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BARS Blog

News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

Anna Mercer

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Stephen Copley Research Report: Hiroki Iwamoto on Benjamin Robert Haydon

Stephen Copley Research Award Report:

Benjamin Robert Haydon Manuscripts at Houghton Library and Christ’s Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem at the Athenaeum of Ohio / Mount St. Mary’s Seminary

This June, thanks to a BARS Stephen Copley Research Award, I was able to visit the United States to access the collection of Houghton Library at Harvard University. My PhD thesis concerns the historical painter Benjamin Robert Haydon’s influence on the poetry and poetics of John Keats, and I devoted my time at Harvard mostly to consulting the painter’s (unpublished) materials that are specifically related to the poet’s life and writings.

 

Houghton Library, Harvard University (author’s photograph)

 

Among the rare materials that I accessed at Harvard, I was particularly pleased to be able to consult Haydon’s unpublished original draft for his Autobiography. Haydon started this draft, which he called ‘Vita’, sometime around 1815 and is assumed to have abandoned it after 1825. Resumed as late as 1839, his Autobiography was published posthumously in Tom Taylor’s Life of Benjamin Robert Haydon (1853). That is, Haydon worked on the ‘Vita’ while many of the Romantic writers were still alive. Somewhat disordered and even incomplete as it is, this voluminous manuscript (which counts more than 250 pages) not only bespeaks the vigour with which Haydon composed it, but also provides us with a version of his literary self-portrait, drawn from a perspective quite significantly different from that in the published Autobiography. Keats scholarship has previously paid very little attention to the ‘Vita’, but I believe that a close examination of this manuscript will shed new light on our understanding of the literary and artistic milieu of the Romantic period, especially in the Keats circle.

At Harvard, I was also pleased to be able to consult Haydon’s transcriptions of Keats’s letters. Most of them are addressed to Haydon himself, the rest to Keats’s brother Tom. Since all of these letters have been already published, Haydon’s transcriptions themselves are not that remarkable. Yet what makes this material singular is that Haydon ‘annotated’ some of the letters. Judging from its content, it is most plausible that Haydon sent them to Richard Monckton Milnes (later Lord Houghton) to assist him in preparing for his first biography of Keats. In fact, Milnes’s 1848 biography of the poet does seem to rely on some of Haydon’s annotations. Yet Milnes’s book does not reproduce all of Haydon’s commentary, including that on Wordsworth’s (in)famous comment on Keats’s recitation of Endymion as a ‘pretty piece of Paganism’. It now turns out that, along with the ‘Vita’, Haydon’s annotated transcriptions of Keats’s letters will indeed be indispensable for exploring their relationship in my thesis.

 

The Athenaeum of Ohio / Mount St. Mary’s Seminary (author’s photograph)

 

Leaving Boston (Harvard), my research trip in the US ended by seeing Haydon’s large painting Christ’s Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem at the Athenaeum of Ohio / Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Cincinnati. This Catholic seminary is located a long way from the airport, and it took more than an hour by bus even from the city centre to get there. But it was a rewarding experience for me to come Cincinnati to see this painting. Visitors to this seminary can now see Haydon’s painting hung awe-inspiringly in its darksome atrium. Christ’s Entry is grand both in its scale (size) and in its conception (subject). An often vainglorious artist, Haydon modelled the face of Christ on his own, and surrounded the figure with his own contemporaries including Keats, Wordsworth, and Lamb; and the painted scene served him, virtually, as a symposium of the geniuses that gathered to commemorate his own imminent ‘entry’ into the history of English art. After all, he was then about to—but failed to—gain far-flung fame as a great historical painter. However neglected Haydon is nowadays, Christ’s Entry is still, I believe, his masterpiece. And those nearly life-sized figures in the canvas also seemed to induce me to feel as if I were a part of the picture, and to envisage further in my mind the animated scene when those luminaries—Keats, Wordsworth, Lamb, and others—enjoyed ‘the immortal dinner’ in front of this picture in late December 1817.

