BARS Blog

BARS Blog

News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

Anna Mercer

Website

All posts by Anna Mercer

Call for Papers – Keats’s Odes at 200: A One-Day Bicentenary Conference (1819-2019)

CFP: Keats’s Odes at 200: A One-Day Bicentenary Conference (1819-2019)

1 February 2019, University of Caen (France)

Plenary speaker : Stanley Plumly (University of Maryland). Acclaimed poet and author of Posthumous Keats: A Personal Biography (Norton, 2008), The Immortal Evening: A Legendary Dinner with Keats, Wordsworth, and Lamb (Norton, 2014), winner of the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism, and Elegy Landscapes: Constable and Turner and the Intimate Sublime (Norton, 2018).

In the spring of 1819, living in the recently built Wentworth Place on the edge of Hampstead Heath, John Keats wrote five of the six poems now commonly referred to as the ‘Great Odes’, a group of texts whose hyper-canonicity can sometimes make it difficult to appreciate the precarious, unlikely circumstances under which they came into being – let alone to say anything new about them today. Over the course of the last two centuries, countless readers have found themselves enthralled by, and moved to comment on, Keats’s Ode to PsycheOde to a NightingaleOde on a Grecian UrnOde on MelancholyOde on Indolence, and ode To Autumn (composed in September 1819), generating a vast body of scholarly criticism, as well as a number of reuses or reimaginings of the odes in popular culture. Yet, not unlike the Hellenic urn which permanently remains, in its cold silence, ‘a friend to man’, the magic of the odes remains undiminished after all these years – and the depth and originality of Keats’s texts remain, miraculously, to be accounted for, still ‘teas[ing] us out of thought’. It is the aim of this one-day bicentenary conference not only to celebrate but also to continue to probe, question, and rethink the nature of Keats’s achievement in writing, at the height of his young artistic powers, these six ‘Great Odes’; to reexamine their past uses, and speculate on their lives to come, while teasing out (and, no less fruitfully, being teased by) their ostensible timelessness.

Speakers are invited to approach the odes from any number of angles, including (but not limited to) questions concerning: the composition and editing of the texts (their manuscript drafts, their multiple versions in print and digitization…); the critical reception of the odes in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries (in Britain, America, France, and elsewhere); Keats’s sources of inspiration, and of rupture; the odes and other forms of art (sculpture, music, painting); reuses and reimaginings of the odes in popular culture; their modern adaptations (cinema, fiction), etc.

Please send title of paper and abstract (300 words), with a brief CV, to Jeremy Elprin (jeremy.elprin@unicaen.fr) and Caroline Bertonèche (caroline.bertoneche@univ-grenoble-alpes.fr) by 31 October 2018.

Conference Report: ‘Character to Caricature, 1660-1850’

A report from the conference held at Northumbria University on 3 September 2018 (part-funded by BARS). Call for papers and programme here.

‘Character to Caricature, 1660-1850’: by Jenny Buckley

‘Character to Caricature’ was an interdisciplinary conference held at the Institute for Humanities at Northumbria University on 3 September, 2018. Bringing together scholars from across the UK, the conference desired to build upon current understandings of character. More particularly, it sought to explore character’s wider narratological implications and transmedial qualities in the long eighteenth century. With ‘character’ open to a range of definitions – from that which is branded or stamped, to styles of writing, distinctive personalities, moral and mental qualities, and status or official rank – given our particular historical moment, the way in which we understand the credibility and believability of character seems due for a re-evaluation.

To begin to grapple with these questions, the conference opened with a session on ‘Performing Parodies’, before featuring sessions on ‘Situating the Satirical’ and ‘Curating Character’. First to present was Montana Davies-Shuck (University of Northumbria) whose paper addressed ‘Fops, Monkeys, and Caricature’. She discussed the ways English gentlemen ape French fashions, becoming foppish in their pretensions and mannerisms and paid particular attention to caricatures of Louis Bourbon as ‘Louis Baboon.’ Next was David Barrow (University of York), who explored the way King Alfred was appropriated in the eighteenth-century as a way to respond to negative perceptions of the house of Hanover.

