News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

Anna Mercer


All posts by Anna Mercer

The BARS Blog: Call for Contributors  

The British Association for Romantic Studies (BARS) is looking for contributors to write for our blog: an online collection of news/notices and longer posts, all of which celebrate and promote research in Romanticism. Would you like to contribute to a) The ‘Archive Spotlight’ series or b) The ‘On This Day’ series?

Please get in touch by sending a short pitch of what your post will include, and a short bio. Final posts should be around 1000 words.

Further details:
‘Archive Spotlight’:

Posts should be a blog about your experience of using an archive. You could use the space to discuss one or two things of interest you found at the archive, perhaps things that are intriguing, but that you cannot fit into your thesis, book, or other written work.

The post could also be an account of the archive itself as well as some things you’ve studied there that relate to the Romantic Period (1770-1830). You could focus more on the latter if you prefer. Previous examples can be found here.

‘On This Day’:
This is a Romantic bicentenary series that has been running since July 2015. We have been inspired to create this series following the popularity on Twitter of the ‘OnThisDay’ hashtag. We want to present a catalogue of #OnThisDay blog posts that relate to events happening exactly 200 years ago. The premise of the blog is to give readers a snapshot of 1818 in 2018 (and on into 2019 and beyond!), relevant to that month or even that particular day. The series is also a part of #Romantics200.

The best way to get a feel of this series is to read our excellent posts from past contributors. You can see all the posts here.

If you have any questions or would like to make an informal enquiry about writing for us, please get in touch with Anna Mercer (BARS Blog Editor):

Stephen Copley Award Report: Eleanor Bryan, The British Library

A report from Eleanor Bryan (PhD candidate, University of Lincoln) who was awarded a BARS Stephen Copley Award.

See the full list of 2018 winners here.


Eleanor Bryan – Stephen Copley Award Report

The Stephen Copley Award funded my visit to the British Library Doctoral Open day on Monday 19th March. The purpose of the open day was to acquaint new PhD students with the variety of resources that the British Library offers, and to explain the best ways of using its services and navigating its collections, both physically and online. This particular open day took an interdisciplinary approach to the British Library’s nineteenth-century collections and, as such, provided a holistic overview of a plethora of potential resources. Presentations were given by a host of librarians, all with different areas of expertise, who provided information on the nineteenth-century printed collections, modern archives, and manuscript collections.

My research focuses on dramatic adaptations of Gothic novels, namely Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I was therefore particularly interested in the British Ephemera collections, which include playbills, prints, and drawings. The other doctoral students and I were able to peruse some of the historical manuscripts. We were shown a variety of eclectic ephemera and librarians demonstrated how to find specific items and then subsequently source other more obscure items that may be connected but not the result of an initial search.

My day at the British Library far exceeded my expectations, and I would recommend their Doctoral Open Days to anyone and everyone, regardless of discipline, who is in the first few months of their PhD. I now feel much more confident in my own skills as a researcher and feel more equipped to seek out relevant material that will be of use to me. I am therefore extremely grateful to the BARS Stephen Copley Award for funding my visit as it will prove to be of great value to my thesis.

Research Fellowship Opportunity: The Armstrong Browning Library

An opportunity for those researching nineteenth-century literature and history, via Holly Spofford:

The Armstrong Browning Library (ABL), located on the campus of Baylor University, is a world-renowned research center and rare-collections library devoted to nineteenth-century studies.

The ABL has established a Three-Month Research Fellowship for leading scholars from outside Baylor. Prof. Dino Felluga (English, Purdue University) served as the inaugural fellow during fall 2017, and Prof. Clare Simmons (English, Ohio State University) will serve as the fall 2018 fellow.

Applications are being accepted for fall 2019, and are due by Sept. 7, 2018. $28,000 will be transferred directly to the Fellow’s home institution in three equal installments to help cover expenses incurred by this Research Fellowship. In addition, the Fellow’s initial travel to, and final return journey from, Baylor will be covered, as will lodging in well-furnished, high-quality apartments. Finalists will be notified by Oct. 10, 2018, and will be interviewed before the end of October.