 

Benjamin Robert Haydon, Christ’s Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem (1820; photo provided by: The Athenaeum of Ohio / Mount St. Mary’s Seminary of the West in Cincinnati, Ohio U.S.A.)

 

I am greatly indebted to BARS for awarding me the research grant, without which this archival trip would not have been possible. And I am also very grateful to the librarians and staff at Houghton Library and the Athenaeum of Ohio / Mount St. Mary’s Seminary for their permission to allow me to take a close look at the rare materials in their collections. Thanks to all those concerned, my research trip went very well, and will undoubtedly contribute significantly to the development of my thesis.

—Hiroki Iwamoto (University of Bristol)

Find out how to apply for a BARS Stephen Copley Research Award here.

Free Event: 200th Anniversary of Peterloo at Keats House

Afternoon Poems Special: 200th Anniversary of Peterloo

16 August 2019, 2-4pm

Keats House, Hampstead

 

‘Massacre at St. Peter’s or “Britons strike home”!!!’ by George Cruikshank (British Museum)

 

Join the Keats House Poetry Ambassadors for a reading of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem The Mask of Anarchy. This revolutionary work was written in response to the Peterloo massacre which occurred in St Peter’s Fields, Manchester, on 16 August 1819.

Professor Ian Haywood – of the University of Roehampton and President of BARS – will also be present to discuss Peterloo itself and then the poem’s historic context.

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number –
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you –
Ye are many – they are few.

Free – book your space here.

Narratives of Ageing in the Nineteenth Century: Registration Open

Narratives of Ageing in the Nineteenth Century

University of Lincoln, 23 July 2019  

Plenary Speaker: Prof. Devoney Looser, Arizona State University, ‘Ageing in Public: Women Authors in the Nineteenth Century’

Organisers: Dr Alice Crossley, Dr Amy Culley, Dr Rebecca Styler

This conference responds to the burgeoning critical interest of humanities scholars in age, ageing, and stages of life from childhood to old age in the literature and culture of the nineteenth century. Scholars from literature, history, art history, and the social sciences will address the experiences, conceptions, and representations of the ageing process in a variety of media, forms, and genres. Panel topics are as follows:

  • Writing and Im/maturity
  • Ageing as Decline?
  • Women Ageing with Authority
  • Recovering the Ageing Body
  • Counter/Stereotypes of Ageing
  • The Bildung Narrative and its Discontents

A selection of papers from the conference will form the basis of a special issue on ‘Narratives of Ageing in the Nineteenth Century’ for the journal Age, Culture, Humanities to appear in 2021.

There is no charge for the conference, but registration is required. The deadline for registration is 17 July 2019.

Click here to visit the conference website (with programme and abstracts).

If you have any queries please contact Dr Amy Culley (aculley@lincoln.ac.uk)

 

Stephen Copley Research Report: Gabriella Barnard-Edmunds at the Bodleian Libraries

This report is by Gabriella Barnard-Edmunds (University of York). You can find out about how to apply for a BARS Copley Research Award here

Image via John Cairns/University of Oxford.

Thanks to the generous support of BARS and the Stephen Copley Research Award, I am freshly returned from a glorious week’s worth of rummaging through the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford. My PhD examines the narrative function of the horse-drawn carriage in Jane Austen’s fictions, and investigates its cultural significance in wider Georgian society. I support my literary enquiries with a few key contemporary trade sources on the design and construction of carriages, but as I’ve discovered over the course of my research, eighteenth-century coach-makers were a fiercely secretive bunch and frustratingly little archival evidence survives today. In comes the John Johnson Collection’s boxes and boxes of carriage related trade ephemera!

Print and visual depictions of private carriages, stage and mail coaches, driving disasters, stately processions and everything in between abound in libraries and archives, the carriage seems to have been a favourite target for eighteenth-century cartoonists and novelists alike to publicly lampoon. Whilst I relish the fact my doctoral work means I get to study these vibrant sources, the carriage was an incredible feat of engineering in its marriage of elegant design with technologies of motion, and to fully comprehend this I need to go back to the fundamentals. I want to get to grips with the carriage’s design and production processes and understand how these aesthetically adroit commodity objects, marketed to the polite elite, were intended to be consumed by their inventors. My intentions, therefore, for my trip to the Bodleian were to consult as many trade cards and designs as I could get my hands on. The fact that only a small portion of the holdings of carriage ephemera has been digitised made this an even more enticing prospect, and I had no idea the extent of what I was going to find.

