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BARS Blog

News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

Matthew Sangster

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Call for Papers: BARS 2019 – Romantic Facts and Fantasies

BARS 2019: Romantic Facts and Fantasies

 

Proposals are invited for the 2019 conference of the British Association for Romantic Studies, to be hosted by the School of English, University of Nottingham, from 25-28th July. Our theme is ‘Romantic Facts and Fantasies’.

We look forward to welcoming you to the East Midlands, where the historic city of Nottingham is located among the heartlands of British Romanticism. Newstead Abbey was Byron’s ancestral home; Sherwood Forest was re-imagined as the meeting place of Richard I and Robin Hood in Scott’s Ivanhoe; and the Cromford Mills are a living monument to Richard Arkwright, whose inventive development of spinning mills and power looms was an integral strand of the Industrial Revolution. This conference will explore the potency of ‘fact’ and fantasy’ both in the Romantic period and during the afterlife of Romanticism. The aim is to develop a collective understanding of how Romantic ‘fact’ and ‘fantasy’ work together and against one another, and in so doing embody the spirit of an age whose inventions and innovations laid the foundations for modernity while simultaneously exulting the power of the imagination and its creations.

Keynote speakers for Romantic Facts and Fantasies are Laura Mandell (Texas A&M), Robert Poole (UCLAN), Sharon Ruston (Lancaster), Diego Saglia (Parma), and Jane Stabler (St Andrews).

We encourage proposals for open-call sessions and themed panels as well as individual proposals for 20-minute papers. Subjects covered might include (but are not limited to):

Bicentenaries 1819-2019: The Peterloo Massacre; the ‘Six Acts’, the Carlsbad Decrees; the birth of Queen Victoria; Stamford Raffles and the foundation of Singapore; Simon Bolivar’s victory at Boyacá; the Panic of 1819; the opening of the Burlington Arcade, London; the Cotton Mills Act; the death of James Watt;  Keats’s odes; Scott’s Ivanhoe, Bride of Lammermoor, and A Legend of Montrose; the final volume of Southey’s History of Brazil; Blake’s ‘Ghost of a Flea’ (1819/20).

Factual and fantastical encounters and dialogues: travel narratives; poetry of encounter; translations; colonial discourses; geologies, geographies and aesthetics of landscape; rivers, canals, bridges and roads in material, commercial and imaginative landscapes.

Facts and fantasies of collective and individual identity: Romantic provincialism (the Lunar Society, the Lake School); national identity and ideas of the state; religion; ethnography; Romantic life writing and autobiography; Romantic-period economics, consumerism, industry and agriculture; Romantic facts and fantasies of childhood; Romantic experiments in education; Rousseauism.

The scientific imaginary: Mary and Percy Shelley; Humphry Davy, poet and scientist; the development and legacies of Romantic science fiction; Erasmus Darwin, the Lunar Society and Joseph Wright of Derby; Malthus and Malthusianism.

Imagining the Romantic world: Keats’s ‘living year’; plagiarism and originality; the professional imagination in Keats, Davy, Blake, Caroline Herschel and William Herschel; pedagogic and didactic poetry, prose and drama; histories and history-writing, including the emergence of national histories; paintings, sculptures and music commemorating the events and ‘heroes’ of the Napoleonic wars, politics, industry and culture; architecture and Romantic fantasy (eg. Walter Scott’s Abbotsford, William Beckford’s Fonthill Abbey, and Joseph Gandy’s visualisations of the Bank of England and other buildings by John Soane); Romantic book illustration and developments in the technology of print.

Presentation formats

We welcome proposals for the following:

Individual 20 minute papers. Abstracts of no more than 250 words (excluding the title). Please include your name and institutional affiliation (if applicable).

Panels of either three 20 minute papers or four 15 minute papers. Please include an abstract of the panel theme, together with 250-word (excluding the title) proposals from each of the speakers, in a single document.

Open-call sessions. Proposals should include a 350-word (excluding the title) description of the potential session, outlining its importance and relevance to the conference theme. Accepted open-call sessions will be advertised on the BARS 2019 website from mid-November 2018.

Submissions

The deadline for proposals for open-call sessions is 1 November 2018.

The deadline for submissions of panels and individual papers is 17 December 2018.

Please email proposals to bars2019@nottingham.ac.uk.

For more information, please visit the BARS 2019 website.

Call for Papers: The 1820s: Innovation and Diffusion

Call for Papers

The 1820s: Innovation and Diffusion

University of Glasgow, 11th and 12th April 2019

Plenary Speakers: Ian Duncan (Berkeley) and Angela Esterhammer (Toronto)

The reign of George IV was a decade of profound transformations, during which technological, generic and ideological innovations opened up culture to unprecedentedly vast audiences, mandating the creation of new modes of communication and production, but also triggering fears about the loss of social cohesion and nostalgia for perceived lost identities.  By 1830, Samuel Taylor Coleridge felt empowered to contend that ‘Roads, canals, machinery, the press, the periodical and daily press [and] the might of public opinion’ had fundamentally reconfigured political and social discourse.

This international conference aims to produce a new understanding of the underappreciated innovations and diffusions that occurred during the 1820s.  Topics to be considered include, but are not limited to:

  • The Spirit of the Age
  • Media, mediality and technology
  • The proliferation of institutions
  • Reform and reaction
  • Cultural mediators
  • Public(s) and audiences
  • Mobility

Abstracts of around 300 words for 20-minute papers should be sent to 1820sconference@gmail.com along with the proposer’s name, institutional affiliation (if any) and a short biographical note (50-100 words).

