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News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

Emily Paterson-Morgan

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Mary Wollstonecraft and Dissent: A Celebration

Friday 24 April to Saturday 25 April, Newington Green Meeting House, London N16 9PR

Programme and registration here: https://www.ies.sas.ac.uk/wollstonecraft. Concessions for students and benefit recipients.

Following the success of the Celebration to mark the 260th anniversary of the birth of the great feminist thinker Mary Wollstonecraft in April 2019, join us for a second Celebration in April 2020, exploring the origins of her revolutionary ideas and their continuing relevance.

We will also be celebrating the re-opening of the Newington Green Meeting House, the oldest Non-Conformist place of worship in London. Following extensive renovation sponsored by the National Heritage Lottery Fund, this beautiful historic building will relaunch as an accessible heritage space dedicated to the legacy of the Dissenters at the birthplace of feminism. Mary Wollstonecraft established a school for girls at Newington Green in 1784, and gained inspiration and support from activists and intellectuals settled in the neighbourhood, including such Dissenting luminaries as Richard Price and Anna Letitia Barbauld.   

Talks and roundtable discussions will explore dissent, both in relation to the community of religious Dissenters in Wollstonecraft’s time and as a key aspect of feminism and progressive politics today.     

There will be a new plaque in honour of Mary Wollstonecraft, the first Annual General Meeting of the literary society The Mary Wollstonecraft Fellowship, the launch of a Wollstonecraft Walks App, art displays, a book stall, a special visit to the British Library exhibition ‘Women’s Rights: Unfinished Business’, free historical walking tours around Newington Green and Stoke Newington, birthday cake, and more…

Speakers include: Sandrine Berges, Emma Clery, Alan Coffee, Hannah Dawson, Mary Fairclough, Daisy Hay, Felicity James, Laura Kirkley, Susan Manly, Charlotte May, Jon Mee, Catherine Packham, Fiona Price, Bee Rowlatt, Alexandra Runswick, Kandice Sharren, Barbara Taylor, Janet Todd, Roberta Wedge, Joanna Wharton, Alexis Wolf.
Activists, enthusiasts, students and scholars – all welcome.

This event is held in association with the Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Studies, University of London, and hosted by ‘Newington Green Meeting House: Revolutionary Ideas since 1708,’ with the support of the National Heritage Lottery Fund.

Special Open Access Issue of ‘L’analisi linguistica e letteraria’ on the Shelleys in Milan

We are delighted to announce the online publication of a special issue of the international peer-reviewed journal L’analisi linguistica e letteraria entitled ‘The Shelleys in Milan, 1818-2018’.

Each article investigates a different aspect of the Shelleys’ Milanese experience, from their first impressions of the Italian states to the influence of this period on their artistic development. Taken as a whole, the articles in this issue demonstrate that the Shelleys’ reading, the places they visited, the encounters they made, and the cultural atmosphere they experienced in and around Milan in early 1818 left an indelible mark on their later works.

Find articles by Francesco Rognoni| Marco Canani and Valentina Varinelli | Kelvin Everest | Will Bowers | Carla Pomarè | Marco Canani | Alberto Bentoglio | Anna Anselmo | Antonella Braida | Lilla Maria Crisafulli |Michael Rossington

You can follow this link to read and download the articles for free: http://www.analisilinguisticaeletteraria.eu/fascicolo-3-2019/. No registration is required.

Romantic Circles: new Pedagogies Commons volume on Teaching Global Romanticism

New at RC Pedagogies Commons: Teaching Global Romanticism, edited by Wendy C. Nielsen.

The essays and syllabi in this volume present varied approaches to teaching Romanticism in a global context. This volume includes essay by Eric Gidal, Wendy C. Nielsen, Marques Redd, Zak Sitter, Juan Sanchez, and Joel Pace plus three syllabi on the respective topics of European Romanticism, Introducing Global Romanticisms, and Mapping the Black Atlantic. You can find it all here: https://romantic-circles.org/pedagogies/commons/global.

About this Volume

The essays on Teaching Global Romanticism collected here present varied approaches to teaching Romanticism in a global context through individual assignments, units, and syllabi. The contributors share ways to enrich pedagogical approaches to Romantic literature and culture with texts and ideas from beyond Britain and America. These essays discuss how literature guides students’ engagement with international themes and issues in the Romantic period and after. The initiative for this volume began under the leadership of William Stroup.

About the Romantic Circles Pedagogies Commons Series

The Romantic Circles Pedagogy Commons is a peer-reviewed online journal dedicated to the presentation of essays about teaching that offer sample teaching materials as well, from printable handouts to “digital-born” teaching materials.

