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BARS Blog

News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

Emily Paterson-Morgan

All posts by Emily Paterson-Morgan

Stephen Copley Research Report: Jonathan Taylor on Alexander Runciman

This report is by Jonathan Taylor (University of Surrey), a recipient of the Stephen Copley Research grant. Find out how to apply for this BARS award here.

My Stephen Copley Research Award funded a trip to Edinburgh to consult the National Records of Scotland and the Scottish National Gallery’s collections of letters and drawings by the painter Alexander Runciman (1736-85).

What interests me about Runciman — who is best known as the creator of the first (now sadly lost) decorative scheme based on James Macpherson’s Ossian epics — is his heroic treatment of female characters from the epic tradition. Whereas other late eighteenth-century artists (most notably Angelica Kauffman) had pioneered painters’ treatment of women as heroic subjects, they also tended to circumscribe the heroism of female epic characters, such as Andromache and Penelope, to passive acts of suffering and endurance. In several instances, Runciman went a step further, representing the suffering of female epic heroes not as something in which they have no agency, but something that they bravely elect to undergo. This is most obviously the case in Runciman’s depiction of Corgan Carglâ, a hunter from Macpherson’s Ossian, who chooses to be imprisoned in a cave for life rather than submit to her husband’s murderer.

Before my research trip, I thought I had discerned the origins of Runciman’s contemporarily unusual approach to female heroism in preparatory drawings for a rendering of the death of Dido, which appear to give Virgil’s tragic heroine more and more agency in successive sketches. The truth was, as I found out, both more interesting and more confusing. The drawings (held by the Scottish National Gallery) do gradually shift away from the passive and sentimental renderings of Dido that were popular with earlier eighteenth-century artists, in which the queen typically appears to have died as the direct result of her abandonment by Aeneas, rather than (in any obvious way) by her own hand. However, while what appears to be the final drawing shows Dido very much alive, clutching the sword with which she will end her own life and evidently weighing her options — an artistic choice which emphasises her agency and tacitly associates her with the Classical tradition of tragic but heroic suicide populated by figures including Seneca and Lucan — the painting itself rows back on these innovations and offers a conventional portrayal of Dido as a passive and inert victim.

National Records of Scotland

A year later, as I discovered in a letter held at the National Records of Scotland, Runciman was contemplating an even more drastic return to the gendered conventions of male heroism and female passivity that typify the epic. His original plan for what he would later turn into the Ossian decorative scheme at Sir John Clerk’s Penicuik House (near Edinburgh) was an uncompromisingly manly and conventionally heroic scheme based upon the life of Achilles. The only female character Runciman proposed for this series was Achilles’ mother, Thetis, whose agency, as Runciman’s detailed description makes clear, would not even have extended to untying her own sandals.

Evidently, Runciman later opted for the Ossian illustrations, which put Corban Carglâ centre stage, but even here, he agonised over whether to represent the imprisoned hunter as an awe-inspiring figure in her own right, or as a damsel in distress saved by Macpherson’s epic hero Fingal. Two preparatory drawings (also at the Scottish National Gallery) show Runciman wavering between these options, with a muscled and armed Fingal occupying the foreground in one and a (literally towering) Corban Carglâ dominating the frame (with Fingal relegated to the background and looking up awe-struck) in the other.

My findings have made me reflect upon external factors that may have caused Runciman’s apparent flip-flopping, what his prevarication may tell us more broadly about the difficulties or potential repercussions of portraying female heroes during the Romantic period, and the particular problems he may have faced as a male artist championing this model of heroism. I am very grateful to BARS for funding what has been a very productive few days of confusion!

By Jonathan Taylor (University of Surrey)

Dreaming Romantic Europe at BARS 2019

This post was written by Alice Rhodes (University of York). It forms one of a series of reports about the 16th International BARS conference that took place in July 2019. You can also see pictures from the event if you search #BARS2019 on Twitter. 