Well, let me tell you, I was not disappointed. My favourite finds included delicate line drawings for all sorts of carriage typologies, from zippy two-wheelers like the cabriolet and curricle, to large ‘pleasure carriages’ – so-called for their use on short, leisurely trips during spring and summer – like the barouche. A common characteristic of small carriages (and many of their four-wheel cousins) was a removable or retractable hood that could be drawn back at the behest of the occupants. Until this trip, I had mostly seen trade designs for two-wheel carriages with the hood omitted, instead, they’re pictured more commonly in fashion plates, and I have always been curious as to how coach makers represented hoods in their designs. It was a really nice surprise, then, to stumble across two separate designs for a gig carriage that featured its hood on a tab that could be flipped up to reveal both aspects of the vehicle. What made these blueprints all the more special were the colourful accents in yellow and ultramarine, an unusual embellishment to what appeared to just be preliminary designs rather than promotional imagery. The collection as a whole truly shows that the artistry of the carriage wasn’t isolated to the finished article, but was inherent in the print artefacts that represented and advertised them.

All in all, my first ever visit to the Bodleian was just what I needed to give me the green light on some of the claims I have been making more tentatively in the absence of strong contemporary evidence, and I am grateful both to BARS and the staff at the Bodleian for this opportunity to expand my knowledge and strengthen my research.

– Gabriella Barnard-Edmunds

Stephen Copley Research Report: Alice Rhodes on John Thelwall’s Manuscripts in Derby

See how to apply for a Stephen Copley Research Award with BARS here.

Stephen Copley Research Award Report: John Thelwall Manuscripts at Derby Local Studies and Family History Library

by Alice Rhodes

This May, thanks to the BARS Stephen Copley Research Award, I was able to spend a week in Derby Local Studies and Family History Library. I carried out research into poet and political orator turned speech therapist, John Thelwall, and his “Derby Manuscript”. The collection, contained within three volumes of notebooks and spanning almost a thousand pages, includes poetry on subjects as diverse as Thelwall’s own career and was identified by Judith Thompson in 2004. The manuscript, begun after Thelwall’s “retirement” from political lecturing, contains not only published and unpublished poems from this period of his life, but also reworkings of earlier published work, including several poems from his 1793 “politico-sentimental journal” The Peripatetic.

 

Derby Local Studies and Family History Library

 

My PhD thesis explores speech production in British literature in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, with a particular focus on the work of Erasmus Darwin, John Thelwall and Percy Bysshe Shelley. I aim to argue that speech production becomes a focal point for these writers to explore politically and philosophically unorthodox ideas and that a specific concern with the mechanics of speech implicated their writing in politically-loaded contemporary debates about materialism, and developing conceptions of disciplinarity. The material held in Derby has been invaluable in helping me to track how Thelwall’s ideas, particularly those on materialist philosophy, continued to develop across his career(s). Excitingly, all of the amendments and crossings out that Thelwall made to his poetry have remained legible, revealing the extent of his ambivalences and anxieties about his political, philosophical, and professional allegiances, as he struggles, in places, to find the right words to express these increasingly fraught subjects. The manuscript also contains several poems which have been annotated with elocutionary markings to aid recitation and poetry on the subject of oratory and elocution, both of which have provided me with a deeper understanding of Thelwall’s elocutionary theory.

During my research trip I also had the opportunity to visit the Library of Birmingham’s Wolfson Centre for Archival Research, which houses letters written by Thelwall and correspondence between Erasmus Darwin and James Watt. Included in these collections was an 1801 letter from Thelwall to Joseph Strutt, written at the very beginning of what he describes as his “metamorphose” from republican radical to teacher of elocution, which sheds light onto what Thelwall himself saw as the continuities and discontinuities between his political and elocutionary projects.