CFP – The 50th Anniversary Wordsworth Summer Conference

Monday 10 August to Thursday 20 August 2020

Rydal Hall, Cumbria, England

The 2020 Wordsworth Summer Conference at elegant Rydal Hall will be celebrating the 50th Anniversary since Richard Wordsworth’s inaugural conference gathering in 1970. In this celebration year we will continue the format pioneered 50 years ago by Richard, mingling lectures, papers and lively academic debate with energetic fell walking, picturesque rambles, and excursions to places of Wordsworthian and Romantic interest. Upper and Lower Rydal Falls are within the grounds of the Hall, and Rydal Mount—Wordsworth’s home from 1813 until 1850—is a two-minute walk away.

By courtesy of the Wordsworth Trust, our opening night will include a candlelight visit to Dove Cottage, now restored to reflect the interior the Wordsworths would have known when they lived there. There will be a separate opportunity to explore the treasures of the Wordsworth Trust’s collections with the curator Jeff Cowton, and Part 2 will open with a visit to Wordsworth’s Rydal Mount and garden.

In 2020 our excursions are likely to include an all-day visit to Malham Cove and sublime Gordale Scar, seen below in Turner’s 1808 sketch towards his painting. High points for energetic fell walkers are likely to include ascents of Nab Scar and Great Rigg, Bowfell, Haystacks, and the mighty Helvellyn.

Format and Costs: The Conference is in two parts of 5 days each, with a changeover day on Saturday 15 August when those participating in both parts of the conference enjoy an all-day fell walk or excursion. The registration fee for residents, which includes excursions, offers exceptional value at £290 for ten days and £210 for five days. For postgraduates, we offer twelve Youth Centre Bursaries to enable attendance at approximately half the cost to the Foundation (see ‘Youth Centre Bursaries’). All resident participants will take all meals at Rydal Hall.

Full Board is available at Rydal Hall Diocesan Conference Centre at prices from £880 to £1160 for ten nights and either £550 or £600 at the adjacent Rydal Hall Youth Centre (5-night prices pro rata).

For full details of resident and non-resident rates, our terms and conditions, galleries of past conferences, and a registration page please visit the Foundation website: https://www.wordsworthconferences.org.uk/the-conference/

For the latest news on the conference please visit:


Rydal Hall from the garden. Photo by Sharon Tai

Rydal Hall from the garden. Photo: Sharon Tai

Call for Papers

We invite proposals for twenty-minute papers on all aspects of William Wordsworth, his contemporaries and the Romantic period. Papers that identify a bicentenary theme, 1820–2020, will be welcomed but this is not intended as an exclusive requirement. Please note that participants presenting papers must attend as full participants for either all of Part 1 or all of Part 2, or for the whole ten-day conference. 

Proposals: 250-word proposals for papers of no more than 2750 words, together with a brief autobiographical paragraph, unformatted, should occupy no more than 2 sides of A4 in MS Word format. Please remember to include your name, institution and e-mail address on the abstract. Please do not send proposals as a pdf file as they will be copied into a composite document. Proposals should be e-mailed by 25 April 2020 to proposal.wsc@gmail.com

Enquiries about accommodation should be e-mailed to the Conference Administrator, Irm Hollenbach, at http://wordsworthsummerconference@gmail.com

Youth Centre Bursaries for the 2020 WSC

Twelve Youth Centre Bursaries of £400 are available for the 2020 conference. These bursaries are intended to enable young scholars, principally at postgraduate and early post-doctoral level, to enjoy ten active and stimulating days in the unique environment of Rydal and Grasmere, for about half the cost of the event. Please bring this announcement to the attention of qualifying applicants.

5 Richard Wordsworth Bursaries for Postgraduate or Postdoctoral applicants working in English or Anglo-American Romanticism

5 Ena Wordsworth Bursaries for students working on William or Dorothy Wordsworth or in the Field of English Romanticism

1 Jonathan Wordsworth Bursary and 1 William Knight Bursary for Postgraduate students working on William Wordsworth or in the Field of English            

Terms and Conditions: Youth Centre Bursaries are intended to meet approximately half of the cost of attending the conference. Holders of bursaries will be so designated on the list of participants or the conference programme. The bursary will be applied in the first instance to conference fees, and the balance to accommodation in the new Rydal Hall Youth Centre, making the total cost of the conference in 2019, to a bursar, either £440 (in a 5 person dormitory) or £490 (in a 2 person dormitory) for the full ten-day conference programme and ten nights’ full board (the cost to the Foundation is c. £1,000). Costs may differ slightly for 2020. Youth Centre Bursars are expected to be resident during the conference in the Rydal Hall Youth Centre and to attend all lectures, papers and conference events: acceptance of a Bursary implies an undertaking to do so. Please note that by applying for a Youth Centre Bursary, you have indicated your agreement to be accommodated in the Youth Centre for the full period of the Summer Conference. It is not possible for Bursars to be accommodated in Rydal Hall.

