BARS Blog

BARS Blog

News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

BARS 2019 Open Call Sessions

The accepted open call sessions for BARS’ 2019 International Conference, themed around Romantic Facts and Fantasies, have now been published on the main conference page on the University of Nottingham website.  Details can be accessed using the links below; abstracts should be sent to the named organiser for consideration.

The deadline for submitting proposals for these sessions is 28th January 2019.  The deadline for the submission of panels and individual papers is 17th December 2018.

Free ‘Keats200’ launch event at Keats House, Hampstead on Saturday 1 Dec 2018

A message from Keats House, Hampstead (home of the poet from 1818 to 1820, now a museum and poetry centre).

Keats200 Launch: Saturday 1 December 2018

On Saturday 1 December, you are invited to join us for a special event to launch our Keats200 programme, which celebrates Keats’s most productive years as a poet.

From 10am, we will meet at Well Walk to journey with Keats and companions down to Keats House for a ceremonial opening of the House.

The House will be open from 11am – 5pm and will be free to everyone on that day. Drop in to meet Keats and companions and take part in a range of special events including discussions with Professor Nicholas Roe and Dr Anna Mercer on Keats and Romantic poetry, tours of the House, poetry readings and activities for all ages.

The walk will be repeated at 2pm, arriving at the House for 3pm. Please wear appropriate clothing and footwear for both walks.

Just as Keats was welcomed by his friends to Wentworth Place, we look forward to welcoming you too, to the place where he found inspiration, friendship and love, now known as Keats House.

See below for timings and booking details for selected events:

10 – 11am
Walk with Keats to Wentworth Place (now Keats House). Booking essential via keatsevents.eventbrite.co.uk.

11am
Ceremonial arrival at Keats House and opening of Keats at Wentworth Place exhibition.

11am – 5pm
House open for free to all, including Build your own Wentworth Place activity for families, and the Keats House Poetry Ambassadors reading Keats’s poems throughout the day.

12noon – 12.30pm
Join Professor Nicholas Roe for a conversation about Keats in 1818-19.

12.45pm – 1.15pm
Dr Anna Mercer hosts a talk and Q&A on the Romantic movement and its significance.

2pm – 3pm
Repeat: Walk with Keats to Wentworth Place (now Keats House). Booking essential via keatsevents.eventbrite.co.uk.

2.15pm – 3pm
Guided tour of the house.

3.15pm – 3.45pm
Repeat: Join Professor Nicholas Roe for a conversation about Keats in 1818-19.

3.30pm – 4.30pm
Meet with Keats and associates in Hampstead, 1818.

4pm – 4.30pm
Repeat: Dr Anna Mercer hosts a talk and Q&A on the Romantic movement and its significance.

4.45pm – 5pm
Q&A with Rob Shakespeare, Principal Curator, on the Keats200 bicentenary.

Book tickets for the walk here.

Announcement: ‘Mary Hays: Life, Writings, and Correspondence’

‘Mary Hays: Life, Writings, and Correspondence’ is a fully searchable website now open to the public.

The site presents the most complete accounting to date of the life and career of Mary Hays (1759-1843).  The site provides students and scholars with access to all pertinent materials related to Hays, especially her extensive correspondence, including some 90 letters by her close friend Eliza Fenwick (1766-1840) appearing for the first time in their entirety.

 

 

More than 400 letters, fully annotated, can be found in this collection. The site also includes the complete texts of all her periodical writings (1784-1800) and all reviews of her own writings, as well as the complete text of Cursory Remarks (1792) and much of Letters and Essays(1793). The site contains the first complete genealogy of Hays, including the discovery of her previously unknown youngest sister, Marianna Hays (1773-97), and her numerous nephews and nieces, including the radical feminist writer Matilda Mary Hays (1820-97), not previously known to have been Hays’s niece.

Biographical notices of more than 100 individuals connected with Mary Hays can also be found on the site. Much of the new material on Hays has come from the diary, reminiscences, and correspondence of her long-time friend and relation through marriage, Henry Crabb Robinson (1775-1867). The material on the site situates Hays within a vibrant culture of religious Dissent for the entirety of her life, a culture that both gives rise to her writing aspirations and circumscribes them thereafter.