River Derwent, Derby

I’d like to thank BARS again for this brilliant opportunity to carry out research which will form an important strand of my thesis. I’d also like to thank the staff at the Wolfson Centre for Archival Research and at Derby Local Studies Library for all their help and for allowing me access to Thelwall’s original manuscripts.

 

– Alice Rhodes (University of York)

 

Conference Report: ‘Romantic Interactions’, Krakow

The following report is by Charlotte May (University of Nottingham).

‘Romantic Interactions’ Conference

Jagiellonian University in Krakow

4thand 5th April 2019

The ‘Romantic Interactions’ conference at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow interrogated two key definitions of interaction: firstly, social, artistic and literary interactions in the Romantic period itself; and secondly, how readers, audiences and writers have interacted with the Romantic period through different mediums over the past two hundred years.

The conference opened with the first plenary lecture delivered by Mary Jacobus, exploring ‘Keats’ Apollonian Afterlives’. The afternoon included panels on German Romanticism, the Classical Tradition, Cross-cultural and Transatlantic Interactions, and Negative Capability and Poetic Imagination. Brittany Pladek (Marquette University) provided one of many fantastic insights into how we might trace the reception of classical tradition in the Romantic period in the current political climate, including how responses to the #MeToo movement could be found in constructions of guilt in the epic tradition. Keats was very much on the mind of participants in the later afternoon session, with discussions on negative capability heavily influenced by Mary Jacobus’s plenary lecture earlier that day.

The day ended with a wonderful conference dinner at Kawaleria restaurant in Krakow. As Keats had been the focus of many conversations, and Byron had only formed the basis of one paper (Rowland Cotterill’s investigation of Don Juan as a Horatian poem), I posed one question to the dinner attendees: Byron or Keats? Without any context provided, the question proved easier to answer over a glass of wine, and we found that Byron was indeed the winner (although Juliette Wells’ response was, of course, Jane Austen).

(c) Newstead Abbey; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

 

(c) National Portrait Gallery

The second and final day of the conference opened with an investigation of philosophical and religious interactions and Romanticism across Borders, in which Judith Thompson’s (Dalhousie University) discussion of John Thelwall as a ‘Citizen of the World’ reminded us of absences arising in interactions, and how much we – as historians and critics – must pursue studies of those who have been excluded from contemporary canons, as well as continue to hunt for evidence of interactions.

The day contained two plenary panels before lunch, covering how poets contemporaneously interacted with each other and how the public have been pursuing interaction with Romanticism since the end of the movement (if such an ‘end’ can indeed be agreed upon). Frederick Burwick (UCLA) spoke on ‘Coleridge’s Interaction with Wordsworth: The ‘Dejection’ Dialogue’, and Juliette Wells (Goucher College) focused on ‘William Dean Howells and the Rise of American Janeitism’.  As previous panels had done, this plenary was an important contribution to questioning the role of national identity within Romanticism and its legacy, and truly proved how the cult of personality and literary tastes could change the course of global literary history.

 

 

The conference ended with Nicola Watson (Open University) taking us on a tour of RỆVE (Romantic Europe: The Virtual Exhibition), an invaluable resource on how Romanticism has been defined and charted since its beginnings in the eighteenth century to the present day. Watson provided us with the example of ‘Shakespeare’s chair and the Polish Princess’,  Monika Coghen (our wonderful host at Jagiellonian University) spoke on ‘Kościuszko’s Mound’, and Mirosɫawa Modrzewska (University of Gdańsk) joined us on Skype to speak about ‘Chopin’s Piano’, three important contributions to the visual exhibition. The conference ended with a rendition of the selected works of Frederick Chopin told through the chronology of Chopin’s interactions with his Scottish patron Jane Stirling by Marcin Jaroszek, accompanied by the wonderful pianist Anna Dębowska. This recovery of Stirling as a supporter and driving-force of Chopin’s career showed how instrumental sociability was in the development of artistic careers and the movement of Romanticism itself. The essential role of women in founding and sculpting the movement of Romanticism had been referred to throughout the conference, particularly in the papers of Vitana Kostadinova (University of Plovdiv), Anna Messing (another of our fantastic hosts), Julie Donovan (George Washington University), and Rayna Rosenova (Sofia University).

