added festive hat!)

by Dr Anna Fancett (Sultan Qaboos University)

Of all the things that can be given on Christmas Day, perhaps an idea is the most intriguing. On the 25thDecember 1820, Walter Scott received, not a gift-wrapped parcel but a letter from his publisher, Constable. The letter contained an idea: 

‘If you have not already resolved, might I presume to hint at a subject for the next, or for the Succeeding Work? ‘The Bucanier’ is I think un-occupied ground–three of [the] Regicides if I mistake not went to New England after the Restoration and endured great hardships there taken by Pirates, Shipwrecked, etc.’[i]

Scott’s immediate reaction to the letter is unrecorded, but as he was receptive to suggestions and corrections from letters, as Robert Mayer has recently shown,[ii] it is reasonable to assume that he read the suggestion with interest. Indeed, the Edinburgh Edition of The Pirate notes that he ‘must have responded positively’ because Constable wrote about Scott’s future buccaneer book.[iii]

Scott’s 1821 novel, The Pirate, however, is very different from the novel that Constable suggested. The story of the three regicides was saved for inclusion in a later novel, Peveril of the Peak, and the proposed title, The Bucanier, was not used by Scott at all. Instead, Scott took the idea of a story based on pirates and mined his memory for suitable inspiration, landing upon a tale that he had heard on the last day of his tour of Shetland and Orkney with the Northern Lighthouse Commissioners in 1814. The story was about: 

Gow the pirate, who was born near the House of Clestrom, and afterwards commenced buccanier. He came to his native country about 1725, with a snow which he commanded, carried off two women from one of the islands, and committed other enormities,’[iv]

He was later captured and hanged but 

‘While at Stromness, he made love to a Miss Gordon, who pledged her faith to him by shaking hands, an engagement which, in her idea, could not be dissolved without her going to London to seek back again her ‘faith and troth,’ by shaking hands with him again after the execution.’[v]

This tale became the primary inspiration for The Pirate, a novel whose titular pirate, Cleveland, is shipwrecked in Shetland and becomes romantically involved with Minna Troil. Cleveland and Minna’s relationship serves as the catalyst for the rest of the novel’s action, including the love story between the protagonist, the comparatively boring Mordaunt Mertoun, and Minna’s sister, Brenda. Although Scott leaves out both the execution of the pirate and the gruesome ritual of shaking a dead man’s hand, the doomed relationship between a Shetland woman and a desperate pirate remains at the heart of this novel. The Monthly Review remarks on the fact that ‘None of the former novels of this author have been so much imbued with love as the present,’[vi] – a far cry from the political plot recommended by Constable.

However, all was not plain sailing in the composition of this novel. In late 1821, Scott wrote to Erskine saying, ‘I want to talk to you about the locale of Zetland, for I am making my bricks with a very limited allowance of straw.’[vii] Despite his 1814 trip, Scott was uncomfortable with his lack of knowledge about Shetland, as this request demonstrates. The notes in the Edinburgh Edition of The Pirate likewise explains that Scott:

‘proceeded slowly because of the unfamiliar nature of the material in The Pirate. He had previously been writing about historical events that had taken place in locations well known to him or, at least, about well-known historical characters and contexts. Now he was creating an original romance in a strange land.’[viii]

It took almost a whole year between Constable’s letter and the publication of The Pirate – a long time in comparison to Scott’s other works. 

Although the relatively slow composition of this novel was due, in part, to Scott’s unfamiliarity with Shetland, his contemporary readers did not agree that this was the novel’s weakness; characterisation was the problem that they bemoaned. In an 1821 letter, for example, Sydney Smith writes: 

‘pray (wherever the scene is laid) no more Meg Merrilies and Dominie Sampson  very good the first and second times, but now quite worn out, and always recurring. All human themes have an end (except Taxation); but I shall heartily regret my annual amusement if I am to lose it’.[ix]