The site has been created and compiled by Timothy Whelan, Georgia Southern University.

Annual Wordsworth Lecture at Senate House, Thursday 22 November 2018

The Wordsworth Trust and the Institute of English Studies, University of London, invite you to

‘A Daedalus for the Romantic Era? Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’

A talk by Professor Fiona Sampson

The lecture will take place on Thursday 22 November 2018,

6.00-7.00pm in the Chancellor’s Hall, Senate House, 

Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HU

The lecture will be followed by a drinks reception.

Both Frankenstein and the Daedalus myth address our fear of the exceptional individual who abuses his talents by overreaching: the maker who doesn’t know when to stop. Both create capacious archetypes, with plenty of space to explore ambivalence and even admiration alongside that fear. But Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein takes us considerably further than the composite Daedalus story: in a number of directions. Political, ethical, existential and scientific, all seem particularly pertinent to British Romantic experience of society and the self. But is it a paradox that this apparently universalisable myth could only have been written in its own time and place?

If you would like to attend, please RSVP with your name and number of places to:

Hannah Stratton, Development Office, the Wordsworth Trust, Dove Cottage, Grasmere, Cumbria, LA22 9SH.
Alternatively, telephone 015394 63520 or email h.stratton@wordsworth.org.uk.
Please RSVP by Friday 16 November.

Call for Papers: Byron Among the English Poets

Call for Papers – New edited essay collection: Byron Among the English Poets

Byron felt deeply that literary tradition mattered. Less wedded to notions of ‘originality’ and ‘genius’ than many of his contemporaries, he instead wrote passionately – and unfashionably – about the value of imitation, allusion, and a thorough acquaintance with past masters. He used poetic forms because he thought of them as embedded in historical moments and circumstances, and he wrote with other voices sounding in his head: Horace and Juvenal, Shakespeare, Milton and Pope amongst them. He was a fierce champion of poets whom he saw as having contributed most to sustaining the English tradition, and he could be correspondingly withering on the subject of contemporaries whom he felt were actively engaged in diluting it. Sometimes he felt attraction and repulsion in equal measure: for all the ridicule in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers and Don Juan of the ‘Lakers’, his writing would have looked very different without the powerful influence of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey. Perhaps because of his own openness to the idea of being (for better or worse) part of a literary community, many nineteenth- and twentieth-century poets found points of contact with his writing. He was imitated both by writers who admired him as a Romantic lyricist and by those who felt ambivalent about their Romantic inheritance: poets ranging from Swinburne to Auden embraced and wrestled with the powerful sway of his writing, acknowledging the magnetism of his style by ambivalent acts of imitation, parody, and conversation.

Portrait of Byron by Thomas Phillips, c. 1813. (c) Newstead Abbey; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Our edited collection, Byron Among the English Poets, expands on previous work on Byron and poetic influence and carves out a number of paths for future work in Byron studies. It already has an impressive roster of contributors, including Bernard Beatty, Madeleine Callaghan, Anna Camilleri, Richard Cronin, Simon Kövesi, Tom Lockwood, Michael O’Neill, Fred Parker, Seamus Perry, Christopher Ricks, Diego Saglia, Jonathon Shears, Jane Stabler, Clara Tuite, Ross Wilson, and Sarah Wootton. Its editors, Clare Bucknell and Matthew Ward, are currently finalising its submission to Cambridge University Press and looking for a new contributor to offer a chapter on Byron and a post-1945 poet (or poets). The selected chapter will be c. 7000 words and may deal with any aspect of the literary relation between Byron and post-1945 poetry (chapters that focus on form and poetic style will be especially welcome).

For further information, or to submit an abstract of 250 words, please contact Clare Bucknell (clare.bucknell@all-souls.ox.ac.uk) and Matthew Ward (m.ward.1@bham.ac.uk). The final deadline for abstracts is 15th December 2018.