This conference showcased up and coming work and projects which will further our understanding and definitions of what it means for an author, text, and literary period to interact. The atmosphere of the conference was friendly and supportive, with scholars from different careers and sectors engaging with a truly international body of delegates. There is surely no better legacy of interactions with(in) Romanticism than a conference such as this.

 

– Charlotte May (University of Nottingham)

 

 

RÊVE: Romantic Europe the Virtual Exhibition

The following post is by Alice Rhodes (University of York). If you haven’t heard of RÊVE before, then read on to find out more about this exciting project:

RÊVE (Romantic Europe: The Virtual Exhibition) is an interdisciplinary online project which showcases iconic European Romantic objects, places, and texts in a series of original blog posts from researchers and heritage professionals from across the continent. The virtual exhibition aims to assess and reassess Romanticism’s transnational perspectives and to provide an innovative resource for teaching, thinking and writing about Romanticism in new and productive ways. RÊVE is the core project of ERA (European Romanticisms in Association), a group which brings together scholarly associations and heritage organisations, including BARS, from around Europe.

The exhibition currently contains 26 exhibits, and existing and upcoming posts feature a wealth of Romantic objects of all kinds, from furniture, clothing and jewellery, to publications and artworks, and even clouds, caves, trees and mountains. Some of the most recent highlights include:

  • Fragment of a cancelled copper plate from William Blake’s America: Dr Robert Rix (University of Copenhagen) presents a one-of-a-kind fragment from one of the copper plates that Blake used to print his Illuminated Books. The plate is the only surviving fragment to demonstrate Blake’s etching process and provides a unique insight into Blake’s techniques.
  • Shakespeare’s Chair and the Polish Princess: Professor Nicola Watson (Open University) traces the European journey of this unlikely piece of literary memorabilia from a kitchen in Stratford-upon-Avon to the garden of Polish princess, Izabela Dorota Czartoryska and its place in the first Polish museum.
  • Petȍfi’s Wallet: Zsuzsanna Zeke (Petőfi Literary Museum, Budapest) introduces a wallet given to the poet Sándor Petőfiby his wife Júlia Szendrey and explores the keepsake’s place in Petőfi’s transformation into the Hungarian national poet.
  • Every House of the Ant-Hill on the Plain: Richard Horwood’s London:Dr Matthew Sangster (University of Glasgow) explores Romantic London via Richard Horwood’s “NEVER BEFORE ATTEMPTED” plan of the city, engraved in painstaking detail over a period of nine years.

The above blog posts, along with a whole host of other exhibits exploring the material (and sometimes immaterial) objects which define Romantic Europe can be viewed here.

The associated AHRC-funded project Dreaming Romantic Europe (DREAM) led by Professor Nicola J. Watson (Open University) and Professor Catriona Seth (All Souls, Oxford) launched in autumn 2018 and is due to run until June 2020. Its core endeavour is to continue to build RÊVE to 100+ exhibits through running three major workshops and associated satellite events. More generally, it is designed to build an extensive pan-European network of scholars, scholarly associations, and museums. Workshop 1 ‘Consuming Romanticism’ was held November 9-10, 2018, Maison de Chateaubriand, La Vallée-aux-Loups, Paris. The Maison de Chateaubriand was marking the 250th anniversary of Chateaubriand’s birth, staging events and exhibitions including one devoted to Napoleon, ‘L’Empire en Boîte’, so ERA members were delighted to be the guests of the museum as part of these celebrations. 16 participants were asked to address a core question – ‘How did contemporaries construct themselves through objects (broadly conceived) as consumers of Romanticism?’ – through producing an exhibit for RÊVE, consisting of an image plus a micro-essay of no more than 1000 words drawn from original research. They were also asked to reflect upon the experience of rethinking Romanticisms in terms of the microhistories of Romantic objects, addressing questions such as: What has RÊVE so far revealed about previous and potential ways of thinking about Romanticism as a pan-European phenomenon? What has working with the RÊVE format taught us so far? How might we best develop RÊVEas a virtual museum? Workshop 2 is planned for October 2019 in Ravenna at the Museo Byron under the rubric ‘Romantic Authorship’, and Workshop 3 ‘Romantic Media’ is scheduled for June 2020 in association with the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere.