This July, European Romanticisms in Association (ERA) the AHRC-funded network, Dreaming Romantic Europe, were delighted to bring Romantic Europe: The Virtual Exhibition (RÊVE) to the 16th International BARS conference in Nottingham. In keeping with the conference theme of ‘Romantic Facts and Fantasies’, we presented two sessions, convened by Professor Nicola Watson – a panel on Dreaming Romantic Europe: facts and their fantasies and an associated ECR workshop.

Our first session kicked off on Thursday to a packed-out audience. The panel featured a series of micro-talks in which seven senior scholars of Romanticism presented their research in the form of an exhibit for RÊVE. Objects ranged across Europe and varied from texts and domestic items to the buildings which might contain them, with each talk using a single image to spark broader discussions about the materiality (or immateriality) of Romantic objects, their circulation, and the narratives of fact or of fantasy which might be constructed around them. The stellar line up of speakers included: Professor Deidre Shauna Lynch, who introduced us to ‘The Handwritten Title-Page of a Transcription of Keat’s Poems, 1828’; Professor Emma Clery who presented ‘A Circular Note from Herries & Co.’; Professor Anthony Mandal, who explored ‘The offices of the Minerva Press, Leadenhall’; Professor Penny Fielding with ‘Margaret Chalmers and a Tea-cup’; Professor Sonia Hofkosh, who discussed ‘Byron’s Screen’; Professor Diego Saglia, who spoke on ‘William Beckford’s Pavilion’; and Professor Ian Haywood who concluded with ‘A Map of the Republic of Europe’. The panel ended with discussion which drew attention to the ways in which the seven talks spoke to each other in productive and sometimes unexpected ways and considered how the objects in the virtual exhibition might come together as a collection or collections.

BARS delegates continued Dreaming Romantic Europe on Sunday, at our ECR Workshop. The first half of the workshop followed a similar format to Thursday with presentations from Alice Rhodes on ‘A ha’pennyworth of sedition, 1796’; Anne-Claire Michoux on ‘The petition for Robert Lovell Edgeworth to be permitted to stay in Paris, 1803’; Dr Teresa Raçzka-Jeziorska on ’40 verses of Mickiewicz’s “Pan Tadeusz” given to Ambroży Grabowski for “Autographs of Illustrious Men’’’; and Dr Charlotte May on ‘The decanter given to Byron by Samuel Rogers’. The second half of the workshop involved discussion, led by Professor Nicola Watson, on the project of RÊVE more broadly. The workshop generated fruitful and though-provoking conversations on methods of recording visitor engagement with the exhibition; ways of incorporating RÊVE into teaching; and the opportunities and challenges afforded by presenting research as short-form object biographies, exemplified by Watson’s exhibit on ‘William Cowper’s lavender-water bottle’. Dr Anna Mercer and Dr Charlotte May also provided valuable insights on the project from the perspective of their work with heritage organisations.

It was a privilege to be part of such a wonderful conference and huge thanks goes to the BARS 2019 organisers, all the speakers involved in the panels, and everyone who came to listen and offer their enthusiastic thoughts on the project.

We look forward to featuring the exhibits mentioned above on the website in the coming months. Meanwhile the exhibition so far can be viewed here: http://www.euromanticism.org/virtual-exhibition/

Alice Rhodes, University of York

23rd August 2019

Stephen Copley Research Report: Stephen Basdeo on Robert Southey

Robert Southey’s “Harold; or, The Castle of Morford”—The First Robin Hood Novel

By Stephen Basdeo, Associate Professor at the Richmond American International University (Leeds RIASA).

To find out how to apply for a BARS Stephen Copley Research Award, click here

In August, thanks to a generous BARS Stephen Copley Research Award, between 12–15 August, I was able to visit to visit the Bodleian Library in Oxford to consult Robert Southey’s ‘Harold; or, The Castle of Morford’ (Bodleian MS Misc. Eng. e. 21), written in 1791 and purchased by the Bodleian Library from the famous Bristol booksellers W. George’s Sons in 1895.

The manuscript’s unassuming title obscures its significance somewhat, for this is, as far as I can ascertain, the first attempt by any author to write a novel featuring the legendary English outlaw, Robin Hood, as it predates Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (1819) by 28 years.