Conference Report: Substance Use and Abuse in the Long Nineteenth Century

This conference, held at Edge Hill University on 13-14 September 2018, was part-funded by BARS. You can see tweets from the conference here. Anna Rowntree reports from the event.

Substance Use and Abuse in the Long Nineteenth Century:

a report by Anna Rowntree

Substance use and abuse: can there be a subject that more intimately and richly connects the long nineteenth century with our own modern moment of being? We live in a world of blurred boundaries – our food, our clothes, our drugs, and our technology grown, mined, manufactured and designed in a cross-pollinated global world where nothing is ever straightforward.

But perhaps we can track something – perhaps we can go back and pay attention to the time which from this vantage point looks a little like a beginning. We can burrow into the literature, art and artefacts of the long nineteenth century and we can draw lines which trace the moving, trading, inhaling and consumption of substances such as tobacco, hashish and opium. We can look at the ships facilitating the new globalising world economy and political landscape of colonisation, revolution and capitalism. We can chart the psychological landscape of the individual drug user and observe the blooming of new ways of painting, thinking or conceiving of self and world. And that is exactly what the conference ‘Substance Use and Abuse in the Long Nineteenth Century’ managed to do. From the minutiae of each scholar’s intricate research came a bigger picture which expressed something not unified but mutating and on the move. What every paper did in its own way was get things rolling – the effect was a view of the long nineteenth century where nothing stayed in its box and things were allowed to bleed.

Thursday began with a keynote from Noelle Plack entitled ‘Alcohol, Power and Identity in the Age of Revolution’. What Plack’s comprehensive research revealed was that alcohol consumption both encouraged social breakdown and simultaneously defined and reflected power hierarchies in an era of social upheaval. Whilst places of consumption and the loosening of tongues allowed a subversive physical and psychological space to open up, the choice of alcoholic beverage was highly coded with nationalistic and class associations. Plack’s conclusion that social movements and drink are intimately entwined laid the foundation for a conference in which culture revealed itself to be consistently under the influence – and in which substances are much more than recreational toys.

Panel One continued the investigation of alcohol with Jean Webb discussing the fascinating field of Victorian children’s fiction. Her reading of Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies and Hesba Stretton’s work showed the complex ways in which these writers were considering the social anxieties around alcoholism, degeneration, poverty, and child labour. Here Darwin, science, religion, literature and social activism all came together in an affective nexus. This interdisciplinary approach laid the foundation for a conference which at its best sought to be historically, culturally and artistically inclusive.

In Panel Two, Bob Nicholson treated us to a bodily understanding of cocktail culture. His shot glasses of blue liquid were not celebrated for their taste but were a fitting way to embody the subject. Nicholson’s conclusion that the British public were enjoying cocktails as part of a celebration of American culture spoke to the transnational nature of substances and the complex cultural interactions they encourage.

Speaking on the next panel, I made a case for reading De Quincey’s opium use through the lens of the posthuman, and argued that when we do so we introduce the possibility for exploring the role of peace in defining the shift between occasional and habitual drug use. Menglu Gao followed my paper with her rewarding reading of De Quincey alongside John Brown’s Elements of Medicine. Gao’s focus on energies and the invigorating effects of opium on the individual body, and as a nationalistic metaphor, was a beautiful illustration of the engagement of the personal and the political.

Panel Four was another rich offering. Sarah Irving complicated a traditional reading of Mary Eliza Roger’s memoir Domestic Life in Palestine. Instead of rejecting the text as an example of a romanticising European gaze, Irving argued that we read the work in terms of authenticity. The act of shared smoking implied Roger’s bodily knowledge of the orient which went beyond the mere onlooker. Suzanne Bode’s work on the hyper-realistic paintings of the pre-Raphaelites was a welcome inclusion of visual art in our discussion. Whether paintings of drugged models or paintings composed under the influence of mind altering substances, it was fascinating to analyse both the representation of the drugged body and the subjective reality of the drugged mind.