Maison de Chateaubriand

We are also delighted to be bringing DREAM and RÊVE to this year’s BARS conference, where we’ll be presenting two panels: Dreaming Romantic Europe: facts and their fantasies, which will bring together 9 senior scholars of Romanticism to present their own innovative research in the form of RÊVE exhibits and a partnered ECR workshop which will use RÊVE’s approach of object microhistories to investigate a further 5 Romantic objects.

If you’d like to know more, find us at the BARS 16th International Conference, ‘Romantic Facts and Fantasies’, in Nottingham, follow ERA on twitter @euromanticism and view the exhibition here.

Stephen Copley Research Report: Katie Snow at the Gillray Collection

For more information on how to apply for a BARS Stephen Copley Research Award, visit the BARS website.

Stephen Copley Research Report by Katie Snow

House of Lords Library: The Gillray Collection

This May, I visited the Parliamentary Archives in Westminster, London. Thanks to the generous support of BARS, I was able to undertake some key research for my PhD thesis, which explores representations of the breast in eighteenth-century visual satire. As a massive satirical print enthusiast, I’ve had my eye on the House of Lords Gillray collection for a while. Bequeathed to the library in 1899, this beautiful compilation of caricatures belonged to Sir William Augustus Fraser (1826-1898). Excitingly, some of the prints within the eleven volumes do not appear in the British Museum’s catalogue of prints and drawings – the go-to source for scholars of visual satire. The House of Lords Gillray collection is precious, and I’m grateful to the library for granting me access.

The intention of my PhD project is to progress understanding of the way in which ideological narratives of femininity, and especially motherhood, were (and still are), forged around the breast. Previous scholarship has overlooked the significance of the breast within visual satire, and my research seeks to rectify that. As expected, a lot of the prints within the eleven volumes feature bared breasts, and I collected numerous new sources. Viewing the satires in person also allowed me to notice previously missed details within familiar digitised prints. For example, a mother with an infant to her breast appears in the top left hand corner of Gillray’s famed Shakespeare Sacrificed;-or-The Offering to Avarice(1789) – an important feature that’s passed me by until now.

 

James Gillray, Shakespeare Sacrificed; – or – The Offering to Avarice, published by Hannah Humphrey, 1789

 

Detail of Shakespeare Sacrificed 

 

The image depicts a woman seated upon a cloud, cradling an infant. Her right breast is exposed, and the baby grasps her left nipple as she glances down. Two other figures huddle close, and the baby either urinates or passes wind into the disgusted face of the figure in blue. Every detail included in a satirical prints is significant, and I’m looking forward to digging deeper into the social, political and cultural inferences behind this representation.

Fraser was a meticulous collector, and his (huge and very heavy) volumes are almost perfectly preserved. Pasted upon blue paper with gold gilding, the prints are vivid in colour. The hobbyist habits of Fraser are interesting; he arranged his prints chronologically, inserted markers to indicate the prints that he was unable to secure, and most often devoted a double page to each print, presumably to prevent the colours rubbing off on each other. There are also occasions where Fraser has pasted in a black and white copy of a print and later added its colour equivalent, as below. This implies a preference for coloured satires, and/or for the latest version/all versions of a single print.

 

James Gillray, National Discourse. Published by Hannah Humphrey, 1780.

 

One of the highlights of the visit was the stunning print below. The Installation Supper (1788) unfolded like a concertina and stretched across the room, eliciting low whistles of appreciation from fellow reading room comrades. Depicting a dinner party given by the Knights of Bath on the 19 May 1788, The Installation-Suppercaricatures key social and political players including the Prince of Wales, Edmund Burke, and Maria Fitzherbert.[1]

 

James Gillray, The Installation-Supper, as given at the Pantheon, by the Knights of the Bath on the 26th of May, 1788. Published by S. W. Fores, 1788

 

Detail from print. The British Museum, BM Satires 7330.