Along with a colleague, Dr Mark Truesdale, I am transcribing and publishing Southey’s unpublished text with Routledge as part of its ‘Outlaws in Literature, History, and Culture’ series, and publication is expected in March 2020. The purpose of my visit, then, was to perform final checks of our transcription, such as making sure we had not misread words (young Southey’s handwriting was not the neatest), for the Routledge edition will reproduce, as far as possible, exactly what was written by Southey 228 years ago.

Bodleian MS Misc Eng e. 21

The manuscript is bound in a maroon binding dating from probably the mid-nineteenth century, with gold embossed title on the spine reading ‘Juvenilia Romances MSS. Southey’. Binding the manuscript in this way has the obvious advantage of keeping all of the leaves together but this has also meant that some words on the margins have been obscured due to the tightness of the binding and the fact that Southey often used the whole page, writing right up to the edges of the leaves. Another issue is that the binders also trimmed the pages at the top, bottom, and sides, meaning some words from the manuscript are forever lost.

Luckily for us, someone in the Victorian era faithfully copied out Southey’s tale in full (presumably before it was bound), which meant that deficiencies in the original manuscript (Bodleian MS Misc Eng e. 21) could be cross-checked with the copy (Bodleian MS Misc Eng e. 114), which was donated by Baroness Paravicini to the library in 1927 — not every eighteenth-century scholar has the luxury of having two manuscripts to check when undertaking similar projects!

Southey’s unpublished tale will be of benefit, not only to Robin Hood scholars, but to the eighteenth-century and Romanticism community at large. In it we find poetry written by Southey which he never published, with some of the poetry, written as it was by a 16 year old boy, preoccupied with women’s ‘charms’:

And oft beneath the glassy wave
Her dainty limbs would hide
And oft above the waves appeared
Her gently heaving breast
That charm alone exposed to view
The waves obscured the rest
Come, Launcelot the nymph exclaimed
Tis now the time for love
For silent is the midnight hour
And pleasant is the grove
With that she leaped from out the wave
Exposing all her charms
Come, Launcelot again she cried
Come riot in my arms (55v–56r)

Southey wrote his novel before his political ‘radicalisation’ in 1794, after meeting with Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Yet in ‘Harold’, we do find that even by the age of 16, Southey had developed a social conscience. For example—and the novel is barely historicised—the Robin Hood considers himself as ‘the overseer of the poor rates’, and delights in levying contributions from the richest in society and redistributing wealth to the humblest class of people (14v). And the forest society of Sherwood is an egalitarian one, where even King Richard, who has ventured back to England in disguise and joined the outlaws, thinks himself neither above nor below any of the other outlaws.

Scholars will not have to wait too long to read Southey’s novel, and I am grateful to the British Association for Romantic Studies for providing me with funding to travel to Oxford and ensure that all of mine and Mark’s transcriptions were correct so we can present scholars with an accurate version of what Southey originally wrote and, if they want to consult Southey’s juvenile tale, not have to make an expensive trip to Oxford themselves.

Dr Stephen Basdeo

20th August 2018

William Blake at BARS

Today on the Blog is a post from Jodie Marley (University of Nottingham). This is the third in a series of reports from the International BARS conference that took place in July 2019. You can also see pictures from the event if you search #BARS2019 on Twitter. She is part of the committee running UoN Romanticism with Amy Wilcockson and Ruby Hawley-Sibbett, at the University of Nottingham. This is a Romanticism reading group who run monthly sessions with invited guest speakers. This Nottingham-based group has members and attendees who from across the UK, and organise a field trip every term to a local Romantic area of interest. For more details – follow @UoNRomanticism or email uonromanticism@nottingham.ac.uk

As I specialise in Blake, it was an absolute delight to experience four Blake panels unfold at BARS 2019. We had one Blake panel per day, which was, to quote Jason Whittaker (University of Lincoln) , ‘utter bliss’.