The day concluded with Susan Zieger’s keynote ‘Nineteenth-Century Revolutions: Psychoactive, Logistics, Aesthetic’. Zieger gave us a glimpse into her new work (her earlier work Inventing the Addict informed several of the papers at the conference). Her argument that we need to read the success of opium as a global commodity in terms of logistics encouraged not only a deep appreciation for the storage, transportation and handling technologies that enabled the success of opium, it formulated a new aesthetic understanding of the nineteenth century. Whilst the scale of opium’s production may seem at first to be unmeasurable and chaotic, in fact the strictly regulated ways in which it was managed reveals an underlying choreography which describes fetishised sleek capitalism. The modern implications of this kind of logistical sublime can be seen in Silicon Valley’s promotion of psychedelic micro-dosing as a tool for greater efficiency and productive creativity. The capture of substances – which for many stand for unpredictable freedom in oppressive modernity – is a worrying issue. Zieger’s work showed how profoundly relevant an understanding of the long nineteenth century is to our modern moment of crisis.

Continuing the theme of productive, mechanised labour through substance use was Douglas Small’s keynote paper ‘Sherlock Holmes and “Sports Doping”: Cocaine, Profession, and Performance’, which kicked off day two. Day two was also notable for Kevin McCarron’s paper in which he made a case of returning to a Victorian model for understanding addiction. McCarron’s dissatisfaction with the modern idea of addiction as disease was generally appreciated but his argument regarding a moral model which sees the addict as weak created wide-spread consternation. Nonetheless it was a pivotal point in the conference which got to the heart of why addiction studies matter and clarified the need for an ethical approach to addiction and addicts.

McCarron’s paper was followed by Sean Witters’ deconstructive approach to understanding addiction. Witters asked us to consider how we use the words ‘addiction’ and ‘addict’ forcing us to confront the constructed nature of the categories and the shifting historical ways for describing and understanding the phenomena of repetitive drug use. What happens when we name ‘the addict’? How does the temporal immutability of the noun obscure our understanding of addiction as an act? It was a useful reminder that the language we use creates realities that may have unintended effects.

Natalie Roxburgh’s paper ‘Medication and Social Optimization in Dorian Gray and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ worked well as a follow up to both McCarron’s and Witters’ work. Here the reasons for taking drugs were shown to be culturally entangled and various. Roxburgh illustrated how the repeated ingestion of substances in Wilde’s and Stevenson’s work is about social functionality and optimisation (as opposed to biological inevitability or an anti-social disregard for society). The transhuman implications of Roxburgh’s argument spoke again to our modern moment and the hybridisation of the human in pursuit of perfection. It was also a thought-provoking way to conclude the conference, leaving us with the haunting suspicion that we are all in the business of socially optimising ourselves.

Archive Spotlight: Allan Ramsay and the National Library of Scotland

A slightly different ‘Archive Spotlight’ post today, as we go back to the early eighteenth century to celebrate the work of the poet Allan Ramsay, ‘the founding father of Romanticism’, who was born on this day in 1684. Craig Lamont is a Research Associate on the projects ‘The Collected Works of Allan Ramsay’ and ‘Editing Robert Burns for the 21st Century’ at the University of Glasgow. Here he tells us about his work on Ramsay at the National Library of Scotland, illustrated with images from the archives.

 

Archive Spotlight: Allan Ramsay and the National Library of Scotland by Craig Lamont 

Allan Ramsay (1684-1758) the poet has been somewhat overshadowed by his son of the same name (1713-1784), who was Principal Painter in Ordinary for George III. When Ramsay senior is in the spotlight instead we tend to celebrate his pastoral play above all else. The Gentle Shepherd (first published 1725, first performed 1729) was the first pastoral piece to be set within a recognisable locale rather than an anonymous idyll. For Ramsay the best choice was the region of the Pentland Hills, beyond the boundaries of Edinburgh where he lived, with a particular focus on Penicuik. In nearby Carlops you can find the Allan Ramsay Hotel (est. 1792), which now boasts a plaque from Historical Environment Scotland:

 

ALLAN RAMSAY

1684-1758

Founding Father of Romanticism

& Modern Scottish Poetry

Author of the Pastoral Drama

‘The Gentle Shepherd’