Inaugural BARS Chawton House Travel Bursary Awarded

The executive committee of the British Association for Romantic Studies (BARS) and the trustees of Chawton House are delighted to announce the winner of the inaugural BARS Chawton House Travel Bursary: Francesca Kavanagh, who is a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne. Her research project examines the production of spaces of intimacy in practices of letter-writing, annotation, and commonplacing.

All scholars working on Romantic-Period women’s writing are eligible to apply for this scheme.  The BARS Executive Committee has established this award in order to help fund expenses incurred through travel to, and accommodation near, Chawton House Library in Hampshire, up to a maximum of £500.

Recipients are asked to submit a short report to the BARS Executive Committee, for publication on its website, and to acknowledge BARS and Chawton House in their doctoral thesis and/or any publication arising from the research trip. Please join us in congratulating Francesca on her award.

– Daniel Cook, University of Dundee

Stephen Copley Research Awards 2018 – the winners

The BARS Executive Committee has established these bursaries in order to support postgraduate and early-career research within the UK. They are intended to help fund expenses incurred through travel to libraries and archives necessary to the student’s research. As anticipated, this year we received a large number of applications, many of which were of a very high quality indeed. Please do join us in congratulating the very worthy winners. Romanticism is alive and kicking, we’re pleased to say!

  • Eleanor Bryan (University of Lincoln)
  • Mary Chadwick (University of Huddersfield)
  • Lauren Christie (University of Dundee)
  • Octavia Cox (University of Oxford)
  • Valerie Derbyshire (University of Sheffield)
  • Eva-Charlotta Mebius (University College London)
  • Hannah Moss (University of Sheffield)
  • Harrie Neal (University of York)
  • Emma Probett (University of Leicester)
  • Lieke van Deinsen (Radboud University Nijmegen)

Once they have completed their research trips each winner will write a brief report on their projects. These will be published on the website and circulated through our social media. For more information about the bursaries, including reports from past winners, please visit our website.

– Daniel Cook
Bursaries Officer, BARS
University of Dundee

Report from the BARS/Wordsworth Trust Early Career Fellow 2018

Dr Lucy Linforth arrived at Dove Cottage just a few days ago to take up her position as the BARS/Wordsworth Trust Early Career Fellow. She will spend the next month living, researching and collaborating with others in Grasmere. Here’s an initial report from Lucy: 

I am visiting Dove Cottage in Grasmere for the month of February, for the BARS and Wordsworth Trust Fellowship, during which time I will be exploring Wordsworth’s material world, including his home and the objects housed there, as well as the collections held by The Wordsworth Trust in both the Wordsworth Museum and at the Jerwood Centre. Though Wordsworth is most often admired as a poet of the mind, my research will focus upon Wordsworth’s poetry and the material world: his fascination with ‘the life / In common things’, a fascination which appears so often in his poetry (The Prelude 1.117-8). Over the coming weeks, it is my hope that I will be able to suggest opportunities for connections between poems and objects at Dove Cottage, and which may ultimately result in an invitation to visitors to engage with both objects and poetry in new ways. For my first two days here, I’ve been enjoying a thorough exploration of Dove Cottage, a visit to the Wordsworth Museum and exhibitions, and I have also spent time at the Jerwood Centre, which contains a vast repository of letters, books, paintings, and artefacts. Owing to the thick layer of snow which has fallen since I’ve arrived here at Grasmere, the smoke curling upwards from the chimneys at Dove Cottage only adds to the welcoming feel of the cottage, warm and homely amidst the cold but beautiful snow-covered hills all around.


Lucy standing with Senior Guide Hazel Clarke overlooking Dove Cottage on the first day of her fellowship


A bit more about Lucy and her research background:

I have recently completed my PhD at the University of Edinburgh. My doctoral thesis, titled ‘Fragments of the Past: Walter Scott, Material Antiquarianism, and Writing as Preservation’, explored the antiquarian materiality of Scott’s fiction. Working closely with the material collections exhibited at Abbotsford, I explored Scott’s participation in contemporary antiquarian practices such as collection and conservation, and suggested that Scott’s fictions frequently acted as textual extensions of his material practices to offer spaces in which the material past could to be preserved and exhibited. My research interests lie in the material culture of late eighteenth and nineteenth-century literature, including Gothic literature, antiquarianism, graveyard poetry, and ballads. I currently work as an Education Assistant at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, and also as a Heritage Engagement Assistant at Abbotsford, the Home of Sir Walter Scott in the Scottish Borders.