Your application should be in the form of a Word attachment (not PDF) containing a paper proposal of 300 words, together with a short unformatted cv in the same file, the entire application being not more than two sides of A4 (the file will be copied and pasted into a composite file, so please avoid elaborate formatting). Applicants should also arrange for a short letter of academic recommendation to be sent independently to the same email address, verifying the applicant’s status and country of residence. Candidates need not specify which bursary they are applying for. They will automatically be considered for any bursary for which they are eligible.

Please note that we may award a bursary without having space to include the proposed paper on the conference programme: such papers may, however, be ‘taken as read’, that is, made available in print form at the conference, if the proposer so chooses.  Papers should be no longer than 2750 words (rapid delivery invariably impedes communication) and may address any area of Romanticism.

Bursary applications and references should be submitted by 25 April 2020 to proposal.wsc@gmail.com. Please be sure to identify your e-mail as ‘BURSARY APPLICATION’.

Giant Redwood Tree in Rydal Hall grounds with Nab Scar in the background. Photo: Richard Gravil

Nicholas Roe, Conference Director

Inês Rosa, Postgraduate Representative

Irm Hollenbach, Conference Administrator

We are of course monitoring the situation regarding coronavirus in the UK. At this stage we anticipate that we will run the 2020 Wordsworth Summer Conference as planned.

The Wordsworth Conference Foundation is a registered charity, number 1124319

Call for Papers: Romantic Interventions: From Idealism to Activism

February 11-13, 2021, TU Dortmund University, Germany

Confirmed Keynote Speakers:

Prof. Angela Esterhammer, University of Toronto
Prof. Peter Kitson, University of East Anglia
Prof. Sharon Ruston, Lancaster University

The era of Romanticism is commonly understood as a time of unrest and change, perceptibly impacting the lives of individuals as well as collective entities across multi-faceted boundaries. In “interlocking interests”, as Raymond Williams claimed in his classic Culture and Society, “a conclusion about personal feeling became a conclusion about society, and an observation of natural beauty carried a necessary moral reference to the whole and unified life of man” (1958: 48). With the French Revolution at its centre, arguably the decisive historical moment of the era, certain structures of feeling emerged in liberal and revolutionary circles on the European continent. As the breaking-apart of Europe’s ancien régimes sparked drastic changes on political and socioeconomic levels, Romantic thinkers sought to employ their texts and activities as contributions to a critical re-evaluation of the status quo. In a Wordsworthian manner, many Romantic poets understood themselves as prophets of the people, whose duty it was to intervene in dominant representational discourses and thereby challenge well-established hegemonic power structures. At the same time, however, Romantic movements must not be understood as having solely gyrated around the intellectual efforts of the elitist few. Fruitfully and mutually intersecting with the individual (and individualised) endeavours of poets, philosophers, scientists, politicians and entrepreneurs, elements of (popular) culture in a more general sense, such as consumer resistance, political cartoons, visual arts, fashion, aesthetics, or cultural rituals like the Grand Tour must also be taken into account to define the emerging formations of the time.

To understand the complex interplay of historical momentum, idealist visions of the future as well as Idealist philosophical conceptions that probed into the conditions of existence per se, and courageous activism, key concepts of cultural studies may offer valuable tools for analysis. What we seek to establish with this conference is an understanding of the sociology of Romantic consciousness via cultural materialism as a practice to recreate the zeitgeist of a historical period shaped by numerous forms of intervention. In contrast to approaches to the Romantic Era that take their cue primarily from literary studies, we would like to ask contributors to access the period via the methodologies developed by (British) cultural studies in order to consider Romantic interventions in a possibly new light. We therefore suggest to look at the decades before and after 1800 by way of concepts like: representation, discourse, power, hegemony, articulation, popular culture, identity/subjectivity, class, race, gender, age, production/consumption, place/space, etc.

While we encourage a broad interpretation of the theme of intervention, possible approaches may include the following:

  • Political Interventions (e.g. the London Corresponding Society, the Pamphlet War)
  • Social Interventions (e.g. riots, Chartism, consolidation/subversion of ideology of separate spheres)
  • Racial Interventions (e.g. the Abolitionist Movement, the Blue Stockings Society)
  • Economic Interventions (e.g. the suspension of the Gold Standard, the Great Recoinage of 1816)
  • Medical and ‘Moral’ Interventions (e.g. Moral Management)
  • Ecological Interventions (conceptualisation of Nature/Culture binary)
  • Philosophical Interventions (the politics of Idealism)
  • Historical Interventions (historiographical foundations of the idea of the nation-state)

We invite proposals for 20-minute papers and also welcome contributions by early career researchers and postgraduate students. Abstracts of 250 words and a short biographical info (name, affiliation, current research) should be emailed to romanticinterventions@tu-dortmund.de by March 31, 2020

On This Day in 1820: Byron completes and dispatches “Don Juan” III and IV (Part II)

In this series, we celebrate the 200th anniversary of literary and historical events of the Romantic period. This is the second of a two-part OTD blog by Dr Emily Paterson-Morgan, Director of The Byron Society. The first was released yesterday to mark the bicentenary of Byron completing and Cantos III and IV of Don Juan and dispatching them to England. Click here for the first part.