We also invite proposals for keywords for framing the 1820s suitable for a special session of 5-minute presentations employing a single slide.  Examples might include ‘Power’, ‘Speculation’, ‘Generation’, ‘Environment’, ‘Regulation’, ‘Genius’ and ‘Flash’.  Proposals should be submitted in the same manner as paper abstracts, but should be no more than 150 words and should include ‘Keyword Proposal’ in the subject line of the email.  Keyword proposals may be submitted either alone or with an abstract for a paper.

The submission deadline for both kinds of contribution is Friday November 30th 2018.

A key function of the conference is to catalyse a new edited collection.  In the year following the conference, there will be a pair of workshops in York and Glasgow at which invited authors will develop papers into chapters in conversation with other contributors.  Funding kindly provided by the Royal Society of Edinburgh will be available to support attendance at these workshops.

For a fuller version of this Call for Papers, along with further information on the conference and related events, please see our website: http://www.1820s.net.

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…

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

BARS First Book Prize, 2017-19

The British Association for Romantic Studies

is delighted to announce the current round of

The British Association for Romantic Studies

First Book Prize, 2017-19

Awarded biennially for the best first monograph in Romantic Studies, this prize is open to first books published between 31 January 2017 and 1 January 2019. In keeping with the remit of the British Association for Romantic Studies, 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 presented at the BARS Biennial Conference, ‘Romantic Facts and Fantasies’, to be held at Nottingham University, 25-29 July 2019. Authors on the final shortlist will receive £100 each.

Eligibility and nomination procedures

The competition is open to books by authors who have not published a monograph before. Books must be nominated through the BARS membership or by publishers. Publishers should send books directly to the address below, while member nominations should include publisher contact details. In all cases, copies of nominated books must be received by the committee by the closing date, 31 January, 2019. Books received after this date are not eligible for consideration. 4 copies of each nominated book should be sent to Dr Daniel Cook, School of Humanities, University of Dundee, DD1 4HN.

Flyer Download: BARS First Book Prize Flyer 2017-19

Five Questions: Katie Garner on Romantic Women Writers and Arthurian Legend

Katie Garner is a Lecturer in Nineteenth-Century Literature at the University of St Andrews.  She has published work on subjects as diverse as Angela Carter, Mary Wollstonecraft, liminality, feminism and children’s literature, but her core academic interest is in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Arthurianism, a subject on which she has published a number of articles and which lies at the heart of her first monograph, Romantic Women Writers and Arthurian Legend: The Quest for Knowledge (Palgrave), which we discuss below.

1) How did you first become interested in women’s responses to Arthurian legend in the Romantic period?

As part of a very flexible MA programme I took a module on nineteenth- and twentieth-century Arthurian literature.  We were given copies of Letitia Elizabeth Landon’s ‘A Legend of Tintagel Castle’ to look at alongside Tennyson’s ‘The Lady of Shalott’ and I remember being surprised and excited to find out that a woman poet was writing a poem about the Maid of Ascalot at almost the same time as Tennyson.  After that I wrote my MA dissertation on Anne Bannerman’s Tales of Superstition and Chivalry (1802), which includes her Arthurian poem ‘The Prophecy of Merlin’.  I looked into some of the Arthurian texts that Bannerman cites in her notes to the poem, and which I didn’t know much at all about then: Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, Drayton’s Poly-Olbion, and Evan Evans’s Some Specimens of the Poetry of the Ancient Welsh Bards.  The question surrounding women’s sources remains central to the book, which is based on my subsequent PhD.  Throughout the PhD I was most eager to find out how women accessed information about Arthur in practical terms, and through what channels of knowledge their interest in the myth was first piqued.  I also suspected that if Felicia Hemans and Landon had both written Arthurian poems, then it was likely that there were more, and I started to keep an annotated list of Arthurian items and allusions by women that had been missed by previous bibliographers.  Mary Russell Mitford, Caroline Norton, Eleanor Anne Porden, and Mary Howitt all wrote poems that draw on aspects of the legend in some way, and the book also covers Arthurian material in prose in women’s travel writing, fiction, and scholarship.

2) To what extent do you perceive distinct traditions of response to Arthurian legends that are peculiar to female readers and writers?

I have become more and more convinced that female readers and writers experienced the legend in different forms and contexts to their male contemporaries, and that this shaped their imaginative responses.  Women with Arthurian interests (or even more general antiquarian ones) were unable to access manuscripts in libraries or gain membership of antiquarian clubs as gentlemen could.  In the few cases where Arthurian texts were specially prepared for women readers, the texts they were offered were censored and curated by editors (male and female) looking to protect female readers from the legend’s violent and sexual content.  In the book I spend some time discussing two notable instances of this: an much abridged version of Percy’s Reliques, entitled Ancient Ballads (1807) that extracted a high proportion of Percy’s Arthurian poems, and an edition of Malory’s Le Morte Darthur from 1816, censored so that ‘it may no longer be secreted from the fair sex’.  When these bowdlerised editions are the main source for an Arthurian piece by a woman writer, the effects of textual alterations to the myth or added ambiguities made in the pursuit of an ‘improved’ text leave their mark, and aspects of women’s treatment of the legend that might seem original, imaginative, or just plain odd, start to emerge as interpretive traces of the compromised text that inspired it.

3) Your book spans chronologically from 1770 to 1850 – why did you select these dates in particular, and what would you identify as being the key phases in women’s writing about the Matter of Britain within this period?