I presented my paper on day one’s Blake panel on ‘The Fantastical Reception of William Blake’. I spoke on the reception of Blake’s esoteric thought by W. B. Yeats. Jason Whittaker’s paper on Blake discussed Ray Nelson’s Blake’s Progress and Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve, and Luke Walker’s (Roehampton University) paper outlined connections between Blake, Dead Man and mid-twentieth-century psychedelia’s interpretations of Romanticism. This panel’s consideration of the expansion of Romanticism’s influence beyond 1790-1830 was particularly useful in broadening Romantic studies’ traditional scope.

Day two’s Blake panel focused on Blake’ art and illustration. Clémence Ardin’s (University of Kent) paper compared Blake’s illustrations of fallen women and angels in the Book of Enoch with Alfred de Vigny’s Eloa ou la soeur des anges. Sharon Choe’s (University of York) paper centred around a close-reading images on the The Book of Urizen plates to discuss Blake’s representations of darkness, the void, creation and destruction. Elli Karampela’s (University of Sheffield) paper discussed ‘The Ghost of a flea’, Blake’s ‘Visionary Heads’ and how we might conceptualise them as Gothic bodies.

Clémence Ardin, Sharon Choe and Elli Karampela on the ‘Fantasising Blake’ panel

Day three’s Blake panel, ‘William Blake’s Hand’, began with Mark Crosby (Kansas State University) and his paper on Blake’s letters and how they illustrated Blake’s (often difficult) journey through the patronage system. Elizabeth Potter’s (University of York) paper, gave an innovative reassessment of approaching Blake’s marginalia, and helped me reassess and realign my current use of Blake’s marginalia. Both Potter and I quoted the same aphorism of Lavater’s (number 532) in our respective papers, an eerie coincidence. The final paper for this panel was Josephine McQuail’s (Tennessee Tech University) on eroticism in the Vala illustrations, and its reception in Blake criticism over the centuries. As in the second Blake panel, there was an emphasis in McQuail’s paper on the importance, the necessity of considering Blake’s images alongside his works, which I find increasingly important as I form my own research about Blake.

Elizabeth Potter giving her paper

I chaired day four’s Blake panel, ‘Blake’s Visionary Imagination’. Tara Lee’s (University of Oxford) spoke on the intersection of the natural and the mechanical in Blake’s particular form of epic. Joshua Schouten de Jel (Plymouth University) discussed selfhood and psychoanalysis in The Book of Thel and Visions of the Daughters of Albion. Finally, with perhaps one of my favourite papers of the conference, Camille Adnot (Paris-Diderot University) spoke on Blake’s Four Zoas, the influence of medieval mappae mundi on Blake’s illustrations, and the question of mapping dreamscapes in Blake’s works.

Camille Adnot presenting her paper

BARS 2019 was fascinating from start to finish. Although the end of the conference left me feeling deflated that four days of exciting conversations had to come to an end, I am, ultimately, excited for the future of my research area and the connections I’ve made within it.

Jodie Marley, University of Nottingham

16th August 2019

BARS 2019 Report

Today on the Blog is a post from Johnny Cammish (University of Nottingham). This is the second in a series of reports from the International BARS conference that took place in July 2019. You can also see pictures from the event if you search #BARS2019 on Twitter. 

The run up to BARS was a busy time for us, as the postgraduate helpers. It was a lot of work that, thankfully, all seems to have come together in the end. Or, at least, that was the impression I got from various grateful delegates who consistently offered thanks and praise throughout the conference.

It was an intense first day; opening with the fantastic plenary by Professor Laura Mandell about some of the digital approaches she’s been working on were an exciting indication of things to come. The first panel I attended was equally fantastic, though of a far more sombre tone. Featuring discussions of ageing, lateness and dementia being wonderfully thought provoking and, with such heavy topics, inevitably very moving. However, the brief quotation of James Montgomery, my own interest, may have somewhat biased me in celebration of this panel.