In the previous post, I discussed the first Act of what is, I think, both the worst adaptation of Byron’s Don Juan and also the funniest in its ham-fisted attempts to simplify the delicious subtleties of one of the greatest and most complicated poems in the English language into a low-brow theatrical romp fit for the masses. This is the ‘three-penny Acting drama’ titled Don Juan: A Musical Drama in Three Acts, attributed to Charles Milner, a bizarre creation which reduces Byron’s satirical epic to a series of fighting and fornication scenes complete with a score of songs and what the author’s stage directions hubristically describe as ‘ballets’.

At the end of Act I, Juan has seduced (or been seduced by) both the beautiful Donna Julia and her equally libidinous maid, discovered the cuckolded husband Don Alfonso in a compromising position with Juan’s own aunt, Donna Inez, and finally sauntered off stage to take a ship from Spain in search of pastures new. During the brief interlude, as the curtains lower, the stage directions describe a ‘picture’ showing a ship tossing in storm-swept seas before being struck by lightning, at which point it slowly sinks.

In a decision that renders this production more like an episode of Love Island (with its insistently titillating emphasis on copulation and conflict), Milner opted to discard Byron’s brilliant cannibalism episode. Perhaps he felt that the killing and eating of the hapless Pedro might put his audience off. Certainly, it doesn’t exactly lend itself to light-hearted ditties and dances – though I imagine the Monty Python team would have been able to make it work. Anyway, I digress.

The curtain rises on a sea-cave, with a half-naked and unconscious Juan watched over by two beautiful oriental women. It is worth noting that Milner’s Haidee is far more insipid and his Zoe far more caustic than their Byronic counterparts, as the playwright transforms these characters into the stock dramatic figures of the buxom innocent and shrewish servant, playing to the less-refined tastes of his lower-class audience.

When Haidee, who suffers none of the issues with language barriers which render the progression of Byron’s island romance so protracted, offers her person and her wealth to Juan, our hero is all offended aristocratic dignity at the thought of so ‘low’ a connection. His outrage is conveyed in a series of asides to the audience, and it is easy to imagine Laura Honey in her male guise hamming it up:

Juan: Have I the honour then of addressing a princess in her own right, was your father a monarch?
Haidee: At least, at home his will was absolute, here he dwelt, and none dared here resist his pleasure: but at most ties he dwelt upon the sea, and brought such treasures thence.
Juan: Aye, I understand – contraband, smuggler upon a large scale. (Aside.) Tea. Tobacco.
Haidee: And conquered ships, and brought home many captives.
Juan: (Aside.) Oh, pirates and cut-throats to boot! This is a creditable connection.
Haidee: He died at sea!
Juan: (Aside.) Hung at the yard-arm! (II.i)

In a peculiar way, however, I find this scene more realistic than Byron’s idealised scene of immediate and improbable romance. As Haidee continues to enumerate her own charms, including great wealth, our Juan is revealed to be financially, as well as sexually, shameless. ‘I’m in a good thing!’ he exclaims at last, sweeping Haidee into his arms and taking her up on all of her offers.

The curtain drops on this touching scene and on wander a group of rollicking sailors bellowing sea-chanties. Their leader, Lambro, appears and we learn that – surprise, surprise – he has not drowned but merely been blown off course. He and his piratical band wander off the stage and the curtain rises once more to display Zoe and a drunken slave, Cyrus, in a ribald scene carefully calculated to appeal to the coarse, jingoistic humour of Milner’s audience:

Cyrus: Well missee Zoe, what you think of all dis fine affair? What do you tink of your misses and of our new massa? Dim diblish hansom, and they like you and me.
Zoe: I think that she is mad!
Cyrus: As for me, missee, poor black man, me niber tink not at all, it enough for him to workee, workee, when cross old massa make him, and now it enough for him to drinkee, drinkee, now young massa giv him holiday, him very fine man. (II.ii)

This is followed by a deliberately ludicrous conversation between the newly returned Lambro and Cyrus, the latter’s ears still ringing from a hefty box on the ears by an outraged Zoe when he suggested they have sex (‘you no hab me for chum-chum, me bery nice all sugar and brandy’). Lambro thus learns about his daughter’s affair with Juan and stalks off in high dudgeon towards the palace.