The 1770s seem to be the point at which conversations about women reading medieval romances start up again with new energy, as part of the broader debate about women’s novel reading.  Many of these discussions take place in periodicals, but are deepened in works that engage more closely with medieval scholarship, such as Susannah Dobson’s Memoirs of Ancient Chivalry (1784) and Clara Reeve’s The Progress of Romance (1785).  Both Reeve and Dobson are thinking through the intellectual benefits of medieval romance reading for women, which includes the Arthurian romances.  There’s an acceleration in the amount of Arthurian material in women’s travel writing from the 1790s onwards, as women on the home tour explore Arthurian locations in Wales and Scotland, and interest is also evident in accounts of France before and after the Revolutionary wars.  Alongside this, the coexisting vogue for the Gothic in the 1790s ushers in some further interest in using the legend to generate fear, both as part of a generalised ‘medieval’ backdrop in Minerva Press novels, and in greater depth as an available supernatural plot, often focused on Arthur’s undead return or Merlin’s prophetic and magical abilities.  From the 1820s onwards, women begin to produce their own translations of significant Arthurian works, facilitated by new, beginner-friendly editions of Arthurian romances, as well as increasing access to libraries and manuscripts.  Around the same time women also start to produce individual poems on the legend’s female characters.  The book introduces what might well be the earliest Maid of Ascalot poem, published in 1821 in the Ladies’ Monthly Museum, a full decade before Tennyson and Landon.  I also argue in the final chapter that the vogue for literary annuals and their ornamented, decorative style of verse helped to set the dominant aesthetic for the Arthurian myth in poetry as it moved into the nineteenth century.

I hope it’s not straying too far from the question to mention one date that looks like it should be key for women’s Arthurian writing, but actually isn’t.  In 1816 Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur was republished for the first time for nearly two hundred years, in two competing editions.  But rather than transforming women’s knowledge of the legend, there are few references to Malory by Romantic women writers before or immediately after this republication.  Instead women continue to work with other sources and a more eclectic mix of materials, and only really turn to Malory in any significant imaginative way after Tennyson and the first instalment of Idylls of the King (1859).  This lack of knowledge of and reliance on Malory is particular to Romantic women writers, and therefore it seemed right to stop the book at 1850, when Malory moves in to become a dominant source for women for the first time.

4) Which of the female-authored Arthurian works that you read for the project do you think are the most deserving of wider readerships in the academy?  Are there particular texts that you’d recommend to scholars thinking about covering Romantic-period Arthurian writing in an undergraduate context?

I’m very keen to promote Anna Jane Vardill, who might already be known to some.  She’s one of the writers in the book whose depth of interest in Arthurian material means that she reappears in a number of chapters – as Gothic poet, antiquarian satirist, and potential plagiarist.  She came briefly back into view in criticism at the turn of the twentieth century, and again in the 1960s, when she was finally identified as the author of a continuation of ‘Christabel’ in the European Magazine that appeared before Coleridge got his poem into print.  Vardill puts Merlin at the centre of her sequel: the wizard raises Christabel’s mother from the dead, disguises himself as Bard Bracy, and eventually succeeds in exposing Geraldine and banishing her to hell.  It’s a hugely entertaining and sensational piece, and one of a few Romantic poems to give Merlin a dramatic role, but more importantly I’d like Vardill to be recognised for her substantial involvement in the European Magazine more broadly.  She was the magazine’s largest female contributor by far, and also managed to deceive many of its antiquarian readers into thinking that she was Sir Walter Scott.  The antiquarian satires she wrote for the magazine are very much in the spirit of Scott’s The Antiquary, and I think she’s a significant figure to consider as part of the wider discussion of women’s satire in the early nineteenth century.

I’ve taught Landon’s ‘A Legend of Tintagel Castle’ to undergraduates a number of times myself now, alongside Tennyson’s ‘The Lady of Shalott’, and Louisa Stuart Costello’s ‘The Funeral Boat’ (1829), if time and space permits (available at The Camelot Project and also in Clare Broome Saunders’s Louisa Stuart Costello: A Writing Life (Palgrave, 2016)).  I currently teach Bannerman’s ‘The Prophecy of Merlin’ as part a module on Romantic Gothic, alongside ‘Christabel’ and William Taylor’s ‘Ellenore’.  Bannerman’s poem is perhaps useful for prompting discussion about the critical assumption that the Gothic isn’t seriously invested in medieval topics and settings, and I agree with Elizabeth Fay that Bannerman’s Queen of Beauty is obliquely vampiric: like Coleridge’s Geraldine, she undergoes a transformation in front of King Arthur that is only ever described obliquely, as ‘something, like a demon-smile’.

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

Much of the book focuses on recuperating forgotten works, but I’m now working on something at the other end of the scale completely: an edition of Jane Eyre for Bloomsbury.  I’m still very much committed to adding new voices to the Arthurian canon, however, and I’m preparing an article on Mary Ann Browne, who wrote a Guinevere poem in the 1830s that never made it into the book.  I’m also writing a chapter on the broader topic of medievalism in women’s periodicals in the nineteenth century.  The 1820s and 1830s in particular continue to fascinate me, as do Hemans and Landon, and my next book will be located somewhere in that broad terrain.

BARS President’s Report 2018

From BARS President Ian Haywood:

I am delighted to be President of BARS at such an exciting time. We are a very busy and resourceful organisation, striving to fulfil our mission of promoting Romantic studies in the UK and beyond. Our financial situation is healthy which means we can support and expand existing initiatives and develop new methods of supporting our membership. Since I became President in 2015, we have made a big push to support Early Career scholars as we recognise that this can be a difficult stage in the career path. We have therefore introduced three new awards: the Wordsworth Trust Fellowships, the Nineteenth Century Matters Fellowship (in association with BAVS), and the Scottish Romanticism Research award. I would like to expand these schemes and introduce new ones, perhaps in new national or regional centres, and/or focused on public engagement and impact, and/or linking up with international partners. I invite all members to submit ideas for new awards with clearly defined outcomes that will benefit the holders: please send ideas to the Executive via the BARS Secretary (email address on the BARS website).

