News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

Posts filed under Five Questions

Five Questions: Emma Peacocke on Romanticism and the Museum


Emma Peacocke is currently a Banting Post Doctoral Fellow at Queen’s University, Ontario.  Before moving to Queen’s, she completed her PhD at Carleton University.  She has published articles and book chapters that examine historiography, circulation, periodical culture, collecting and visual culture and that deal with figures as diverse as Walter Scott, William Paley, William Buckland and Thomas Moore.  Her first monograph, Romanticism and the Museum, which draws together many of these interests and which we discuss below, was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2014.

1) How did you come to decide that you wanted to write a monograph on museums in the Romantic period?

It happened in a coup de foudre as I was reading The Wanderer, Frances Burney’s final novel, published in 1814.  The heroine, Juliet, is fleeing in disguise from her forced marriage to a murderous Jacobin ruffian, so you can imagine how anxious she is throughout the novel.  Near the climactic showdown, her eccentric elderly protector Sir Jaspar Harrington decides on a whim to pass Juliet off as his grandchildren’s new nursemaid and have her shown all around the glorious art collection at Wilton.  Juliet feels so harried and miserable that she has almost lost the will to live – she is in a “torpid state” of “morbid insensibility.”  However, one object is so powerful that it can reawaken Juliet to herself and even to a moment’s pleasure: the “fascinating picture” by Van Dyck of Charles I and his family, with its “extraordinary attraction.”  One chapter later, the experience of seeing an artwork indoors, in a very museum-like setting, is paralleled with wandering among the stupendous and sublime ruins of Stonehenge.  It turned my idea of what Romanticism is and what Romantic authors valued on their head.

Lots of historians and art historians, including Linda Colley, read the eighteenth-century stately homes that opened their doors to the general public as precursors to, or stand-ins for, public museums, so looking at the proto-museums and newly minted public museums of the Romantic era suddenly seemed like a very promising way to see something new in Romantic literature.  Carol Duncan’s Civilizing Rituals has a very powerful passage comparing art museums with the ambulatories of medieval cathedrals, pathways that pilgrims could follow to gain a closer understanding and bond with figures like Christ.  This really strengthened my decision to write about museums in the Romantic period – it’s such an eloquent testimony to their significance and puissance.

2) How did you select the four case studies (Wordsworth’s Prelude, Scott’s Waverley, Edgeworth’s Harrington and the discourse around the Elgin Marbles) which form the cores of your chapters?

It sometimes felt as though they chose me!  I was reading Ormond, by Maria Edgeworth, because I wanted an Irish Tale to read on my first trip to Ireland, and so I was originally going to write on Ormond rather than Harrington.  There’s an extraordinary scene in Ormond in front of the now lost portrait of Marie Antoinette by Gautier-Dagoty; the eponymous hero’s Anglo-Irish identity suddenly comes becomes completely clear to him, as his reactions to the portrait differ so markedly from his French friends’ more demonstrative response.  Edgeworth wrote these two novels as companion pieces, when her father was dying and was desperate to see just one more work of his daughter’s in print, and she needed to come up with enough text to fill three volumes.  I only read Harrington in the first place to do my due diligence about Ormond, but it completely captivated me and it is even more about scenes of representation, display, and the national imaginary than Ormond.  So it seems a bit serendipitous – but it also testifies to the ubiquity of museums and galleries in Romantic writing.

I always knew that I would need to write on the discourse around the Elgin Marbles, because the Marbles sparked the largest museum-based controversy of the Romantic period.  I think that it set the terms for centuries to come on questions of provenance and the ethics of museum acquisitions.  That chapter felt the hardest to structure, because it was really led by the topic, whereas all the other ones had been led by the texts whose settings had complexities and nuances that I wanted to tease out.  Keats’s “On Seeing the Elgin Marbles” is among the greatest of ekphrastic poems – but despite its clear relevance, I didn’t spend very much time on it, because I didn’t have much to say to amplify its meanings.  Of course, just a few weeks ago, when I was teaching this poem, I found myself saying that perhaps Keats simply physically couldn’t describe the statues in great detail; the Elgin Marbles had attracted one of the earliest crowds to visit the British Museum, and perhaps he and Haydon had trouble getting and remaining close enough to the sculptures to support a traditional ekphrasis.  There’s always room for new insights!