 

Additionally, I was able to spend some of my time in London at the British Library. Here, I found sources for an upcoming chapter about the breast and discourses of social corruption, damage and disorder.

I would like to extend my gratitude to BARS for the generous Stephen Copley bursary, which supported an inspiring and productive visit to London. Further thanks are owed to the archival staff at the Parliamentary archives and the House of Lords librarians, who were most helpful, knowledgeable and kind.

[1] Further details of the guests within the print can be found in Mary Dorothy George’s description of the piece for the British Museum Catalogue. Mary Dorothy George, ‘Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires in the British Museum’, VI, 1938.

‘Romantic Facts and Fantasies: Culture and Heritage of the Romantic Age, c. 1780-1840’ Exhibition Opening

‘Romantic Facts and Fantasies: Culture and Heritage of the Romantic Age, c. 1780-1840’ Exhibition Opening

by Amy Wilcockson 

After months of hard work and sifting through the plentiful archives of Manuscripts and Special Collections at the University of Nottingham, Thursday 9 May 2019 saw the private view and official opening of the ‘Romantic Facts and Fantasies: Culture and Heritage of the Romantic Age, c. 1780-1840’ exhibition.

All image credits to Manuscripts and Special Collections, University of Nottingham

The exhibition centres on key themes including science, travel, industry, communication and exploration in the Romantic period, alongside focusing on a number of authors, poets and key figures irrevocably linked with the East Midlands.

As part of the team co-curating this exhibition, it was astounding to see all the pieces of the jigsaw, so to speak, put together. From October 2018, the exhibition has been conceptualised, items chosen for inclusion, and then board texts, case backs and captions written, and then of course, loan items sourced from a variety of locations including Newstead Abbey and Derby Museums. To see it all in one place, and open to the public was an amazing feeling. The private view invited members of the BARS Executive Committee, local news outlets, University of Nottingham and other institutions’ staff and students, and enjoyed a large turnout, with over one hundred people hearing Professor Jeremy Gregory, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Arts, and Professor Lynda Pratt, one of the exhibition’s academic leads, officially open ‘Romantic Facts and Fantasies’ to the public.

Key items on display include Joseph Wright of Derby’s ‘Cottage on Fire’, kindly loaned by Derby Museums, which evinces Wright’s innovative use of light and shadow, and a number of wonderful loans from Newstead Abbey, including Lord Byron’s calling card, and a copy of Thomas Phillips’ famous 1813 portrait of Byron.

Many of Manuscript and Special Collections’ items are on display to the public for the first time and include first and second editions of Lord Byron’s poetry and juvenilia, autograph copies of poetry written by Henry Kirke White, and a selection of letters from Amelia Opie, Robert Southey, Joanna Baillie, Maria Edgeworth, Sir Walter Scott, Mary Howitt and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Richard Arkwright, Derbyshire’s innovator and inventor is heavily featured, and visitors to the exhibition will also view anatomical drawings, scientific equipment and dinosaurs in an exploration of early nineteenth century science.

It is hard to choose a favourite item in the exhibition, and I am torn between a couple of items. The first are two locks of James Thomas Townley Tisdall’s hair, one taken aged four, and one upon his deathbed. As you can imagine, it was quite a surprise when we opened these little bundles and found what was within… Another favourite has to be the beautiful drawing of the ‘Crimson Cliffs’, an odd phenomenon witnessed by early Arctic explorer, Major John Ross and his crew, who initially believed that the red hue of the rock face was due to the droppings of seabirds (this isn’t the case!). ‘Romantic Facts and Fantasies:Culture and Heritage of the Romantic Age, c. 1780-1840’ is full of an array of wonderful curiosities like those featured, and well worth a visit.