Here, the audience finds a scene of deliciously over-the-top fantastical luxury and after a series of songs extolling the delights of drunken hedonism and true love, accompanied by what the stage directions optimistically call ‘a Characteristic ballet’, Lambro bursts in. The angry father attempts to shoot Juan, Haidee shrieks and flings herself protectively in front of him, Lambro’s ‘ruffians rush in’, Juan is overpowered during yet another interminable fight scene, Haidee collapses and her lover is borne offstage.

Thus concludes Act II.

We re-join the hapless hero in the third and final Act, and Milner clearly couldn’t resist the opportunity for yet more crude vulgarity in the combination of a Spanish nobleman, a British sailor and a Constantinople slave market. It is here that we meet Will Johnson, probably the only truly funny character in this somewhat laboured theatrical production. Although based on Byron’s experienced man-of-the-world John Johnson, whereas the original character is a subtly John Bullish sort of figure, Milner’s Will Johnson is himself a caricature of the brash, ruddy-faced symbol of Englishness found in contemporary satires and prints.

The brave but buffoonish sailor, whose mouth is stuffed with naval cant and expletives, takes Juan under his wing and offers an amusing commentary on the ongoing sale proceedings in a series of humorous asides:

Johnson: Pick-‘em out, damme it that chap don’t think he’s selling red herrings


Johnson: Does he mean chimney ornaments?


Johnson: Split my mainsail, they are rare judges here, it’s the first time I was ever complimented on my beauty. (III.ii)

Bought by the eunuch Baba, Johnson and Juan are hustled into the palace haram. While Juan is carried away, Johnson remains onstage and catches sight of a British naval frigate sailing on the Bosporus in the distance. His ‘true heart of [presumably English] oak’ is predictably heartened by the sight.  

Illustration from Milner Don Juan: A Musical Drama in Three Acts

Juan, meanwhile, has been led into an oriental paradise. Brought before the unsurprisingly beautiful Gulbayez, he responds with a typically rakish fervour, gobbling up her hand with passionate kisses. Having got her attention, he then coyly refuses to consummate the relationship until she grants him his freedom, and in the following scene the two of them haggle like fishwives at a market stall. Suddenly, this mercenary sexual foreplay is interrupted as Baba bursts in to warn his adulterous mistress that her husband, the Sultan, approaches. Juan is bundled, protesting, into a woman’s robes in the nick of time.

Unlike Byron’s version, where the next canto opens with a disguised ‘Juana’ infiltrating the labyrinthine depths of the seraglio and ogling a succulent bevy of nubile odalisques, Milner couldn’t resist including one final fight scene (his musical drama has all the predictability of a Jason Statham movie). Juan, instead of concealing his identity, casts off his feminine clothing and starts to fight with the Sultan’s attendants. Just when it seems he will be overpowered, Johnson bursts through the window with a horde of British sailors recruited from the nearby naval frigate, saving the day to cries of ‘Old England for ever’. On this rousing note, Juan and his comrades escape.

Surprisingly, however, the stage directions suggest that after the gallant Johnson and his troupe return to the ship, accompanied by much ‘splitting of mainsails’ and ‘damme’s’, it is sunk by Turkish canon fire. ‘The Sultan triumphs’ conclude the stage directions laconically. This deliberate undercutting of patriotic fervour makes for an inexplicably downbeat ending to a light-hearted but decidedly odd production.

Lacking finesse and arguably the most maladroit adaptation of Byron’s poetic masterpiece, there is nevertheless a peculiar charm to Milner’s Don Juan: A Musical Drama in Three Acts, and I hope that one day someone will decide to put on another performance of it!

Contact Anna Mercer (mercerannam@gmail.comif you want to suggest a future post for this series. More details here

On This Day in 1820: Byron completes and dispatches “Don Juan” III and IV (Part I)

In this series, we celebrate the 200th anniversary of literary and historical events of the Romantic period. Today, on the 19th of February 2020, we celebrate the bicentenary of Byron completing and Cantos III and IV of Don Juan and dispatching them to England. This is the first of a two-part OTD blog by Dr Emily Paterson-Morgan, Director of The Byron Society.

On February 19th, two hundred years ago today, Byron sent his publisher John Murray ‘four packets containing Cantos third and fourth of D J‘ [1].

At this point, Don Juan was already infamous, widely denounced by reviewers and readers alike for its sexual and religious infidelity, its political effrontery, and general tone of satirical bravado. The British Critic dismisses Don Juan as a ‘narrative of degrading debauchery […] not only begotten but spawned in filth and darkness’. The Edinburgh Review condemns the ‘poisoned strains’ of a poet who ‘dethroned virtue and piety’ in his struggles to ‘exalt and endear scenes of conjugal infidelity’. The Quarterly Review, meanwhile, expressed fears for those ‘on whom its poison would operate without mitigation’ and kindle ‘ungovernable passion’, presumably resulting in a wave of orgiastic degeneracy spreading across England [2]. Murray himself seems to have viewed it as an incredibly high-risk form of cultural terrorism; ‘the die is cast as in a gambling game’ he wrote to Byron the day after ‘having fired the Bomb’ of Don Juan into the unsuspecting public [3].