Set Near This Place[1]

 

In January of this year I began working as a Research Associate on the AHRC-funded project ‘The Collected Works of Allan Ramsay’ (PI: Murray Pittock), which will produce a multi-volume edition of Ramsay for Edinburgh University Press. A Ramsay edition was last produced by the Scottish Text Society in six volumes spanning thirty years (1944-1974). These volumes are quite scarce and a full set is difficult to come by. You are more likely to read Ramsay’s poems online or in paperback anthologies such as Before Burns: Eighteenth-Century Scottish Poetry (Edinburgh: Canongate, 2002). The Ramsay Project here at the University of Glasgow hopes to elevate Ramsay to the fore of Scottish literary discourse and, of course, Romanticism. As Murray Pittock demonstrated in Scottish and Irish Romanticism (2008), it was commonplace to regard Ramsay as a Romantic writer or the initiator of major areas of Romantic practice in pre-war (and sometimes 1950s and 60s) criticism, before the later concepts of pre-Romanticism and Romanticism as an aesthetic became dominant.[2]

To grasp Ramsay’s influence fully we are going back to the very beginning, and so my first task was to collate as much information about Ramsay’s manuscripts as possible. Without doubt, the majority of the material is suitably located in the National Library of Scotland (NLS), a stones-throw away from the ancient Edinburgh Old Town where Ramsay lived and worked. There are also manuscripts in Ramsay’s holograph in Edinburgh University Library, the National Records of Scotland, Worcester College (Oxford), the British Library, The Huntington Library (San Marino, CA), and Houghton Library (Harvard, MA). Important though these archives are, the NLS has the largest spread of songs, poems, prose fragments, letters, and the crowning jewel that is the fair copy MS of The Gentle Shepherd.[3]

 

MS 15972, f. 7r. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.

 

Title-page of the first edition (F.7.f.22), one of only nine extant copies. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.

 

The rest of the Ramsay material at the NLS is scattered across more than forty bound or loose-leaf shelf marks, comprising a comprehensive insight into Ramsay’s life, style and development.[4] But let’s go back to the plaque. Ramsay’s place in Romanticism is noted but so too is his foundational role in ‘Modern Scottish Poetry’. What exactly does this mean? And how does the archive help us understand this?

To answer that we should look at printed material. The NLS has an impressive collection of Ramsay’s printed works.[5] Before his first authorised book of Poems in 1721 around fifty-six Ramsay works were published – mostly in Edinburgh, some in London – in a variety of formats. Often unauthorised, these printed works are indicative of a poet on the rise. The claim is made for Ramsay’s founding of Modern Scottish Poetry for a variety of reasons. Among the first ten printed works by Ramsay are Christ’s Kirk on the Green and Elegies on Maggy Johnston [&c.] (both 1718).[6] The first stanza of the ‘Elegy on Maggy Johnston, who died Anno 1711’ is one of the poet’s most recognisable:

 

Auld Reeky mourn in Sable Hue,

Let Fouth of Tears dreep like May Dew,

To braw Tippony bid Adieu,    A

Which we with Greed

Bended as fast as she cou’d brew,

But ah! she’s dead.[7]

 

The first thing we notice here is the use of Scots. In this case Edinburgh (ie. ‘Auld Reeky’) is being asked to mourn or honour the death of a talented ale-brewer by dropping (dreeping) rain, or tears ‘like May dew.’ Not only is the poem full of Scots words, the structure of it becomes the quintessential Scots style. The ‘Standard Habbie’ was first used by Robert Sempill, the younger, c. 1640, in his elegy ‘The Life and Death of the Piper of Kilbarchan; or, the Epitaph of Habbie Simpson.’ The phrase ‘Standart Habbie’ was coined by Ramsay in his poetical epistles with William Hamilton of Gilbertfield (c.1665-1751). It would become more famously known as the ‘Burns Stanza’, as the National Poet took it up during his own poetical career.