Another major new development is the launch of ERA, European Romanticisms in Association. We are proud to have been a driving force behind this network, particularly in light of Brexit. I am delighted to report that ERA has been awarded a Network grant by the Arts and Humanities Research Council for a two-year programme of events (2018-20) entitled ‘Dreaming Europe’ (http://www.euromanticism.org). ERA currently hosts a BARS European Engagement Fellow and there are plans for this to continue. Congratulations to BARS Past President Nicola Watson (Open University) and her team.

Our international biennial conference in 2017, ‘Romantic Improvement’, was held at York University’s Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies and it was a great success; my thanks to the local team, in particular Jim Watt, Jon Mee and Catriona Kennedy. The next conference, ‘Romantic Facts and Fantasies’, will be held at the University of Nottingham in 2019. I am delighted to announce that the 2021 conference will be jointly organised with the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (NASSR) and will be at Edge Hill University, Liverpool.

At the York conference, the BARS First Book Prize was awarded to Julia Carlson (Cincinnati) for her monograph, Romantic Marks and Measures (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016). I want to thank Professor Nigel Leask (Glasgow) for his sterling work as Chair of the sub-committee for 2015-17. We are delighted that the new Chair for 2017-19 is Professor Claire Connolly (University College Cork). The next round of the book prize will begin soon: if you wish to nominate a book, please contact Professor Connolly: claireconnolly@ucc.ie.

I have tried to ensure that all members of the Executive have a specific role which they have been asked to develop with allocated resources. This model seems to be working well and the total number of Executive members (elected and co-opted) is at a record high, a reflection of the amount of activity we are generating. I have increased the budget for our current schemes: the Copley bursaries, the regular subventions for conferences, and the BARS First Book award. The ECR conference continues to be a great success. This year it will be held in Glasgow, 15-16 June: the topic is ‘Romantic Exchanges’.

Thanks to Professor Anthony Mandal (Cardiff), we now have BARS postcards, to be used for publicity purposes (all members are welcome to a bunch! Please contact the Secretary).

These achievements would not have been possible without the commitment and enthusiasm of the BARS Executive Committee (see the website for full list). I want to pay particular tribute to members who have recently left or will soon be leaving the committee. Dr Susan Valladares (Oxford), formerly the editor of the BARS Review, stepped down in 2017 after several years of dedicated and meticulous work. We are very pleased that Professor Mark Sandy (Durham) has taken her place. Dr Helen Stark (University College London) is stepping down as Secretary after doing this job outstandingly well since 2013; Helen’s place will be taken by Dr Jennifer Orr (Newcastle); again, we are delighted to welcome this new colleague.

Finally, I would like to report another BARS success: one of our nominees for the 2021 REF (Research Excellence Framework), Professor Simon Kövesi (Oxford Brookes), has been appointed as an assessor for the English Language and Literature panel. We wish Simon all the best in this important role and we are delighted that Romanticism has a voice on the panel.

I look forward to another year of exciting and productive work.

Ian Haywood, University of Roehampton

March 2018

The full text of this report can be downloaded here: BARS President’s Report 2018.

 

Five Questions: Simon Kövesi on John Clare: Nature, Criticism and History

Simon Kövesi is Professor and Head of the Department of English and Modern Languages at Oxford Brookes University.  He tweets as @kovesi1.  He has published widely on contemporary fiction (with a particular focus on the Scottish novelist James Kelman), on working-class literature and on the relationship between writing and the natural world.  At the heart of his work, though, is his abiding interest in and love for John Clare, on whom he has published numerous essays and book chapters.  He is the editor of the John Clare Society Journal and the co-editor (with Scott McEathron) of New Essays on John Clare: Poetry, Culture and Community (Cambridge University Press, 2015).  He has recently led a high-profile campaign to highlight the threat posed to Clare’s archives by ongoing local authority cuts.  His passion for Clare’s work has also led to his being one of the very few academics to have sparred with a straw bear on the silver screen.  Below, we discuss his most recent monograph, John Clare: Nature, Criticism and History, which was published by Palgrave in September 2017.

1) What first drew you to John Clare?

I was an undergrad on an exchange year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  It was clear to me then that the world needed my dreadful poetry, and (boldly) I showed it to a Professor of Romanticism, the brilliant Robert Kirkpatrick, who took pity on me, and kindly invited me to an evening poetry group at his house.  I’d written this nostalgic thing about watching a fox doing a wee – I suppose I was missing seeing them rifling through the bins of suburban London (to this day I’ve never actually seen a fox doing a wee).  Nevertheless, making the best of it, Kirkpatrick read us Clare’s ‘The Vixen’.  I’d never known of anything poetical about a fox and I’d never read any nature poetry of such precise clarity, all propelled by sharp, delicate sympathy, yet beneath no ostensible organising ego.  I stopped writing poetry straight away, and thankfully.  That was in 1993 – 200 years after Clare was born – and so it happened to be a great year for high profile celebrations and publications about his work.  When I returned to Glasgow for my final year, I became obsessed.  More often than not, I read Clare instead of revising for finals.  Early on, the rich pickings of his nature poetry were extended for me by the stylisations and politics of his (seemingly) wild language; by the capitalisation of land he occasionally protests about; by his diverse insights into folk culture and local traditions; by his unique prose; by his inversions of accepted valuations of nature; by his lyrical verse (which can be nothing but ego of course); by his playfulness, his cheekiness, his political lubricity, his isolation.  Like so many, I was haunted by the sad, depleted, often-romanticised story of his life.  At the start, however, it was his late love poetry that grabbed me most of all and that was the focus of my PhD with John Goodridge.