Characters and Caricaturas – William Hogarth (1743)

Refreshed after morning coffee, Adam James Smith (York St. John University) took us into the world of Tory satire, considering ‘The Partisan Hailing of “The Satirist” in the work of Joseph Addison and Alexander Pope’. Smith addressed the ways in which, for those in power, partisan hailing became a mode of simultaneously punching upwards and downwards. Continuing our exploration of periodicals, Mary Chadwick (University of Huddersfield) introduced us to the fascinating world of manuscript magazines. Focussing on the Breakfast Courant, she explored the use of animals in periodicals, paying particular attention to Welsh goats, Russian bears, and Addison and Steele’s lion. Olivia Ferguson (University of Edinburgh) delved into Walter Scott’s extensive collection of caricatures, considering the way in which only the author can genuinely illustrate their own work.

Following lunch, Ben Jackson (QMUL) opened with his paper ‘The Thrill of the Chaise: Gendering the Phaeton in Literary Satirical Culture, 1770-1820’. Jackson addressed the way in which carriage ownership revealed a man’s character with phaeton’s being the sign of the man ready to marry, while the possession of a carriage indicates that he has settled down. Fiona Milne (University of York) considered the way character was used in the courtroom in her paper on character defence and allegory in William Hone’s trials of 1817. Concluding the session, Hannah Moss (University of Sheffield) entered the world of visual and verbal caricatures of female artistic endeavour, challenging traditional (and also Austen’s) definition of the attributes that were required for a woman to be characterised as truly accomplished.

The keynote session was delivered by Dr Elaine McGirr (University of Bristol). Titled ‘Uniquely Typical; Typically Unique: a meditation on the paradox of character’, McGirr’s paper explored characters from Robinson Crusoe to Boris Johnson, considered the penchant for modern panel shows and the blurring of the boundary between politicians and celebrities. Her paper offered an opportunity for a wider reflection on the ways in which understanding the history of character and the ensuing cult of personality is a concern that is rooted in the eighteenth century but which inflects our culture today.

The event was an opportunity to engage with a range of new approaches to thinking about character in the long eighteenth century, and to build upon the influential studies by Deidre Lynch, Lisa Freeman, Jane Moody, and Julie Park. We are very grateful to BARS for supporting this conference, and for the financial assistance that enabled us to offer bursaries to postgraduate and ECR speakers.

‘Character to Caricature’ conference Twitter.

‘Dorothy Wordsworth, Mountaineering Pioneer’ by Joanna Taylor

A special post on the BARS Blog today to celebrate the new exhibition ‘This Girl Did: Dorothy Wordsworth and Women’s Mountaineering’ at Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Trust. Joanna Taylor presents an edited version of her recent talk at the Trust, ‘Dorothy Wordsworth, Mountaineering Pioneer’.

On October 7 1818, Dorothy Wordsworth and her friend Mary Barker ascended England’s highest mountain: Scafell Pike. Wordsworth’s account of the feat is among the earliest records of a recreational ascent of the mountain – and it’s the earliest written by a woman.

Wordsworth’s and Barker’s climb of Scafell Pike is notable for the daring it displays: this was not simply a mountain climb, but a rebellious act that opened up the mountain – and mountaineering – for successive generations throughout the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries. More than that, reading Wordsworth’s account today suggests new ways of understanding the mountains that go beyond tales of sporting prowess: as Wordsworth knew, examining the details of a mountainside can be as rewarding as the view from the summit.

 

Dorothy Wordsworth’s ‘irregular habits’

 

Alex Jakob-Whitworth’s logo design for The Wordsworth Trust’s current exhibition, ‘This Girl Did: Dorothy Wordsworth and Women’s Mountaineering’.