3) Did you find that museums principally served as useful foci for discussions of particular concerns, or did they serve as flexible metaphors, easily repurposed by different auditors?

In each text that I wrote about, the museum becomes the place where authors represent the nation to itself.  That is the major concern for which the museum provides the ideal locus; however, each author and each text easily repurpose the museum to talk about a different aspect of that representation, and they often focus on a different aspect of the museum, too.  Scott uses portraiture and changes in the nature of gallery display to talk about the nation’s history and the profound differences between past and present.  Horace Smith imagines the Parthenon’s statues in the British Museum coming to life; while overtly they are talking about defamation in Classical Athens, it’s quite clear that Smith has the ancient statues uttering a veiled critique of the current British press.

I think that Wordsworth may have been most invested in how his readers – or the “auditors” of his poetry – could repurpose his museum settings and images.  Wordsworth loves writing about art display during the French revolution because he can powerfully testify to how utterly the Revolution changed everything, but doesn’t have to commit himself to saying whether the changes are largely for good or ill.  Wordsworth’s narrator has a rapturous moment like a pre-Revolutionary Grand Tourist in front of Charles Le Brun’s Penitent Magdalene before the painting was nationalized – as his auditors, we aren’t sure if Wordsworth would like to turn the clock back on the French Revolution, or whether he is delighted that the painting has become accessible to more and more people.  Byron, by contrast, comes out swinging against George IV in Don Juan, saying that even his fossilized remains will seem so monstrously large as to be inhuman to museum-goers in the distant future.  There’s no way that Byron wants to exploit the way that auditors could repurpose museum-based metaphors.

4) To what extent did the literary and visual forms in which writers addressed museums change the ways in which they were employed and represented?

You raise a really good point here.  I wonder if there wasn’t often a bit of a time lag between the most highbrow of Romantic visual arts and Romantic literature.  My theory is that authors wanted to refer to an accepted canon of taste, so that when they invoked a work of art, its significance would be stable and well-established to readers.  For instance, in Eighteen Hundred and Eleven, Barbauld write that “Reynolds [shall] be what Raphael was before” – yet Sir Joshua Reynolds, the brilliant founder of the Royal Academy, had been dead since 1792.  Most of the artworks that my authors place in their texts date from previous generations, from Periclean Athens through the Renaissance and the 17th and 18th centuries.

As for the literary forms of Romanticism itself, it was an age that married wonderful periodical essays on art with the nascent form of the guidebook.  William Hazlitt’s Sketches of the Principal Picture-Galleries in England began as a series of articles in the London Magazine; the critic generally dedicated one essay to each gallery, which seems like a practical way to keep up with print deadlines.  Hazlitt then published his essays in collected form as a book. Its organization makes it very convenient for gallery-goers, who can consult the relevant chapter for that gallery. By contrast, George Walker’s Descriptive Catalogue of a Choice Assemblage of Original Pictures (1807) gives all kinds of valuable information about various paintings – but doesn’t organize them at all geographically or by collection.  Hazlitt’s Sketches have a kind of user-friendliness that makes seeing, understanding, and studying the artworks in museums seem less daunting.  That change in representation is quite closely linked to the literary form of the Romantic periodical.

I’m going to leave it to another scholar to talk about the new literary and visual forms in William Blake’s work!  House museums, like the Jane Austen’s House Museum at Chawton, are very common commemorations of Romantic authors.  Blake, however, made his family home at 28 Broad St. into a museum during his lifetime, holding an exhibition of his own watercolour and tempera paintings there in 1809.  Someone really ought to write a study on Blake and Romantic museums.

5) What new research projects are you presently working on?

My present project is on Romanticism and the University.  One can never have too many institutions of education in one’s life!  University reform was a huge topic for Romantic periodicals like the Edinburgh Review from about 1808 onward, and the colleges of the University of London were founded in 1826, so it’s an era of great introspection and change.  There’s also extraordinary figures like Thomas Campbell, a highly popular poet who became a magazine editor, a popular lecturer, a founder of the University of London and Rector of the University of Glasgow.