2) In your new book, you contend that ‘nature, feeling, fidelity persist as limitations on readings of Clare’, tracing the longstanding currency of characterisations such as ‘down-to-earth’ that serve to place and constrain him.  To what extent do you think that modern criticism of Clare is still shaped by the social and critical conditions of his original reception?

Those terms come from very early comments on his work.  I argue in the book that while they have been blown apart by the best of Clare criticism, they have been latently reaffirmed by the polemical accommodation of Clare to the agendas of contemporary green criticism especially, particularly because criticism can have a deaf ear, or a ham-shaped fist, when it comes to class.  The old model of Clare as ‘honest John’ does harm to the way we read his work – many have said so but it still creeps back.  Many critics reveal discomfort in the way they deal with Clare’s class; often, this manifests through treating his work as simple documentary evidence of landscaped fact, or a kind of social realism – as if he’s not capable of slippery, literary sophistication.  Partly this is Clare’s own fault – he often romanticises his agency out of the window – he denies his art and artfulness even in the manner in which he frames its conception.

In the book I also explore the ways critical awkwardness with Clare’s class can sometimes be downright insensitivity.  Calling Clare ‘homeless’ for example, is an historical nonsense, and yet it has such traction in Clare criticism, as it works well for a prevalent version of his relationship to land, or his supposed full-spectrum alienation.  But ‘homeless’ is now a dead metaphor in Clare, and if anything serves to stop us thinking about the subtlety and variety of his versions of ‘home’, and his constant, learned attention to people without one.  Perhaps because of its origins in conservation, but also because of founding tensions with the left and industrially-born socialism, ecocriticism has never been great on class; this is compounded in Clare studies by an understandable confluence between the sentimentalising of Clare’s location with the turn to the local in moralising green criticism – which of course many green critics worry about.

From all kinds of politicised critical approaches, you can track tendencies to reduce Clare to a kind of naïve holy fool whose knees and identity wobbled if he walked beyond the bounds of his parish – and that modelling (down to Clare himself of course – or at least partially so) has been entrenched by the blunter end of green criticism, but also by the crass end of historicism which can only see straightforward autobiography in a poem like ‘The Flitting’ (there’s certainly a reductive channel of class prejudice in assuming every time Clare writes ‘I’ it is uncomplicatedly and ‘honestly’ him).  Clare said himself in one of his most unbelievable and deliberately fragmentary poems – the wilfully fraudulent ‘Child Harold’ – that his life had been ‘one chain of contradictions’.  He did wear a green suit to go dining with his new London Magazine friends who all wore ‘sable’ – but a rich friend bought it for him.  Clare did mostly live in Helpston throughout his life, but that doesn’t mean he wanted to stay there.  Clare did write himself into a tradition of anti-enclosure poems, which have convinced everyone of their veracity, but we should not forget that he worked in enclosure gangs for many years, wrote his best nature poetry after enclosure, and continued to do so after he’d left Helpston – and by no means all of it is looking back to a pre-enclosure Edenic childhood – not at all.  Clare did thresh in a barn from the age of 8 or 9 – but by his own account, he suffered deep and lasting trauma over it.  He did that labour alongside his father so that he could help pay for his schooling, not because he lusted after labour.  He fantasised about having a domestic servant – we ignore these elements if we want honest John back.

It’s indicative of the romanticisation of Clare that no one has ever asked, before me, why he was able to find work in lime kilns.  Why were there so many lime kilns across the countryside in the Romantic period?  The answer is obvious: lime was pretty much the only material cheaply available that could help drain, fertilise and regulate the acidity of newly-enclosed land.  Lime was the main tool of enclosure and Clare helped make it, just before his launch as a poet; indeed the lime-kiln money was supposed to go towards funding his first publication of poetry.  It doesn’t mean he is a hypocrite – and I don’t care about it morally at all – it just means he is not a green messiah.  If we judge him, we have to be completely unhistorical to do so.  He was a poor labourer, and working in enclosure gangs or slaking lime in a kiln was decent money, if offering extremely low social status.  The only thing he seems to have worried about when working the enclosure gangs was the ‘wild and irregular habits’ of the itinerant men he was working with: not the ‘wild and irregular’ countryside they were enclosing.  I think critics need to start incorporating the moral messiness of Clare into their valuation of him – else we’re just forging self-affirming narratives and forgetting the contingencies of a life lived.  We don’t think any the less of the poems Wordsworth and Coleridge wrote, just because Lyrical Ballads was designed to fund a trip to Germany.  Clare is robust enough for these paradoxes, these tensions and multiplicities, to surface.  Too much criticism of Clare is sentimental and patronising – delicate, even.

3) In seeking to move beyond that echoing phrase from By Our Selves – ‘John Clare was a minor nature poet who went mad’ – which occluded aspects of Clare’s life and art do you think should be emphasised more strongly?

We need to think about what we do when we emphasise Clare’s ‘lack’ of education.  What did he gain by not having a ‘formal education’?  What forms of knowledge and routes to understanding did he have open to him that other poets ‘lacked’?  Could Byron play the fiddle like Clare?  What does Byron’s poetry lack because he didn’t go to the pub and listen to storytellers spinning folk narratives?  It’s as if academics just don’t know what to do with writers who have never been to a lecture, and so we flock to the poets who have.  People like us, right?  What we tend to do is express astonishment at writers like Clare and move awkwardly on: that’s the history of the reception of working-class writing in academia in a nutshell.  Clare’s education was incredibly complicated – it needs much more attention.