 

Walking was an important part of the daily routine in the Wordsworth household, but they were well aware – and proud of – the fact that their commitment to almost daily extensive walks was unusual. In September 1800, for instance, we find Wordsworth explaining to Jane Marshall that the frequency with which they walked – and the distances they travelled – was one of the household’s ‘irregular’ habits. The Wordsworth siblings walked together most days for the best part of four decades; Thomas De Quincey estimated that William walked between 175,000 and 180,000 miles over his lifetime, and Dorothy can’t have fallen far short of that. Wordsworth bragged about the speed with which she could walk, and how little fatigued she was afterwards, until her mid-fifties.

Walking was not something Wordsworth took for granted. Both at the start and end of her life, Wordsworth knew what it was like to not be able – or allowed – to walk. In her late teens and early twenties – before she moved in with her brother in 1795 – Wordsworth’s walks were restricted by her relatives’ views on social decorum. For instance, she defended herself against her aunt’s disapproval of her ‘rambling about the country on foot’ by writing that:

I rather thought it would give my friends pleasure to hear that I had courage to make use of the strength with which nature has endowed me, when it not only procured me infinitely more pleasure than I should have received from sitting in a post-chaise – but was also the means of saving me at least thirty shillings.

Wordsworth was justifiably proud of her walking prowess – in 1818, when she was 46, she boasted to Sara Coleridge that she could ‘walk sixteen miles in four hours and three quarters, with short rests between, on a blustering cold day, without having felt any fatigue’. That’s an impressive pace of a little under four miles an hour around the Lake District hills!

But the climb up Scafell Pike with Mary Barker was perhaps Wordsworth’s most significant walking achievement. The two women initially only intended on climbing Ash Course – but, on reaching that point, they decided to push on to the Pike, since ‘three parts up that Mountain’. Although the distance turns out to be ‘greater than it had appeared’, still their ‘courage did not fail’.

 

One of the two surviving fair copies of the letter to William Johnson, in which Wordsworth describes the ascent of Scafell Pike. Used with permission from The Wordsworth Trust.

 

The letter in which Wordsworth describes this feat draws attention to different ways of reading the mountain. In one moment she describes a landscape that stretches out for miles from the summit on which she stands. But at the next, when she looks down, Dorothy realises that though the summit seemed lifeless at first glance, in fact beauty could be found clinging to the rocks if one looked closely enough:

I ought to have described the last part of our ascent to Scaw Fell pike. There, not a blade of grass was to be seen – hardly a cushion of moss, & that was parched & brown; and only growing rarely between the huge blocks & stones which cover the summit & lie in heaps all round to a great distance, like Skeletons or bones of the earth not wanted at the creation, & here left to be covered with never-dying lichens, which the Clouds and dews nourish; and adorn with colours of the most vivid and exquisite beauty, and endless in variety (quoted with permission from The Wordsworth Trust).

In focusing on these details close to hand, rather than rhapsodising on the distant prospect, Dorothy anticipates writers like Nan Shepherd: these women propose an alternative to more familiar accounts of mountaineering exploits that emphasise a victory over a feminised Mother Nature when the climber conquers the summit. Instead, Dorothy recognises that paying close attention reveals unexpected features even on a barren mountaintop.

 

Dorothy’s Legacy

 

A map from William Wordsworth’s Guide to the District of the Lakes showing the Scafell massif.  Used with permission from The Wordsworth Trust.

 

Wordsworth’s account of the ascent of Scafell Pike was later included – without attribution, possibly at her own request – in William Wordsworth’s Guide to the District of the Lakes. The implication was that it was William who had undertaken the ascent. As a result, Wordsworth’s legacy in climbing Scafell Pike is blurred into William’s, and many of the people who followed in her footsteps were unaware that it was her they were emulating.

Her ambitious walking practices established women’s walking as an accepted practice in the Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey families. Robert Southey, for instance, describes the delight which his daughter, Edith, and niece, Sara Coleridge, took from a young age in scrambling about on the fells around their home in Keswick, and Sara herself – not without some self-mockery – labelled them ‘expert mountaineers’.