Another part of my project is to look at undergraduate writing from Romantic universities.  The poems that students wrote for prizes, like the Newdigate Prize, were highly valued; when a commercial press collected and printed them, they sold like hotcakes and went swiftly into a revised second edition, but that is a whole tranche of acclaimed poetry that we don’t really look at today.  Jeffrey Cox, in Romanticism in the Shadow of War, is the only scholar whom I know of who analyses any of these poems at all.  I’m also looking at student-run periodicals; the University of Edinburgh had an imitation of Blackwood’s that is often, in my opinion, much funnier than the original, and even contains an article about better ways to find cadavers for the medical school, years before the nefarious activities of Burke and Hare came to light.

My study also takes in universities as, rather like museums, being the sites of pilgrimage.  I focus on the Shelley Memorial at University College, Oxford, and the story it tells us about the poet’s reception history.  It’s delightful to be able to keep a strong visual and architectural component in my work!

Five Questions: Andrew McInnes on Mary Wollstonecraft’s Ghost

Andrew McInnes - Mary Wollstonecraft's Ghost

Andrew McInnes is a Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Edge Hill University.  His work focuses on Romantic-period women’s writing across a wide range of modes and genres; he has published articles and book chapters on authors including Amelia Opie, Mary Hays, Maria Edgeworth, Charlotte Dacre and Jane Austen.  At the centre of his research, though, is Mary Wollstonecraft, who takes a starring role in his first monograph, Mary Wollstonecraft’s Ghost: The Fate of the Female Philosopher in the Romantic Period, which was recently published by Routledge and which we discuss below.

1) How did you first become interested in the figure of the female philosopher?

I first became interested in the figure of the female philosopher whilst researching Mary Hays, Mary Wollstonecraft’s friend and sometime protégée, who received both praise and censure as a female philosopher, especially after the publication of her radical novel, Memoirs of Emma Courtney (1796).  Hays drew on Wollstonecraft’s example throughout her writing career, developing her own philosophy about the importance of balancing reason and passion by synthesizing aspects of Wollstonecraft’s feminism with William Godwin’s political philosophy in her own idiosyncratic manner.  Reviews of Hays’ work positioned her as a female philosopher in the mould of Wollstonecraft.  Wollstonecraft herself sends Hays a teasing note after the publication of Emma Courtney, warning her that she has been ‘stygmatized as a Philosophess – a Godwinian’ by the Barbaulds.  I became really interested in both women’s wariness about the term – that emphasis on stigma – when critics at the time and after have been happy to label them ‘female philosophers’.

2) To what extent do you see the female philosopher in the Romantic period as being synonymous with Mary Wollstonecraft, and to what extent is she ‘always already partly figurative’, as you contend in your introduction?

Mary Wollstonecraft is celebrated today as the female philosopher of the Romantic period, but I’m convinced that she refused to use the term in relation to herself throughout her writing career.  In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, for example, she prefers the gender neutral ‘philosopher’ and sympathetic reviewers like William Enfield followed her lead by avoiding the term.  After her death, counter-revolutionary writers, led by the Anti-Jacobin Review, positively delighted in labelling her as a female philosopher and in attacking the term and through it, Wollstonecraft’s life and writing.  Women writers seeking to engage with Wollstonecraft’s work had to disentangle her from the figure of the female philosopher, treated as an oxymoron in the conservative press.

Throughout the eighteenth century, the term ‘female philosopher’ shifts from referring to real women such as Elizabeths Carter and Montagu, and others in the Bluestocking circle, to representing an avatar of thinking womanhood, embodying Enlightenment ideals of the progress of civilization.  Shadowing this celebratory version of the figure is a negative vision of the female philosopher, representing male anxieties about domineering, highly sexed, politically and religiously heterodox women.  By the 1790s, this divided figure – both Enlightenment avatar and reactionary nightmare – splits further in revolutionary and counter-revolutionary discourse, with Anti-Jacobin writers adopting the figure as a term of abuse, explaining Hays and Wollstonecraft’s hesitancy in using the term in relation to themselves.  So, ‘female philosopher’ is used to refer to real women but, at the same time, accrues a set of mostly literary conventions associated with reason, reading, political engagement, and sexuality.  As a literary critic, I am fascinated by how the female philosopher as literary archetype gets used by women writers before and after Wollstonecraft’s death in order to think about the thinking woman.