As a printer and collector Ramsay was well aware that he was taking a steady step in the direction of a new Scottish tradition. And so in 1724 he published The Ever Green, Being a Collection of Scots Poems, Wrote by the Ingenious before 1600.

 

NLS Cam.1.g.45. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.

 

But why focus on the Ingenious before 1600? One answer is that Ramsay is harking back to the time before Scotland lost its royal independence along with its court in 1603 (the Union of the Crowns). The chief Scottish poets in the seventeenth century, such as Robert Aytoun (1570-1638) and William Drummond of Hawthornden (1585-1649) primarily wrote in Latin and English. In other words, the desire to revive the Scots language meant looking further back in time. The first item in Volume I of The Ever Green is ‘Chrysts-Kirk of the Grene,’ which Ramsay had previously printed and added stanzas to in 1718. Whereas Ramsay had modernised the text in 1718, he has reverted it here to Middle Scots:

 

   Ramsay, 1718                                                  Ramsay, 1724                      

Was nere in Scotland heard or seen,                Was nevir in Scotland hard nor sene

Sic dancing and deray;                                   Sic Dancing and Deray,

Nowther at Falkland on the Green,                 Nowthir at Falkland on the Grene,

Nor Peebles at the Play,                                 Nor Pebills at the Play,

 

Ramsay uses The Ever Green to enshrine the poetry of an older, more prestigious literary age while simultaneously promoting his own, contrasting Modern Scots as the mainstay on the market. All of this to say that the National Library of Scotland, home to the largest collection of Ramsay material, is also home to one of the nation’s most significant manuscripts which Ramsay used to produce The Ever Green.

The Bannatyne Manuscript (NLS Advocates MS 1. 1. 6) is a collection of poems and songs allegedly copied from original sources by the Edinburgh merchant George Bannatyne (1545-1607/8) during the plague epidemic in the city (‘writtin in tyme of pest’). Without it, many treasures of Scottish literature would be lost forever.

 

NLS Advocates MS 1. 1. 6. (The phrase: ‘written in tyme of pest’ highlighted). Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.

 

Not only this, Ramsay’s influence on the trajectory of Scots might have been further impinged without this evidence of a rich and diverse literary heritage.[8]

As the project unfolds I will continue to consult the masses of Ramsay material held in the NLS.[9] Knowing Ramsay (as I now do) it will probably lead me deeper into the archive and further back in time. As such, Ramsay’s role in the development of Romanticism ought to be more celebrated and I am grateful to have shared the beginnings of this journey with BARS colleagues to achieve that very end.

 

 

[1] Words provided by Prof. Murray Pittock, General Editor of the upcoming Ramsay Edition, in 2016.

[2] Murray Pittock, ‘Allan Ramsay and the Decolonization of Genre’, Scottish and Irish Romanticism (Oxford: OUP, 2008), 32-58.

[3] A draft MS copy is extant elsewhere in the city, in the University Library (Laing.II.212*).

[4] The NLS holds the Edinburgh Burgess Ticket given to Ramsay (Acc. 3948).

[5] Many of these are located in Burns Martin’s Bibliography of Allan Ramsay (Glasgow: Glasgow Bibliographical Society, 1931).

[6] While Burns Martin’s Bibliography is the most comprehensive work to date, Martin often relied on the work of Andrew Gibson for these earlier editions. Gibson’s New Light on Allan Ramsay (Edinburgh: William Brown, 1927) remains an essential text for Ramsay scholars: part biographical and part bibliographical.

[7] Allan Ramsay, Poems (Edinburgh: Thomas Ruddiman, 1721), 16.

[8] There is good coverage of Ramsay’s ‘Transcripts of Earlier Scottish Materials’ in the Index of English Literary Manuscripts: 1700-1800 (Addison-Sir Richard Steele), vol. 3 (1986), 252-261.

[9] Also check the project Twitter and Facebook page, where we feature a monthly blog. Twitter: @edin_enlighten. Facebook: @RamsayWorks.