But Wordsworth’s influence was much wider reaching. Harriet Martineau – a friend of the Wordsworths after she moved to Ambleside in the 1840s – seems not to have been aware that it was Dorothy who made the ascent, but her own account of an ascent of Scafell Pike closely replicates Wordsworth’s. Two decades later, Eliza Lynn Linton – the first salaried female journalist in Britain, though she’s perhaps more (in)famous for her notorious Girl of the Period essays – described Scafell’s intimidating appearance on the approach to it in her guidebook, The Lake Country, in 1865:

Scawfell rose up, and looked bigger and more formidable than ever. As we proceeded he grew, and our work seemed only beginning: all the climbing we have had mere child’s play to what was to come.

It did not put her off: Lynn Linton spent the night on the mountain. Lynn Linton’s description indicates what an extraordinary feat this climb was for Wordsworth to undertake at a moment when such ambitious routes were considered well beyond a woman’s capability. Wordsworth – like Martineau, Lynn Linton and countless others after her – made it clear that walking and other forms of mountaineering were as much for women as for men. Today, Wordsworth continues to offer a vision of the mountains that invites us all to look at, and move through, them in new ways.

 

This post is adapted from a talk given at The Wordsworth Trust on 1 September 2018; you can find a live video of the full paper here. ‘This Girl Did: Dorothy Wordsworth and Women’s Mountaineering’ opens at The Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere, on Saturday 1 September and runs until Sunday 23 December. A film about recreating of Dorothy’s climb up Scafell Pike will premiere at the Kendal Mountain Festival on Sunday 18 November; more details and tickets will be available here.

The Scottish Romanticism Research Award 2018

The executive committees of the British Association for Romantic Studies (BARS) and the Universities Committee for Scottish Literature (UCSL) are delighted to announce the winner of the third annual Scottish Romanticism Research Award: Eva-Charlotta Mebius, a PhD Candidate in the English Department at University College London. During her research trip she will visit the the Dundee City Archives, in order to study Robert Mudie’s early writing in the Dundee Advertiser, the Fife Archives and the Highland Archive Centre in Inverness, to uncover more information about Mudie’s time there as a schoolmaster, and the National Records of Scotland.

BARS and UCSL have established the annual award for postgraduates and early career scholars to help fund expenses incurred through travel to Scottish libraries and archives, including universities other than the applicant’s own, up to a maximum of £300. A postgraduate may be a current or recent Master’s student (within two years of graduation) or a PhD candidate; a postdoctoral scholar is defined as someone who holds a PhD but does not hold a permanent academic post. If appropriate, UCSL will endeavour to assign the awardee an academic liaison at one of its partner universities in Scotland.

Recipients are asked to submit a short report to the BARS Executive Committee, for publication on its website, and to acknowledge BARS and UCSL in their doctoral thesis and/or any publication arising from the research trip. Please join us in congratulating Eva-Charlotta on her award. We look forward to welcoming her to Scotland.

– Dr Daniel Cook, University of Dundee

Read Eva’s Stephen Copley Research Report for BARS, ‘Unearthing Robert Mudie in the National Library of Scotland and Dundee University Archives’, here.

Stephen Copley Research Report: Lauren Christie on Gothic Literature

Lauren Christie (University of Dundee) has completed the following report on her time in Manchester this summer carrying out research on the Gothic and attending the Gothic festival and the International Gothic Association’s (IGA) biennial conference.

Research report: Gothic literature, children’s literature and the Gothic Manchester Festival/the IGA conference

The very nature and beauty of eighteenth-century Gothic is its fluidity. Originating with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) many established Gothic tropes are still present in aspects of contemporary culture: for example, fashion, architecture, and literature. We are witnessing new developments that reflect different audiences, such as Gothic gaming and post-apocalyptic fiction. Gothic remains such a prominent fibre of the twenty-first century through its inherent ability to adapt and modify for new generations. Due to the diverse scope and nature of my research (ranging from children’s to Gothic and horror literature) there are so many texts that are vital for me, from the eighteenth century to the present day. The Stephen Copley Research Award from BARS enabled me to visit the library and special collections archive at Manchester Metropolitan University in order to examine specialised texts spanning this vast time period. I combined this research trip with an offer to present at the International Gothic Association’s biennial conference. The organising committee for the IGA arranged additional events through the ‘Gothic Manchester Festival: Gothic Hybridities’ series. Exploring the hybridity of the genre from its origins to the present led me to consider and observe the popularity and diverse nature of this topic.