Unsurprisingly given this sort of fervid histrionics, commentaries, adaptations and continuations abounded. One of the first (radical publisher William Hone being typically quick off the mark to seize an opportunity to hurl abuse at his staunchly Tory competitor) was Don John: or Don Juan Unmasked, written and released by Hone just a week after Byron’s ‘Bomb’ first hit the shelves in June 1819. This was followed by Don Juan Canto The Third, again poking fun at Murray’s shamefaced embarrassment about his pet poet’s stylistically and thematically provocative epic satire, which led him to conceal both of their identities when the first two Cantos were published. ‘[D]on’t think you can bamboozle folks’ Hone writes tauntingly in the Preface. He then assumes Byron’s voice in the opening stanza:

Miss Haidee and Don Juan pleaded well;
At least my publisher of late so tells me,
Although the world he does not chuse to tell,
Yet, every body knows ‘tis he who sells me:
To sing what furthermore the pair befel,
(As he declines my book and thus compels me,
Because my “guinea trash” he will not own,)
I send this Canto in to Mr. Hone. [4]

With unanticipated foresight, pre-empting both the popularity of cheap editions of Don Juan with the lower classes and the rift between poet and publisher, these lines suggest that Byron has despaired of his priggish publisher’s mealy-mouthed morality and decided to offer his ‘guinea trash’ to the more open-minded and popularist Hone.

Meanwhile, Murray’s furtive behaviour (‘the world he does not chuse to tell’) paved the way for an inevitable series of piracies. Perhaps the best known, thanks to Isaac Robert Cruikshank’s gorgeous illustrations – which possess all the colourful vibrancy, attention to detail, and staginess of the best satirical prints produced by his famous father – is George Smeeton’s Don Juan Cantos I – V. I was lucky enough to snap up a copy last year (Fig 1) at a bargain price as, sadly, it is missing one of the illustrations.

Figure 1: Titlepage of George Smeeton’s edition of Don Juan I-V, together with a frontispiece by Isaac Robert Cruikshank showing Juan in his feminine guise.

This pirated edition was only possible because Murray also published Cantos III-V anonymously, despite favourable responses from many of his coterie. ‘What sublimity! what levity! what boldness! what tenderness! what majesty! what trifling! what variety! what tediousness!’, exclaimed John Wilson Crocker flamboyantly on returning Cantos III and IV. He then vehemently castigates Murray for the ‘great injustice’  he did Don Juan by his frightened refusal to affix his and Byron’s names to the publication, ‘smuggl[ing] it into the world and, as it were, pronounc[ing], it illegitimate in its birth’ [5].

But it is not the piracies or the parodies which I want to consider today, but rather the adaptations.

There is one particularly ham-fisted production which, for sheer awfulness, takes the proverbial biscuit. Yet for years it has exerted a peculiar fascination, luring me back again and again. This is the ‘three-penny Acting drama’ titled Don Juan: A Musical Drama in Three Acts, attributed to Charles Milner (fig 3) [6]. It is a truly bizarre mishmash of stock Byronic tropes, actual lines lifted from the original Don Juan, slapstick comedy, and unnecessarily numerous fight scenes, all enmeshed in the narrative framework of the first five cantos of Byron’s amatory epic. Attempting to reproduce the light-hearted bawdiness of early eighteenth-century cuckolding comedies – which Byron so successfully adapts in the burlesque tone of ‘Donny Johnny’ – Milner only achieves the sort of heavy-handed heartiness found in Victorian music halls and the Christmas Panto [7].

Fig 3: Frontispiece to Milner’s Don Juan: A Musical Drama in Three Acts

Milner’s Don Juan is a much more typical effusion of this traditional character that Byron’s, despite his fresh-faced youth, an aristocratic libertine comprised of flash and flattery. Not content with having conquered the lovely Julia’s heart, in the opening scene he also successfully seduces her maid Antonia. Launching into one of the periodic bouts of badly-written song which punctuate this theatrical pantomime he tries to kiss her:

Juan:
Come hither, fair one, let me sip
The balmy dew from off thy lip,
Nor turn that charming face away,
In which the beams of beauty play.
Antonia:
Desist, thou trifler, come not near,
Beware the rising anger here;
Did pertness ever equal this,
I dare you sir to steal a kiss. (I.i)

Methinks Antonia doth protest too much and it is somewhat unclear exactly who is being seduced in these lines. Cue an amorous embrace, romantically lit by flickering torches. An added eroticism was produced by the fact that the female manager of the theatre, Laura Honey, played the role of Don Juan, producing a succession of titillatingly quasi-sapphic encounters as the young Spaniard dallies first with Antonia (played by a Mrs Young) and Julia (played by a Miss Robinson), then Haidee (Miss Holmes), and finally Gulbayez (Miss Grossteste).