3) What do you see as being the main gender-specific lines of attack directed at female philosophers in the period?

Counter-revolutionary reviewers of works by Hays, Wollstonecraft, and others poured scorn on the term ‘female philosopher’ itself, questioning the ability of women to think philosophically (or, sometimes, at all) and representing female philosophy as rote-learned pedantry.  These attacks mask gender-specific anxieties about women engaging in political debate, which was increasingly viewed as stepping outside of their private, domestic sphere, and female sexuality.  In my introduction, I engage with Jürgen Habermas’ work on the eighteenth-century public sphere (split between literary and political aspects but imagined as one and indivisible) to argue that women were able to access the literary side of the public sphere, especially by writing novels, but when their work started to encroach on political discourse they triggered anxieties in male readers and reviewers.  In France, female philosophers were linked to the philosopher whore in French pornography – which you can see reflected in the Anti-Jacobin Review’s notorious decision to index Wollstonecraft under Prostitute in their first volume.  Wollstonecraft also leads Rev. Richard Polwhele’s crew of ‘unsex’d females’ in his similarly infamous poem, viewing Wollstonecraft, Hays, and others as both disconcertingly unfeminine and dangerously sexy.

4) How do you see attitudes to female thinkers changing over the chronological span that separates the 1790s texts that you examine in your first chapter and the novels of the 1820s and 1830s that you consider in your fourth?

In the 1790s, attitudes to female thinkers shift from an initially celebratory tone, linking female philosophy to the ideals of the French Revolution, to an increasingly angry discourse, denouncing female philosophers along with French revolutionaries as threatening to the fabric of British society.  In the early nineteenth century, women writers seeking to celebrate female thinkers have to disentangle counter-revolutionary representations of female philosophers as dubious, dangerous, and dogmatic from the positive aspects they wish to recuperate for their post-revolutionary moment.  In the 1800s and 1810s, this often involved including a character explicitly labelled a female philosopher who tends to meet a sticky end: seduced by malevolent French philosophers, unmarried, pregnant, suicidal, or otherwise mortally sick.  Other female characters in their novels could then take on some of the positive elements of female philosophy, whilst avoiding the opprobrium ostentatiously piled on the erring and often dying woman.  By the 1820s and 30s, some of the radical sting of the female philosopher had worn off, and elements of the figure find their way into representations of the female artist.  My fourth chapter analyses the work of Wollstonecraft’s daughter, Mary Shelley, in relation to several popular genres of the time: the Gothic, the historical novel, and silver fork fiction.  Shelley manages to work tropes relating to the female philosopher into Frankenstein and her later novels Valperga, Perkin Warbeck, and Lodore, exploring the figures continuing relevance reshaped across several genres.  So, by casting the female philosopher back into history in her historical novels, Shelley provides a genealogy for the figure, previous to eighteenth-century and revolutionary debates about her abilities, imagining a historic lineage of female philosophers from Renaissance Italy to her present day.

5) What new work are you planning on moving forward with now that the book’s complete?

I’m currently working on two distinct but related research projects, both more or less Gothic.  They sometimes feel quite unrelated to Wollstonecraft’s Ghost, but then I think my choice of title for the book is appropriately spooky.  My first project explores Jane Austen’s continuing interest in the Gothic, beyond Northanger Abbey, arguing that Austen continues to make use of Gothic tropes and situations but positions them at a geographic distance from the central concerns of her plots.  I’ve recently published an article in Gothic Studies on Emma as a Radcliffean Gothic novel in disguise and have another forthcoming in Romantic Textualities on how Ireland functions as a Gothic space in the novel.  My second project analyses twentieth- and twenty-first-century adaptations of Frankenstein in children’s literature and Young Adult fiction, arguing that modern authors use Shelley’s novel to explore the monstrosity inherent in adolescence (and adolescents).