In the book, I talk about ‘place’ being not just a liberation for Clare – it was not merely a ‘positive’ platform for his locally ‘botanising’ focus.  Place was also a narrowing problem: being placed, knowing his place, keeping to his place, being regarded as ‘down to earth’ – the organicist impulse is still prevalent in contemporary criticism and you can see it in the accident of phrasing sometimes.  Clare talks about feeling like a donkey tied to a post in his relation to Helpston.  Too often we turn what was a severe limitation on the life of this poorest of poets, conflate it with a certain mood in some poems, and construct a magical green or folksily happy commitment to place, particularity and soil.  This move can be dangerously patronising, dismissive of material suffering, and can mean we ignore Clare’s constant changes of mood and temperament – let alone his shifting desires.  To shift all of this into blanket ‘alienation’ is also to obfuscate things.  Clare loved London, he loved travelling to the largest seasonal body of water in England (Whittlesea Mere – drained by one of his patron’s sons when Clare was in an asylum), he loved going beyond the ‘edge of the orison’ – he wasn’t ruined by doing so.  And he loved Helpston too – but he resented its parochialness, the lack of anyone to talk to about books, and wanted it to move closer to London.  There is a funny early poem where he speculates what his fantasy home will be like one day, when he’s made it, and while the house he builds for himself is determinedly rural, someone else will be doing the labour and chores while he writes, and there’s no family around to bother him, just a maidservant.  He hated being poor and not being able to buy the books he wanted, or food for his kids, or travel.  It is amazing we have to say this, but the fact is Clare criticism ignores it.  The fraudulent Reverend of a quack who ran Clare’s asylum – Matthew Allen – thought in 1840 that the only reason Clare needed help was what we would now call ‘anxiety’ over money coupled with a poor diet across decades.

There’s no romance in poverty, rural or urban, just as there’s little romance in hand-work or pre-mechanised agriculture – pre- or post-enclosure – though Clare does manage to squeeze a good deal of emotive nostalgia out of it, for sure.  He can be sentimental and conservative, as much as he can cry for reform and protest against the monied and the greedy.  His politics are as slippery as his accounts of grammar: in this mobility he is the most Byronic of poets.  Like all good poets, Clare is an unstable subject, and we need to be aware of that much more – and stop reducing a very long writing career to a moment of fury, passion or creative depression.  I think some of his greatest poems are not about enclosure or nature: they are about human poverty, about social mores, about status, ignorance and prejudice.  And to answer the question directly, Clare could have been a great satirist but nobody encouraged him, for example, when he wrote ‘The Parish’, while his sonnet parodying Wordsworth’s use of enjambment is brilliant, and his reworking of Byron by way of poetical masculinist empowerment is as foul as can be.  He also writes light comic verse of which John Hamilton Reynolds and Thomas Hood would have been proud.  He is so knowingly playful in rummaging amongst others’ styles and techniques – a sociable yet solitary magpie – stealing shiny bits – lining his own poetic nest.

4) Which of Clare’s works do you think are particularly ripe for reconsideration from a broader range of perspectives?  Which texts would you select for an undergraduate seminar to try and give a balanced sense of his value and achievements?

In Clare studies this is a sore point.  There just are not enough editions of his verse – particularly cheap ones or selections with good scholarly notes.  There are some good collections but they do not yet amount to easy access to the full range of his work.  I hope scholars reading this blog will one day produce their own editions of Clare, according to a wide variety of editing principles and presentational styles.  Imagine the possibilities of a manuscript-based facsimile edition online, with all sorts of reading texts (as the Cornell Wordsworth called them), of all the variants – which included (rather than demoted) lifetime published texts too?  That’s got to be the future of editing Clare.  To answer the question, I think Clare’s work offering social commentary does not get enough attention: sometimes it is satire, sometimes straight narrative, sometimes polemic, and some prose moments are also unique in the period; the letters can be really pointed in this area.  We have good engagement with the nature poetry, for sure, though I think more emphasis on the work of the early 1830s would reveal some real gems – and I think it is in this period that Clare’s writing about nature becomes super-sophisticated.  Though most commentary would have it that after leaving Helpston he loses his mojo, the poetic evidence just does not support it.

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

A big travelling exhibition of Clare portraits, original manuscripts, books and ephemera, to kick off in January 2020, 200 years after the publication of Poems Descriptive.  It’s a good time to take Clare on the road, I hope – just need to locate some funding.  I’ve just signed a contract with Palgrave to co-write a book with Bridget Keegan entitled The Occupations of Labour: Labouring-Class Writers, 1800–1900; this will group what shoemaker Chartist poet James Dacres Devlin (one of my personal favourites) called ‘hand-producer poets’ into their occupations for thematic consideration.  With Erin Lafford, I am putting together a collection of new Clare essays to propose to a publisher soon.  The longer-term book I’ve been chewing on for a while now is to be called British Literature and Poverty: 1800–2000, and the reading for that is opening up all sorts of new avenues for me.  It’s probably too big a project to ever finish, but I’m happy to give it a go.  Before any of that, I’ve got to finish an essay on poverty in the Romantic period – especially in agricultural improvement debates – and another on Clare’s reading, and rewriting, of Byron.

Five Questions: David Stewart on The Form of Poetry in the 1820s and 1830s

David Stewart is Senior Lecturer in Romanticism at Northumbria University.  He has published widely on figures including Lord Byron, William Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, Robert Southey and Charles Lamb and on topics including short fiction, ephemerality, paradox, commerce, mass culture and the politics of style.  His first monograph, Romantic Magazines and Metropolitan Literary Culture, was published in 2011 and considered the qualities of the extraordinary wave of periodicals that burgeoned in the period after the Napoleonic wars.  His new book, The Form of Poetry in the 1820s and 1830s: A Period of Doubt, which we discuss below, has just been published by Palgrave.

1) When do you first remember encountering the poetry of the 1820s and 1830s, and what led you to want to write a monograph about it?