Smith’s criticism rests not on Scott’s lack of knowledge of Shetland, but rather on the unoriginality of the novel’s characters. La Belle Assemblée shares this perspective:

it is, however, valuably stored with those legendary and superstitious fictions, which are so closely interwoven with the history of the country in which the scene is laid; and if the originality of its leading characters ha[d] been such as we might expect from the vigorous pen of its reputed author, this novel would still be entitled to rank with our established favourites in the same line.’[x]

Despite the complaints about characterisation, this review praises that which Scott was worried about – knowledge of Shetland. Similarly, the Monthly Review, which criticises Scott for the metempsychosis of his characters from one novel to another, praises Scott’s acquaintance with his setting and subject matter:

‘much prudence is manifested in returning to these bleak and gloomy regions from the tranquil plains of England, since the author’s powers of description, which are of the most energetic and vivid kind, are never displayed to so much advantage as in painting all the sublimer features of natural scenery, the mountains and the cataracts of his native land, […]. His local knowledge, also, and his intimate acquaintance with the manners of the people, all point to the north as the true theatre of his genius.’[xi]

No sign of Scott’s lack of ‘straw’ is present here; the reviewer assumes an ‘intimate’ knowledge of Shetland. 

Constable’s Christmas letter furnished Scott with an idea – piracy – which would turn into the 1821 novel, The Pirate. Some of Scott’s readers, having consumed around a dozen fictional narratives from him in seven years, were fatigued with the appearance of familiar character types, but they praised his descriptions of Shetland, the very thing that Scott himself had been worried about. In 2020, a year in which few people have been able to travel, perhaps his powerful descriptions will once again charm readers. 

Anna Fancett received her PhD from the University of Aberdeen in 2015. Her thesis explored the representation of the family in the novels of Walter Scott and Jane Austen. Since then, she has published on motherhood and narrative in Scott’s novels, and the reception of Walter Scott in China. She is currently working on a comparative piece on education in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Susan Ferrier’s Marriage.


[i] The Letters of Sir Walter Scott, ed. H. J. C. Grierson and others, 12 vols (London, 1932-37), 7.12n.

[ii] Mayer, Robert, Walter Scott and Fame: Authors and Readers in the Romantic Age (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017). Mayer discusses how Scott took on suggestions and corrections made by his correspondents. 

[iii] Walter Scott, The Pirate (1822) ed. by Mark Weinstein and Alison Lumsden, Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels 12 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2001), 394.

[iv] The Pirate, 393.

[v] The Pirate, 393.

[vi] Monthly Review, (1822), 69-83, available at: http://www.british-fiction.cardiff.ac.uk/reviews/pira22-68.html.

[vii] The Letters of Sir Walter Scott, 7.12.

[viii] The Pirate, 395.

[ix] The Letters of Sydney Smith, ed. Nowell C. Smith, (Oxford, 1953), I, 385, available at: http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/reading/UK/record_details.php?id=13414.

[x] La Belle Assemblée, (1822), 40-47, available at http://www.british-fiction.cardiff.ac.uk/reviews/pira22-68.html.

[xi] Monthly Review.

BARS Digital Events: ‘Digital Teaching in Romantic Studies’ Recording Now Online

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The third session of our new Digital Events programme is now available to watch on YouTube – catch up here.

Thank you to everyone who joined us over Zoom for this event!

Good news – we have even more events coming up in 2021, courtesy of our wonderful members and followers who submitted a selection of excellent proposals. Read more and book your tickets in advance here.

On 10 December, we hosted a roundtable discussion between Dr Emma Butcher, Dr Daniel Cook, Dr Stephen Gregg, and Dr Joanna Taylor, chaired by Dr Matthew Sangster. During the session, our guests discussed pedagogy and teaching styles for online learning, challenges they’ve encountered with teaching online, innovative and effective online teaching methods, and much more.

Read more about the speakers for this event here.

See all the posts related to the BARS Digital Event Series (including recordings from our first and second events) here.

Don’t forget to follow @BARS_Official and @BARS_DigiEvents on Twitter.