– Lucy Linforth

Report from ‘Romantic Novels 1818’ – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Here is a report by Merrilees Roberts from the first ‘Romantic Novels 1818‘ seminar. This series is sponsored by BARS and seminars are held at the University of Greenwich. 

BARS also provides bursaries to support postgraduates and early career researchers who wish to attend. You can find more information on the application process and see details of upcoming seminars in the series here.



A Discussion of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) with Dr James Grande

Romantic Novels 1818 Seminar January 2018


James Grande delivered a fascinating paper on Frankenstein intended to spark ideas about how to capture the neglected ‘1818’ context of the novel’s first edition, which comprised only 500 copies sold mostly to circulating libraries. Grande took James Chandler’s England in 1819: The Politics of Literary Culture and the Case of Romantic Historicism as an inspiration for thinking through a microhistory of 1818 which would capture the novel’s historical – rather than literary – context. Resisting the critical orthodoxy of readings focused on biographical and ‘family romance’ narratives about the Shelley-Godwin family, Grande suggested possible ways of thinking through Frankenstein’s reception in 1818. These included setting the dedication to Godwin in the context of the repressive measures enforced by a government wishing to quash continuing debates fostered by 1790s radicalism, and research which shows that in this decade the fiction market was actually dominated by female authorship. This perhaps throws an interesting light on Percy Shelley’s support of and collaboration in the project. Another important consideration was the articles appearing in the same periodicals containing reviews of Frankenstein – those which express anxiety about the melting of the polar ice-caps, and which provide an unwittingly significant frame narrative to the novel.


University of Greenwich campus


Particularly interesting to me was the idea that the death of Princess Charlotte in November 1817 provides a more compelling analogue for the novel’s implicit preoccupation with the dangers of childbirth than Mary Wollstonecraft’s death in 1797. The idea that the changes in the weather throughout Europe following the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815, which created the so-called ‘year without a summer’ in 1816, was in some sense a causal factor of both the composition of Frankenstein and the continuing apocalyptic mood of this post-revolutionary period also offers an interesting point of relation to the burgeoning scholarly interest in eco-criticism and philosophies of matter.

– Merrilees Roberts

Applications welcome for new BARS Secretary

The ​Executive Committee of the British Association for Romantic Studies is recruiting a new Secretary.

The Secretary is responsible for the organisation and minuting of face to face and on-line Executive meetings, and serving as the first contact point for the Association. They circulate funding applications to the Executive Committee and liaise with applicants. Members of the Executive Committee are expected to attend three meetings (one at the biennial conference) and contribute to one ‘virtual’ meeting in a two-year cycle.

The post does not carry remuneration but it is an excellent opportunity for an early-career Romanticist to gain valuable experience and skills. 

Informal enquiries about the role should be directed to the outgoing Secretary, Helen Stark ( Applications should be made to the President, Ian Haywood ( and comprise a CV and a statement (up to 300 words) detailing the applicant’s qualification for the role. The start date is negotiable but no later than June 2018. Deadline for applications: 19 Feb 2018.

Stephen Copley Research Report: The Lewis Walpole Library

The following report details research by Lauren Nixon, who visited the University of Yale supported by a BARS Stephen Copley Bursary.

Stephen Copley Research Award Report

Lauren Nixon: Researching Henry Seymour Conway at the Lewis Walpole Library


The Stephen Copley Research Award funded my visit to the Lewis Walpole Library, part of the University of Yale, which houses a large collection of materials relating to Horace Walpole (1717-1797) as well as an extensive array of rare books, prints and paintings. Thanks to the award I was able to spend a week in November 2017 studying the correspondence of Henry Seymour Conway (1721-1795), a cousin and friend of Horace Walpole and a British Army Officer who served during the Seven Years War (1756-1763). This research will form a part of my PhD thesis, ‘Conflicting Masculinities: The figure of the soldier in Gothic literature, 1764-1826’, and I hope to have the opportunity to present a snapshot of my findings at a conference this year.