Fig 4: Cast of Characters for Milner’s Don Juan: A Musical Drama in Three Acts

After Juan and Antonia leave the stage in search of Julia, the audience meets the mistress herself, alone in her boudoir as she compares her husband (‘old barebones’) and her dashing young lover. At this point we are treated to the first of a series of extremely heavy-handed attempts to re-forge Byron’s brilliantly fluid conversational verses into prose. And what plodding, pedestrian prose it is. Instead of the subtle nuances of Julia’s delusive psychological sophistries which Byron creates, Milner offers the following passage, so clunky that one might almost be tempted to read it as a deft parody of the stock theatrical character of the adulterous wife – if the laboriousness with which it was constructed wasn’t so painfully obvious:

I am married, and therefore, ought to give up all idea of love, that’s certain, and yet, Juan is so handsome – so amiable – so vivacious – so – I can’t tell what he is – all that a young lady could wish in a lover – thus to abandon him, will be a terrible struggle, and very unpleasant – I will take advantage of Don Alfonso’s absence to see him once again, in the hope that my example may inspire him with fortitude, to persevere in the path of honour and virtue. (I.ii)

Following Juan’s entrance, Milner has the lovers sing some slightly nauseating duets, interspersed with stilted conversation that, again, draws on Byron’s original.

Indeed, Milner is as shameless in his plagiaristic appropriations as Byron – ‘the mocking bird of our Parnassian ornithology’ [8]. These range from the list of abstract ideals which force Julia to remain chaste (‘prudence, honour, virtue’), to Alfonso’s entrance ‘with half the city at his back’. At the same time, in the colloquialised adaptations, such as Antonia’s claim to prefer ‘a good stout cavalier’ over a scrawny little ‘cock-sparrow’ like Juan, we see Milner catering to the appetites of his audience, using recognisable English idioms to familiarise the foreign setting.

Following the farcical bedroom episode when Alfonso and his hordes search for the now-concealed Juan, the blustering cuckold pleads for forgiveness and blames his intrusion on an informer’s lies (‘a scoundrel whose ears I will cut off in the morning’). His grovelling ceases when he discovers a man’s hat (Milner seemingly deeming a hat funnier than shoes) and a slapstick fight scene follows during which Juan eventually escapes and stumbles home.

Subsequently, in the first notable divergence from Byron’s text, the audience is treated to a heatedly amorous scene between Alfonso and his lover Donna Inez. Inexplicably transformed from Juan’s mother into his aunt, Inez retains the same priggish pretence of public virtue – a virtue which in no way prevents her from conducting a torrid affair with her married neighbour (offering opportunity for further ribaldry and innuendo, doubtless much to the delight of the audience).

When Juan bursts in, Alfonso dashes behind a curtain, crouching unsteadily on a table in a split stage scene which allows the audience to both watch Juan and Inez’s conversation and chortle at Alfonso’s outraged asides as he learns that it is his young neighbour who has cuckolded him:

Juan: You don’t know what a pleasure it was to treat such a jealous, addlepated, old, ugly curmudgeon.
Alfonso: Old and ugly am I? […] Miserable Don Alfonso! (I.v)

Suddenly the table breaks, triggering a scene of comedic chaos as Alfonso rolls around on the floor, Inez screams, and Juan strides off chuckling to himself. Much hilarity, no doubt, ensues. Thus concludes Act I.

Click here for the second part of this OTD blog, complete with raucous sailors, drunken servants, a somewhat dubious ‘ballet’, and dramatic scenes of fearsome conflict and oriental romance.

Contact Anna Mercer (mercerannam@gmail.comif you want to suggest a future post for this series. More details here.


References:

  1. Letter of the 21st of February referring to the previous Saturday’s post. L. Marchand, Byron Letters and Journals (BLJ), VII.42.
  2. All these reviews come from Donald H. Reiman’s The Romantics Reviewed: Contemporary Reviews of British Romantic Writers.
  3. J. Murray to Byron July 16th 1819, in Andrew Nicholson The Letters of John Murray to Lord Byron.
  4. For more on these texts, see Peter Cochran’s transcript and editorial commentary here, and the transcript and commentary from the editor of the Hone Archive here.
  5. John Wilson Croker to John Murray, 26 March 1820.
  6. Don Juan: A Musical Drama in Three Acts (London: W. Strange, 1837). The only extant copies are published in 1837, but David West Brown has convincingly suggested it was originally sent to the Lord Chamberlain in 1828 and performed at the City of London Theatre shortly thereafter in English and Empire: Literary History, Dialect, and the Digital Archive.
  7. BLJ 5.208
  8. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, quoted in Andrew Rutherford’s Byron: Critical Heritage.