Open in the Weston Gallery at the University of Nottingham’s Lakeside Arts Centre, the exhibition is running to coincide with the British Association of Romantic Studies’ 2019 Conference, ‘Romantic Facts and Fantasies’, held at the University of Nottingham in July 2019. The organisational team of the conference are also the co-curators of the exhibition, and we encourage all conference delegates to visit the exhibition and explore the University of Nottingham’s unique and varied manuscript collections on show.

This exhibition has been jointly curated by a team from the School of English (Professor Lynda Pratt, Dr Máire ní Fhlathúin, Johnny Cammish, Colette Davies, Ruby Hawley-Sibbett, Jodie Marley, Amy Wilcockson and Dr Charlotte May) and Manuscripts and Special Collections, University of Nottingham. The exhibition continues until Sunday 25 August, and is open Tuesday-Friday, 11am-4pm, Saturday and Sunday, 12noon-4pm. Admission is free.

 

A series of wider engagement talks, gallery tours and film screenings are also available during the run of the exhibition which include –

Free Lunchtime Talks: Held in the Djanogly Theatre, Lakeside Arts Centre. All talks begin at 1pm and last for approximately one hour. Advance booking is recommended.

Gothic Haunting from the 1790s to the Present – Wednesday 5 June 2019.
The condition of haunting is central to the gothic mode. Dr Matt Green, Associate Professor in the School of English, University of Nottingham, explores haunting and being haunted, discussing creative artists and writers from William Blake to Alan Moore in a survey of texts and narratives of the gothic tradition from its hey-day in the 1790s into the 21stcentury.

Romantic Reputations: Angelic Austen and Beastly Byron? – Tuesday 2 July 2019.
Was Lord Byron really ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’, and was Jane Austen ‘a narrow-gutted spinster’? As two of the most enduringly popular writers of the Romantic period, their lives have been scrutinised and their moral reputations polarised. University of Nottingham PhD Researchers Ruby Hawley-Sibbett and Amy Wilcockson ask whether their lives, loves and works have been misrepresented.

Paupers and Poetry: The Workhouse at Southwell – Friday 26 July 2019. [During the BARS Conference].
The early 19thcentury is often seen as a time of invention, creativity and technology. However, it also saw the development of an institution that shaped the lives of less fortunate members of society for decades to come – the Workhouse. This talk by Dr Charlotte May will focus on the Workhouse at Southwell, Nottinghamshire, whose founder was a close connection of the poet Lord Byron.

Romanticism, Caricature and Politics – Tuesday 20 August.
The years 1780-1840 are sometimes regarded as the ‘golden age of caricature’. In this illustrated talk, Dr Richard Gaunt, Associate Professor in the Department of History, considers the rough, boisterous sensibilities which caricaturists brought to their craft.

 

And:

Gallery Tours: Join the exhibition curators for a guided walk through of the exhibition and learn about the stories behind the items on display.
Weston Gallery, free, advance booking required.
Wednesday 5 June, 2.30-2.30pm
Tuesday 2 July, 2.30-3.30pm

Film Screening of Mary Shelley (2017) – Tuesday 25 June, 7pm.
Running time 2 hours. Held in the Djanogly Theatre. Tickets are £5 (£3 concessions).
A romance based on the relationship of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Elle Fanning) and the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth). When the couple leave England with Mary’s step-sister Claire to stay at Lord Byron’s villa near Geneva, Mary is inspired to write one of the most important novels of the nineteenth century, Frankenstein. The film will be introduced by Dr Charlotte May.

Romanticism at The Royal Institution: 7 June 2019

For those in or near London this summer…

 

Join fellow Romantic enthusiasts at The Royal Institution on 7th June for a FREE half-day symposium in association with the London-Paris Romanticism Seminar and the Fordham Romanticism Group, New York. Listen to talks by leading scholars who will restore the forgotten literary history of the Royal Institution and highlight its unique interdisciplinary contribution to British Romantic culture.

The event will conclude with a wine reception to celebrate the launch of Sarah Zimmerman’s new book The Romantic Literary Lecture in Britain (Oxford University Press).

Book here.