Though significant critical work on exploring gender constructs within the early Gothic novel has been undertaken, very little has focused upon the military and the figure of the soldier. Yet the soldier, be it in the guise of an ancient knight, clansman or chevalier, appears frequently throughout the Gothic fiction of the period. My thesis analyses the ways in which Gothic writers employed the soldier and the military to redefine and reconsider masculinity, and charts shifting perceptions and presentations of the military in the eighteenth century.  As part of this research I am interested in the state of the military and social perception of the soldier during and in the aftermath of the Seven Years War, a conflict which Britain emerged victorious but which would have drastic lasting financial strains. Despite being heralded as heroes during the Seven Years War, the years after saw the private soldier turned loose without pay. Left to poverty and vagrancy, the British soldier of the 1770’s and 1780’s was far from a champion of national vigour and virtue – that is, until the renewed threat of conflict with France after the French Revolution.

In addition to the Gothic novels of authors such as Walpole, Ann Radcliffe, Regina Maria Roche and Mary Shelley, my research also incorporates a number of primary materials such as songs, pamphlets and speeches. During my week in the Lewis Walpole Library, I was able to further this study by analysing Henry Seymour Conway’s correspondence with his brother Francis Seymour Conway, 1st Marquess of Hertford (1718-1794) and three books of his military correspondence charting his service in Europe during the Seven Years War. This not only provided enlightening and intriguing insights into the military profession and the notion of the soldier’s duty during the eighteenth century from unpublished, understudied texts, but also indicated a crucial connection to the Gothic. Walpole and Conway were not just cousins, but close friends and frequent correspondents. In 1764, when Conway was abruptly dismissed from both parliament and his military command after speaking out against the Government on the John Wilkes controversy, Walpole supported Conway both financially and publically. As the Castle of Otranto was published later that same year, I believe there is an argument to be made for Conway’s identity as a soldier and his belief in the soldier’s chivalric masculinity influenced the novel. This is an avenue I had not previously considered, but now aim to pursue in the future.

I am extremely grateful to BARS for granting me the Stephen Copley Research Award, as without it I would not have been able to make the trip. The research I undertook at the Lewis Walpole Library was of great value to my thesis, but also to my development as a researcher. The library itself, located in the town of Farmington, Connecticut (about forty minutes drive from Yale University), has a varied and fascinating collection, including their current exhibition Global Encounters and the Archives: Great Britain’s Empire in the Age of Horace Walpole. 

– Lauren Nixon

On This Day in 1817: 28 December, The Immortal Dinner

The ‘On This Day’ series continues with a post by Ana Stevenson to celebrate 200 years since a gathering of remarkable intellects…


Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem, 1824 – 1820 by Benjamin Robert Haydon


The Immortal Dinner
by Ana Stevenson

Born in 1786, Benjamin Robert Haydon was a history painter who surrounded himself by men whose genius he judged equal to his own. Although Haydon is less well-known today, he was highly regarded as an artist in his own time. In 1804 he entered the Royal Academy Schools in London and exhibited there for the first time at the age of 21. Although this led to recognition and commissions, he did not have a steady income, meaning that he was in constant debt and struggled financially until the end of his life.

In 1817, however, Haydon moved to 22 Lisson Grove, where he was in possession of his own furniture and house-appliances for the first time. He wrote that he had used ‘my own tea cup and saucers. I took up my own knife. I sat on my own chair. It was a new sensation!’.


Benjamin Robert Haydon, 1825 portrait by Georgiana Zornlin


Fond of social gatherings, his new house also inspired the painter to invite some selected friends to dine at his home during the Christmas period. Haydon had an impact in the Literary world, with William Wordsworth, John Keats, and Leigh Hunt writing verses dedicated to the artist, therefore it is not surprising to find these poets amongst the guests who attended his dinner – except Leigh Hunt, who was excluded due to an argument between the host and Hunt’s wife.