CFP – “Symposium on Romanticism”

This is a call for papers for a small symposium on Romanticism, which wil form part of the larger Athens Institute for Education and Research (ATINER) Conference on Literature that is held in Athens in June each year (this year June 1-4).

The Symposium on Romanticism will be hosted by Professor William Davis of Colorado College.

Anyone interested should follow this link for all pertinent information, including the call for papers, fee structure, and housing options: https://www.atiner.gr/litrom. Registration, fees, housing, etc. are all handled by ATINER.

Anyone wishing to make a proposal will also  need to use the form provided by the ATINER website (available also through the link above).

Feel free also to direct questions regarding the symposium to Professor Davis (wdavis@ColoradoCollege.edu).

CFP – Byron in 1821: A Retrospective

This is a Call For Papers for a session at MLA 2021

This bicentennial panel, which will be held at the MLA in Toronto and sponsored by the Byron Society of America, will examine Byron’s work written or published in 1821, including Marino Faliero, Sardanapalus, Heaven and Earth, Cain, and Werner.

Please submit 250 word abstracts by 26 March 2020 to Omar F. Miranda, at the University of San Francisco (ofmiranda@usfca.edu )

The 2021 MLA Annual Convention will be held in Toronto from 7 to 10 January 2021.

Two Postdoctoral Positions: Books and Borrowing 1750-1830

The AHRC-funded project ‘Books and Borrowing 1750-1830: An Analysis of Scottish Borrowers’ Registers’ is currently advertising for two postdoctoral researchers (one full-time for three years, one part-time for one year).

Applications are invited for two posts as Research Fellows for the ‘Books and Borrowing, 1750-1830: An Analysis of Scottish Borrowers’ Registers’ project funded by the AHRC, in the Division of Literature and Languages, University of Stirling. The posts offer early career researchers the opportunity to lead and conduct research on historic libraries in Scotland. The project is led by Dr Katie Halsey, University of Stirling, with Dr Matthew Sangster of the University of Glasgow, and fifteen partner and supporting organisations across Scotland. The successful applicants will collaborate closely with the PI, the investigating team, and the project partners in terms of the project deliverables and high impact outputs.

The successful candidates will be responsible for the following specific duties:

1) photographing, transcribing, digitising and interpreting historic library borrowing records drawn from specified historic libraries across Scotland;
2) in conjunction with the rest of the project team, analysing this data and producing excellent research outputs relating to it, including journal articles and database paratexts;
3) knowledge exchange and public engagement work relating to specific partner libraries and other stakeholders
4) working with the two other Research Fellows on the project to organise a major international conference on the latent potential of digital archives;
5) liaising with the Digital Humanities Research Officer as needed to develop the project webpage, interface, and database.

The research will contribute to uncovering and reinterpreting the history of reading in Scotland from 1750 to 1830, reshaping our understanding of a key period in Scotland’s past. Scotland’s high rate of literacy in the period means that it is unusually rich in extant library borrowers’ registers, possessing more surviving records than any other nation in the UK, despite having less than one-tenth of England’s population. As a whole, the project will photograph, transcribe, publish and analyse an extensive corpus of at least 150,000 historic library borrowing records drawn from thirteen diverse libraries across Scotland.

In so doing, the project will complete pioneering new research in the histories of reading and the ideas. Our corpus will be the largest yet constructed in this field. Building on previous smaller-scale work by the PI and CI, the Books and Borrowing project will extrapolate the impacts of the Scottish Enlightenment, Romantic ideologies and disciplinary specialisation from a large-scale evidentiary base. This research will test previous narratives that over-emphasize the secular character of the Scottish Enlightenment and privilege the ‘Big Six’ Romantic poets over writers such as Buffon, Rollin and Tillotson, whose works were much more widely read.

The richness of the records also offers an unrivalled opportunity to interrogate a central tenet of Scottish identity and nationhood: the often unquestioned assumption that Scotland offered greater opportunities to ‘lads o’ pairts’ –talented labouring-class readers – than the other British nations. This assumption continues to dominate educational and political discourse today. The project will pay proper attention to previously ignored or marginalised communities of readers, including women and the young, in its revealing hitherto lost histories of book use and knowledge communities in Scotland.

Full details regarding both jobs can be seen on the University of Stirling website here.

The closing date is the 1st of March 2020.  We’re particularly interested in researchers with completed PhDs demonstrating advanced expertise in one or more of the following fields: Romanticism, Eighteenth-Century Studies, Library History, Book History or Scottish Studies.

For more information, or for an informal chat, please feel free to contact the Principal Investigator, Dr Katie Halsey (katherine.halsey@stir.ac.uk), or the Co-Investigator, Dr Matthew Sangster (matthew.sangster@glasgow.ac.uk).