For a long time I didn’t know that I was writing a book about it.  I’d been teaching Leigh Hunt’s Story of Rimini for a few years and kept having fascinating discussions with students who loved it, and yet found it oddly unstable, almost, but not quite, laughable.  There are some kinds of poetry that we don’t quite know how to read: do we look for a deep and serious philosophy or a buried political context beneath the surface, or do we delight in its seemingly superficial charms?  I found some other poets who provoked the same reaction in me, and I realised what linked them was that they fell somewhere between ‘Romantic’ and ‘Victorian’ poetry.  A poem like Rimini might be the beginning of a poetic history that never quite took shape.  The usual story is that the poetry market collapsed in the mid-1820s, and the few poets who did produce poetry were not very good.  The fact that neither part of this is true (the market did not collapse, and these poets are just joyous to read) was something I wanted to correct.  Equally, though, I kept coming back to my own unstable reactions to these poets: the wavering uncertainty with which we view this hinterland might be its most valuable feature.  I wanted to bring the period’s poetic scene to a fuller attention, but without giving it the firm outlines of a clearly demarcated ‘literary period’.

2) Your subtitle characterises the two decades as ‘a period of doubt’, a doubt manifested both in poets’ responses to their contexts and in later critics’ attempts to frame their achievements.  How can working to understand the doubts that poets struggled with help us to gain a better understanding of their cultural moment?

I find doubt a fascinating state of mind.  Doubt can be active, even aggressive, but it can also be comic, a matter of being baffled; it might even produce wonder.  It is not a fixed state; instead, when we are in doubt we can test things out, we can speculate on what things are, or how things might be.  Byron writes so well about doubt in Don Juan, and I like especially these lines in Canto 1: ‘What is the end of Fame? ‘tis but to fill / A certain portion of uncertain paper: / Some liken it to climbing up a hill, / Whose summit, like all hills, is lost in vapour’.  The poets of this period are remarkable partly because they thought so often, and so playfully, about the possibility that critics like me might come along and sift and sort them into a period.  The form that that writing takes – the fact that it is on ‘uncertain paper’ – is the means by which it can be transmitted to future readers, but equally is itself a matter that prompts doubts.  Are some ways of ‘filling’ that paper (some metrical techniques) more ‘certain’ of Fame than others?  Are some kinds of paper (some methods of publishing) more ephemeral, more ‘uncertain’, than others?  The lesson that I hope I’ve taken from these poets is that doubt can be a pleasure.  To ‘gain a better understanding’ of this ‘cultural moment’ means, I think, accepting that we’ll always be groping around in vapour.

3) Introducing the book, you stress the divide between emergent formalist and commercial aesthetics, and also discuss the prominence of light verse during the period, but you stress that these three strands have more in common than the discourses surrounding them often admitted.  How would you characterise the defining qualities of these three modes, and what are the main things that unite them?

One of the real pleasures of writing this book has been getting back to reading poetry attentively.  We tend to associate this kind of ‘formalist’ close reading with a detached idealism, and also with only particular kinds of poet.  One group of poets might seem to fit that model.  I discuss the young Browning and Tennyson, but also poets like Hartley Coleridge, George Darley, and Thomas Lovell Beddoes who have always found ‘fit audience, though few’, admirers who pride themselves on hearing the delicate modulations of their metre.  We can place these poets as the first buds of a Victorian aestheticism that comes into full bloom with Walter Pater.  They are opposed to another group associated especially with the material form of their commercial books: the poets of the literary annuals, Felicia Hemans, and Letitia Landon.  These poets use metres, of course, but metre is deemed an irrelevance in books that are merely objects for display in the drawing room.  A final group – Thomas Hood, Winthrop Mackworth Praed, John Hamilton Reynolds, for example – provide something like what Kingsley Amis calls ‘light verse’: punning, bright-eyed wit that skims over the surface of society, valuable for the very perfection of the metrical surface they create and polish.  The attempt to create oppositions between kinds of poet is important, most particularly the role that gender plays in that process.  But they all share a curiously enabling doubt about categorisation.  Landon, for example, plays brilliantly with verse form and its relation to the books in which she appears; that tactic is mirrored by George Darley who, when he was not writing poems about fairies, was busy writing abusive articles about Landon.  The fact that Darley, Hood, and Hemans are all bound up in the green silk covers of the annual The Amulet in 1828 suggests some of the possibilities and perplexities this culture presents.  All of them think carefully, and with a disarming self-consciousness, about the place their poetry might have in culture, and how their poetry might form itself (metrically and materially) for readers in their own time and in an unguessable future.  It’s a conversation that is worth tuning in to, particularly in our own critical moment as we attempt to rethink critical methods like ‘formalism’, ‘historicism’ and ‘book history’.

4) If you were selecting a few key poems as standard-bearers for the poetry of this period (for a MA seminar, say), which would these be?

This feels like a slightly mischievous question: I feel uncomfortable with the idea of ‘standard bearers’, poets marching under the banner of a territory that I would prefer to remain bewitchingly vague!  But no MA seminar can try to cover everything.  Some of these poets are well known: Hemans, Landon and Clare need no introduction for Romanticists.  There’s been excellent recent work on poets I look at like Hartley Coleridge and Thomas Lovell Beddoes.  Others will, I hope, prove more interesting than they have hitherto: George Darley and Winthrop Mackworth Praed especially.  I end with a section on the young Tennyson, who hardly needs my help to find fame, and consider how his work starts to change when we place him alongside Clare, Landon, Praed, Hood, Hunt and others.  I think we might learn the lesson from the editors of annuals like The Amulet and Friendship’s Offering: place a diverse selection of poems together, and see what chance lights are thrown out.  If I had to choose one poem, though, that gives a glimpse of what I love about this period, it’d be Praed’s ‘The Fancy Ball’ from the New Monthly Magazine of 1828.