The guestlist for this exceptional evening included Wordsworth, Keats, Charles Lamb, Tom Monkhouse, Joseph Ritchie, a few more of Haydon’s acquaintances, and a man named John Kingston, who invited himself as “a friend of Wordsworth”. Thanks to Haydon’s habit of documenting his life in journals, there is a detailed account of what took place that evening, and the event is known as ‘The Immortal Dinner’.

The party was welcomed by Haydon’s current project, ‘Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem’, which hung over the guests. Wordsworth and Keats are featured in this painting along with other notable figures of the era, a fact that stimulated conversation on the evening. The artist was delighted by the good humour the setting inspired and watched his friends partake in a gleeful discussion. Apart from Kingston, all were to some extent acquainted with one another. Haydon documented in his journal that once they retired for tea, Kingston, whom he forgot to introduce to the party, decided to take upon himself to engage with Wordsworth. He enquired ‘Don’t you think, sir, Milton was a great genius?’. Until this point, Keats was occupied examining Haydon’s books, and Lamb, who had a bit too much to drink and ‘got exceedingly merry and exquisitely witty’, was sat by the fire. When the question was asked, everyone turned their attention to Kingston’s remark.


John Keats, c.1822, portrait by William Hilton after Joseph Severn


Keats looked at Haydon, Wordsworth looked at Kingston, and Lamb said ‘Pray, sir, did you say Milton was a great genius?’ to which the man replied that he had asked Mr Wordsworth if he were not. Lamb then declared ‘Oh, then you are a silly fellow’. After a brief interruption by Wordsworth, everyone went quiet. Not content, Kingston decided for a second attempt: ‘Don’t you think Newton a great genius?’. At that point Keats hid his face in a book, Haydon could no longer stand it, Wordsworth did not know what was going on, and Lamb got up asking ‘Sir, will you allow me to look at your phrenological development?’. Kingston realised that Wordsworth did not seem to know who he was, therefore, in a third attempt to engage with the poet, he expressed that he had the honour of some correspondence with him, to which Wordsworth could not remember. Kingston seemed to finally give up, but at that point, Lamb was much amused. Haydon describes in his journal Lamb getting up and singing ‘Hey diddle diddle, The cat and the fiddle. Diddle diddle dumpling, my son John,’ while Wordsworth cried ‘My dear Charles!’ trying to stop Lamb, but to no avail.

‘Do let me have another look at that gentleman’s organs.’ Lamb shouted, as Keats and Haydon locked him in a different room while bursting into laughter. After this event, the party tried to console Kingston, who stayed for dinner but no longer attempted to further engage with the guests in the same manner. Peace was seemingly restored; the guests were occupied in their discussions and trying to move on from the incident, but Kingston had lost his dignity and the matter could not be forgotten as Lamb could still be heard calling from the other room: ‘Who is that fellow? Allow me to see his organs once more’.


William Wordsworth, 1818, portrait by Richard Carruthers


This event was not only immortalised by Haydon’s words, but the fun aspects of a casual event attended by a group of notorious figures from the time remains a topic of great interest until the present day. It is rare to be immersed into situations such as this, which appears to be of little importance to the attendees’ works, but incredibly relevant when it comes to understanding how they interacted with one another on a personal level. The Immortal Dinner truly proved itself to have a longer life than the ones who were present at that evening:

‘Keats made Ritchie promise he would carry his Endymion to the great desert of Sahara and fling it in the midst.

Poor Ritchie went to Africa, and died, as Lamb foresaw, in 1819. Keats died in 1821, at Rome. C. Lamb is gone, joking to the last. Monkhouse is dead, and Wordsworth and I are the only two now living (1841) of that glorious party.’

Two years after Haydon transcribed his account, Wordsworth became Poet Laureate and proceeded to survive the whole party as Haydon took his own life in 1846.

Primary Sources:

Benjamin Robert Haydon’s Autobiography and Letters