Montgomery did crop up again later in the day; although this time when I gave my own paper after a somewhat complicated but well-handled panel shift, with the Romantic Radicalism and Romantic Life-writing panels being combined synergistically in a new beast that worked remarkably well. I’ve not had much experience giving papers, but I found the energy and interest in the room genuinely inspiring; questions and comments I’ve received have given me a long list of additional areas for me to investigate, which I am grateful for!

Me presenting my paper

Unsurprisingly, considering my own paper on Montgomery’s radicalism and imprisonment, many of my personal highlights were the papers of a political nature – Olivia Murphy’s discussion of the bizarre difficulties of the Birmingham mob to burn ‘Dr Phlogiston’ was fascinating, and Ian Packer’s paper on Wat Tyler reminded me that I really need to read more on how the older Southey dealt with his more radical youth. That’s not to say that I neglected other panels; I thoroughly enjoyed viewing Scottish Romanticism and Percy Shelley Panels, despite how they demonstrated my own near-criminal neglect of Romantic Drama.

I could, of course, talk about the panels ad infinitum, but I cannot fail to mention the other plenaries. Professor Diego Saglia’s discussion of (potentially) Byron’s skin was fascinating and wonderfully macabre; something I had never even thought of considering before. Professor Jane Stabler’s comparison of Byron to The Office (US)’s Dwight Schrute is forever etched on my brain, Dr Robert Poole’s wonderful discussion of Peterloo highlighted the role of women, and clarified the state of Manchester in 1819 – dispelling a lot of my own misunderstandings. Finally, Professor Sharon Ruston’s discussion of Humphry Davy and his rejection of poetry in favour of science felt like a fitting microcosm of the Humanities side-lining to the Sciences.

The excursion to Newstead was also wonderful; I visit it regularly as I work there part-time, but seeing it full of scholars who know and appreciate Byron and his history was wonderful; and I was pleased with how much enthusiasm everyone had for the Abbey, both as postgraduate helper and as part-time Visitor Assistant. In short, the conference was wonderful, and there is far more to be said than could fit in 500 words. I am glad that many seemed to enjoy it as much as I.

The next BARS conference will be the BARS PG/ECR Conference in 2020. The conference will be held at Keats House, Hampstead, from 12th-13th June. Further details and CfP to follow – for now, save the date!

Johnny Cammish, University of Nottingham

16th August 2019

BARS 2019: Factually a Fantastic Conference!

Today on the Blog is a post from Colette Davies (University of Nottingham). She reports from the International BARS conference that took place in July 2019. This is the first of a series of reports from the conference. You can also see pictures from the event if you search #BARS2019 on Twitter. 

Please forgive the cheesy title. The 16th International British Association for Romantic Studies (BARS) conference, themed ‘Romantic Facts and Fantasies’ (now you can see my title’s inspiration!), has just been hosted by the University of Nottingham’s School of English. Spanning a period of four days, Nottingham welcomed over 200 delegates from all around the world to this conference. Numerous parallel panels, exemplary plenaries, ECR and PGR workshops, excursions, conference banquets, wine receptions, wonderful catering, and frequent tea and coffee breaks meant that these four days sped by.

Despite time flying, the planning and organisation of this conference has been years in the planning. Bids for hosting the 2019 conference were placed just after the 2015 BARS conference at Cardiff University. As a current PhD student at the University of Nottingham, I joined the planning team over a year ago and, as Twitter reminded me today, I set up the Twitter account 365 days ago. Thankfully, the hard work by a team of more than ten people over the past four years most certainly paid off.

On the first day (and the hottest day of the year so far), delegates were welcomed by the organisers, Professor Lynda Pratt and Professor Máire Ní Fhlathúin. The conference was then officially opened by Professor Jeremy Gregory, Pro-Vice Chancellor for the Faculty of Arts at the University of Nottingham. Professor Laura Mandell, of Texas A&M University, gave the first plenary in which she focussed on ‘Re-inventing Gender: the Feminist Controversy in England, 1788-1810’. Her plenary discussed the data project she is currently working on, in which writing styles are annotated and grouped to indicate difference of styles that surpass the M/F binary. Lunch followed, during which there was a highly informative PGR and ECR workshop on ‘Heritage Careers’ given by Dr. Gillian Dow and Dr. Anna Mercer. The afternoon was a succession of three parallel panels; over 60 individuals presented on the first day! The evening began with the Welcome Reception and Book Prize followed by an informal dinner.