With assistance from Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes (Senior Lecturer) and Rachel Fell (subject librarian for English at MMU), I gained access to MMU’s departmental collection that exclusively focuses on Romantic and Gothic literary criticism of the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries. Prominent texts included: Coats, McGillis and Jackson’s The Gothic in Children’s Literature: Haunting the Borders (2008), Crawford’s The Twilight of the Gothic? Vampire Fiction and the Rise of the Paranormal Romance (2014), Tropp’s Images of Fear: How Horror Stories Helped Shape Modern Culture (1990) and Townshend’s Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination (2014). I also encountered contemporary children’s literary criticism such as: Lenz’s Alternative Worlds in Fantasy Fiction (2001), Lewis’s Reading Contemporary Picturebooks (2001) and Coats’s Looking Glasses and Neverlands: Lacan, Desire, and Subjectivity in Children’s Literature (2004).

MMU houses a unique archival collection of children’s literature. This dates back to 1764, and consists of children’s annuals, fiction, picturebooks and pop-up books, to name but a few examples. Immersed in this collection, I came across an extraordinary Gothic children’s pop-up book entitled Thomson and Hartas’s Ghoul School (2001), and a bibliotherapeutic picturebook for young children: Michael Rosen’s Sad Book (2004). I also looked at several children’s Gothic texts that promote imagination such as Thompson’s How to Live Forever (1995) and Turner’s The Tree Witches (1983). There were also Gothic transitional books for education such as Waddell and Wright’s Little Dracula Goes to School (1987). One particular text that I found incredibly dark and poignant was a contemporary one: Neil Gaiman’s The Wolves in the Walls (2003). This novel emphasises the power of the imagination and questions the figure of the monster (and whether we mean wolves or humans).

Alongside my research, I was honoured to be able to attend the Manchester Gothic Festival and present at the IGA conference. This year saw the society’s biggest ever conference, hosting over 300 experts from all over the world. I attended several vibrant panels such as: Gothic Houses and Gothic selves, Gothic Monsters in children’s and Young Adult (YA) fiction, Gothic Fairy Tales, Outsiders in YA Gothic, Haunted Scotland, and Reading the Gothic in Popular Children’s Fiction. I also attended wider festival events, including Scoring Fear: An Evening of Classical Music and Gothic Horror Film Scores (BBC Philharmonic and BBC Radio 3), and a reception at the Manchester Art Gallery. In addition, the IGA Postgraduate community had organised a round table event on Gothic-studies careers in academia. This was incredibly supportive as we were able to seek advice from several experts in the field.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the British Association for Romantic Studies for awarding me the Stephen Copley Research Award, without which this trip would not have been possible. I would also like to thank Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes and Rachel Fell for their help in organising my individual research trip to the library and archives, Dr Linnie Blake and the staff at the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies, and the IGA organising committee for creating such a diverse and exciting conference and festival. The combination of all of the above events during my week in Manchester has helped further my research, thereby developing ideas for my thesis and publications.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To THOMAS LOVE PEACOCK, Marlow

Bagni di Lucca, July 25th, 1818.

My dear Peacock,

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The last expression would not make a bad motto.

 

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

by Rebekah Owens

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Works Cited:

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

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

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

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

Stephen Copley Research Report: Hannah Moss at Chawton House Library

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

Stephen Copley Research Report: Hannah Moss

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

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

Chawton House Library

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

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

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

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

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

Hannah at Chawton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Amanda Blake Davis (University of Sheffield)

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

‘The Symposium’, Pietro Testa (1648)

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

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

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

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

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

(A Defence of Poetry, 682)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[8] Notopoulos, p. 31.

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

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

[11] Notopoulos, pp. 447 and 448.

[12] O’Neill, p. 242.

[13] PBS Letters II, p. 20.

[14] PBS Letters II, p. 22.

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

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