BARS Chawton House Travel Bursary Report

The recipient of the inaugural BARS Chawton House Travel Bursary reports back from her time conducting research in Hampshire…

BARS Chawton House Travel Bursary Report by Francesca Kavanagh

It is always a special circumstance when a household library remains relatively intact over the centuries and more impressive still when such a collection contains its own historical catalogues. Such is the case of the Knight Collection at Chawton House. Owned by the descendants of Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Austen Knight, the Knight Collection is housed and maintained by the exceptional staff and volunteers at Chawton House. Its two 1818 catalogues allow researchers to determine which books in the collection Jane Austen likely had access to and provide fascinating insight into the texts which a family in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century such as the Knights deemed fit and enticing enough to want to own. These two aspects of household libraries – the circulation among familial networks and the counterweight of an individual’s desire for personal ownership – are made evident in the act of inscribing a text. The inscriptions of Jane Austen’s nieces found in both the Knight Collection and the general collections are what drew me to Chawton House in August this year. With the generous support of the BARS Chawton House Travel Bursary, I spent two weeks working with these collections examining the material and affective significance of ownership and gift inscriptions penned by the women of the Austen and Knight families.

Figure 1: Chawton House.

My PhD thesis investigates the production of spaces of intimacy in the practices of letter-writing, annotation and commonplacing by women in the long-eighteenth century. In my time at Chawton House, evidence of ownership and gift inscriptions enabled me to extend my research on annotation by providing significant examples of the affective materiality of this practice. The positioning of inscriptions and the details they document, work to place the owner in a relationship not only with the gifter but also, in the case of the Knight Collection, with the larger library collection. The books belonging to Jane Austen’s niece, Marianne, provided an engaging and thought-provoking example.

There are a number of books signed by Marianne in the Knight Collection but a three-volume set of illustrated works by Walter Scott powerfully demonstrates the way in which gift inscriptions can signify and unify communities of female readers. Each volume is bound in green leather faded to maroon on the spine. The first, The Lady of the Lake, was published in 1838 and the two others, The Lay of the Last Minstrel and Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field, were published the following year. Each has gilded pages and gold crests which adorn their front and back covers. They comprise a set. And yet from the inscriptions we can see that they were gifted to Marianne not only on two separate occasions – 1 January 1845 as a new year’s present and almost two years later on 15 September 1846 for Marianne’s 45th birthday – but also by two different women. The first is a gift from Marianne’s ‘very affectionate Sister Louisa Knight’ [1]  and the second gift comprising The Lay of the Last Minstrel and Marmion is from ‘Aunt Louisa’.[2] These two Louisas not only share a name but in continuing the gifting of the same set of books have expressed their shared affection for Marianne and each other. Each inscription is in Marianne’s hand and the unifying power of her neat and formal positioning of her words works to further connect this set and the two Louisas so that these three works stand as a single, unified testament to the intimate and familial connection of these three women within the larger collection of the Knight’s family library.

Figure 2: Marianne’s inscriptions in her three volumes of Walter Scott gifted to her by her sister and aunt. Image courtesy of the Knight Family Collection on deposit at Chawton House.

Marianne’s small collection of Scott’s works is just one of many instances of captivating ownership and gift inscriptions in the collections at Chawton House and I must extend my sincere thanks to Darren Bevin for his help in locating many others and for answering my endless list of questions. My thanks also to the rest of the Chawton House staff and volunteers whose friendly, helpful manner and detailed maintenance of the library catalogue helped me to feel at home in the rabbit warren of house and archive.

The bursary, by enabling me to spend time in the presence of Marianne’s books and handwriting, as well as those of her cousins, ancestors and future generations of Knights, has provided me with a familiarity with their material significance which I could not otherwise have experienced, and which has been essential to the progress of my thesis.

[1] Inscription in Scott, Walter. Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott, Baronet. Illustrated ed. London: Charles Tilt, Fleet Street, 1838.

[2] Inscription in Scott, Walter. The Lay of the Last Minstrel by Sir Walter Scott Baronet. Illustrated Edition. London: Charles Tilt, 1839, and Scott, Walter. Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field by Sir Walter Scott Baronet. Illustrated ed. London: Charles Tilt, Fleet Street, 1839.