BARS Book Prize announced by Dr. Jane Moore

Friday quickly flew by with four parallel panels along with two plenaries, a BBQ for dinner and a PGR and ECR wine reception. Professor Diego Saglia gave the second plenary of the conference, in which he focussed on Byron’s links to and life in Ravenna in a lecture entitled, ‘Byron’s Words and Things: Bodies, Bullets and a Box’. His presentation included some of the items relating to Byron which were collected by the Countess Teresa Gamba – one of them being flakes of Byron’s skin! The third plenary was delivered by Professor Jane Stabler. Also focussing on Byron, Jane Stabler discussed the anecdotal evidence and annotations on Byron’s text. Friday closed with a vibrant PGR and ECR wine reception at the Orchards Hotel, allowing PGR and ECR students to meet and mingle.

The Conference Banquet

Saturday was Excursion Day! In the morning, delegates attended one parallel panel before enjoying the plenary on ‘Peterloo: The English Uprising’ by Dr. Robert Poole. This was also the public Byron lecture, hosted annually by the School of English. Poole showed the audience images and text from the new graphic novel he has collaboratively worked on and which tells the story of Peterloo through using cartoons, as well as evidence and quotations from letters and records of Peterloo in its narrative. Specifically, Poole concentrated on the representation of women in archival documents and contemporary caricatures of Peterloo and used them to illuminate the role women played in this uprising. On Saturday afternoon, delegates could choose one of three excursions: trips were planned to Newstead Abbey, Wollaton Hall and Park, and the Lakeside Arts Museum which currently houses the conference’s exhibition on Romantic Facts and Fantasies. The Conference Banquet on Saturday evening was enjoyed by all who attended. We were treated to performances of Peterloo songs, collated and introduced by Dr. Alison Morgan of Warwick University and performed by folk trio, the Thrup’nny Bits.

Performance by the Thrup’nny Bits

The last day, Sunday, had the final parallel panels and a second ECR and PGR workshop, this time focussing on publishing. Delivered by Professor Ian Haywood and Dr Richard Gaunt, they tackled some of the facts and fantasies of publishing monographs and articles and REF. Professor Sharon Ruston gave the final plenary on Sunday afternoon; her talk on Humphry Davy’s notebooks demonstrated how he discussed both poetry and science, using concepts of Romanticism to define scientific practices and work. The conference closed with the new incoming President of BARS, Anthony Mandal, praising the conference organising team and all those who gave papers, asked questions, and attended panels and workshops. Colette Davies and Amanda Blake Davis then introduced the BARS ECR and PGR conference, to be held in June 2020 at Keats House, before Dr Andrew McInnes advertised and outlined the 2021 BARS/NASSR joint conference, which will be hosted at Edge Hill University. Hands sore from many rounds of applause, delegates bade farewell to Nottingham. Many headed home, but many were also heading for the International Conference of Romanticism (ICR) in Manchester or the Frances Burney conference, both of which took place the week after BARS.

Conferences require a lot of energy, both from delegates and organisers. Yet, they enable people to share their research with each other, forge connections with scholars working in similar areas and, most importantly, allow individuals to develop their research and practice. I am always nervous before presenting a conference paper but the discussions afterwards are so rewarding. I have never been to a conference yet where I haven’t come away with new texts to include in my research or a new approach to a work or an author. BARS 2019 didn’t disappoint. Established and new scholars alike are keen to talk to each other and it was wonderful to mix with scholars at different stages of their careers. It was really rewarding to be part of the organising team for this conference. Thank you to everyone who came and thanked us for our work towards.

The next BARS conference will be the BARS PG/ECR Conference in 2020. The conference will be held at Keats House, Hampstead, from 12th-13th June. Further details and CfP to follow – for now, save the date!

Colette Davies, University of Nottingham

14 August 2019