5) What new projects are you currently at work on?

I’m working on place and fiction in the Romantic period.  My focus is on the Anglo-Scottish borderlands, and on writers including Walter Scott, Allan Cunningham and James Hogg.  There’s a relationship between humour, lies, fiction, and the experience of movement that I want to track.  I’ve been approaching it from a longstanding interest in this ‘region’ and these writers, but also via theories of place and mobility in geography and anthropology.  The anthropologist Tim Ingold’s work has been a revelation for me, as has work that sits between the creative and the critical by Rebecca Solnit and Kapka Kassabova.  I have an article on James Hogg that is the first fruit of this work: it should be coming out in The Yearbook of English Studies in a special issue on the 1830s.  I’ve also got a piece about Wordsworth and parody coming out this year in European Romantic Review.  I secretly want to write something about V. S. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival, but don’t tell anybody, least of all my research lead.

Five Questions: Tom Mole on What the Victorians Made of Romanticism

Tom Mole is Reader in English Literature and Director of the Centre for the History of the Book at the University of Edinburgh.  He has published extensively on Byron, Romantic-period celebrity, periodicals and print culture.  His recent books include The Broadview Introduction to Book History and The Broadview Reader in Book History (both with Michelle Levy); he is also a member of the Multigraph Collective, which authored the recently-released Interacting with Print: Elements of Reading in the Era of Print Saturation.  His new book, What the Victorians Made of Romanticism: Material Artifacts, Cultural Practices, and Reception History, which we discuss below, was published by Princeton University Press.

1) How did you come to realise that you wanted to write a book about what the Victorians made of Romanticism?

This project grew out of my previous work on Romanticism and celebrity culture.  One of the things I discovered in that research was that people at the beginning of the nineteenth century often talked about celebrity as a second-rate kind of fame.  Celebrity was a kind of fleeting recognition you received in your own lifetime; true fame was usually posthumous, but it lasted much longer.  Once the idea was established that these two kinds of fame were mutually exclusive, it became easy to assume that people who had been famous in their lifetimes – Byron, Scott – would be forgotten after their deaths.  Lots of people actually said that these poets would be forgotten.  And yet they weren’t.  So my starting question was – why?  What kinds of cultural work were necessary to keep those writers in the public eye?  That question, in turn, led me to others, as I started to uncover what I’ve come to call the web of reception – all the material artefacts and cultural practices that shaped the reception of Romantic writers and their works.

2) In your second chapter, you set what you’re doing in the book against a tradition of ‘punctual historicism’ that privileges moments of composition, first publication and initial reception.  What are the principal kinds of insight that you believe we can gain by turning to longer and more diverse reception histories?

The trouble with punctual historicism, as I see it, is that it focuses on one context to the exclusion of all others.  This can make literature seem like something that’s tied to a particular historical moment – the moment of its production – and that cannot operate outside of that moment.  But one of the things that makes literature special is that it outlives its moment of production.  I don’t want to go back to the old idea that great literature transcends its historical moment and becomes timeless because it appeals to some kind of universal humanity.  Instead, I want a kind of criticism that recognises that works of literature can be reactivated in historical moments beyond the imaginations of their authors, and even that they might make their most important impacts when they are redeployed in new historical, social, political and media contexts.

3) After an initial section on the web of reception, your book mainly focuses on four media through which Victorian culture remade Romantic-period authors and texts: illustrations, sermons, statues and anthologies.  How did you come to select these four media to make your case, and were there others that you explored during the process of composition?

These four strands of the web of reception give me a broad range to explore.  They allow me to take in artefacts and practices, verbal and visual responses to Romanticism, mass-produced books and one-off sculptures.  They allow me to tell stories of remediation, as works produced in one medium were mediated through another to new audiences.  These strands of the web also constitute their own self-aware traditions, so that, for example, anthologies refer back to earlier anthologies and sustain an ongoing debate about what a good anthology should be like.  But I could certainly have divided my material along other lines.  Photography is discussed in relation to both illustrations and statues, but it could have had a section of its own.  There are other strands of the web, and I hope I’ve identified enough that other people will be able to unpick them, taking up where I’ve left off.

4) You argue convincingly that ‘complex acts of selective forgetting’ were as crucial as acts of memory for Victorians making use of Romantic poets and their works.  What, for you, are the most telling things that the Victorians sought to forget, either about the individual poets you examine (Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Scott and Hemans), or about the Romantic-period generations more generally?

It wasn’t surprising to learn that the Victorians found Shelley’s atheism to be a problem. But I was surprised to discover the lengths they went to in their effort to forget it. First, they claimed that his atheism wasn’t important for his poetry.  Second, they went so far as to argue that his poetry carried a Christian message, even if Shelley the man would have denied it.  More generally, commemorating the Romantics meant forgetting many of their political commitments.  This wasn’t just true for radicals like Byron and Shelley, but also for a Tory like Scott – the problem wasn’t a particular set of political views, it was politics per se.  Romantic poets had to leave political commitments behind them as they were absorbed into the canon of English Literature.  Some critics have approached reception history through the lens of cultural memory – but I think that cultural memory studies are only helpful up to point.  We need to grasp that this process is as much about motivated forgetting as it is about remembering.

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

I have a number of articles coming out: one about the connections between celebrity and anonymity in the Romantic period; one about John ‘Walking’ Stewart, the Romantic pedestrian traveller and philosopher; and two about Byron – ‘Byron and the Good Death’ and ‘Byron and the Difficulty of Beginning’.  After that I have some ideas for another book, but it’s really too early to talk about them at the moment.