Five Questions: Carol Bolton on Southey’s Letters from England

Carol Bolton - Letters from England

Carol Bolton is Programme Director for English at Loughborough University.  She has published widely on Romantic-period topics and has particular interests in writings that engage with issues of exploration and empire and in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century politics.  She has played an important role in rehabilitating and exploring the work of Robert Southey, the subject of her first monograph and the focus of several substantial editorial projects in which she has played major parts.  The latest of these, an edition of Robert Southey’s Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella, which we discuss below, was recently released by Routledge as part of the Pickering Masters series.

1) How did you come to realise that you wanted to produce an edition of Letters from England?

I have worked on several collaborative projects to publish editions of Southey’s poetry (Poetical Works 1793-1810, 2004; Later Poetical Works 1811-1838, 2012) and letters (The Collected Letters, Parts 1-4, 2009-2013) as well as writing articles, essays and a book (Writing the Empire: Robert Southey and Romantic Colonialism, 2007) on his representations of travel, exploration and colonialism.  Letters from England presents a view of his own country through the eyes of an invented foreign national, so we see Southey distancing himself from his fellow citizens to write insightfully and often humorously about them.  It is one of his most engaging works and presents a detailed, on-the-spot survey of early nineteenth-century life.  The lifetime editions of this book (1807, 1808, 1814) are only available in copyright libraries and the most recent modern edition by Jack Simmons, was published in 1951.  In sixty years the field of Romantic Studies has changed immensely and I wanted to present a new critical appraisal of the book, based on recent Southey research, as well as drawing on current methodologies that re-historicise literary works within their social and political context to appreciate their cultural relevance.

2) Your introduction very interestingly contextualises Letters from England within existing traditions of topographical travel writing and of depicting England through the eyes of fictional foreigners.  To what extent do you think that Southey’s book-making was imitating past examples, and to what extent do you think that the Letters constitute an innovation?

As a bibliophile with a strong sense of literary tradition, Southey saw himself in a long line of authors, poets and historians in his own book-making ventures.  In Letters from England he drew on the eighteenth-century interest in travelogues – domestic and foreign, factual and fictional – to produce what he hoped would be a lucrative best-seller.  Writing it in the epistolary form, at a time when private reflections marketed for public consumption were popular, and employing a wry tone that is often satirical, the reflections of his Spanish tourist were intended to entertain.  In this way he employed techniques used by earlier writers, such as Montesquieu, Horace Walpole, Thomas Percy and Oliver Goldsmith.  Despite sharing some of the apprehensions of these previous authors – who highlight declining moral standards and increasing materialism in the English people – Southey raises other grave issues about his contemporary society.  His fears for the stability of the nation, its eroding religious values, and his Romantic, anti-industrialist views on increasing mechanisation, urbanisation, consumerism, and progress for its own sake rather than to improve human lives, are all concerns in this work.  In order to criticise the present, he judges his countrymen with a historian’s eye.  His sense of Englishness is rooted in the past, its cultural traditions and heritage, and he invokes an idealised, nostalgic version of feudalism, which in spite of its hierarchical structure he believed had respect for all members of society.  Southey felt his travel account was innovative in the ‘life-painting’ it provided, and Espriella doesn’t just visit obvious places, such as abbeys, tombs and national monuments.  He describes everyday life on the London streets and in the factories of the manufacturing towns.  He comments on the wealth and majesty of such a prosperous nation as well as capturing vignettes of poverty and suffering to produce a broad survey of early nineteenth-century England.

3) What seem to you to be the best and worst aspects of England in Espriella’s (and Southey’s) eyes?

The best aspects of England are its cultural heritage and the historical sites of interest that a tourist like Espriella would be expected to visit: cathedrals, abbeys, great houses, palaces and monuments.  But Southey is concerned that while foreign visitors appreciate these places, his own countrymen do not value the rich heritage in front of their eyes.  The English people are often shown as having valuable qualities of character – for instance their sense of intellectual and political independence – but Southey also sees them as being unaware of their place within a national tradition and a more glorious past, as well as lacking a cohesive social bond between the classes.  In his anti-modern stance, he presents the English as focused on their livelihoods, so that the goods they produce and consume are more highly prized than their fellow citizens.  His Romantic, anti-economic perspective paints a picture of soulless materialism that drives industry, hardens hearts against the poor and impoverishes English culture and heritage.  Despite criticising his Spaniard’s ‘superstitious’ Roman Catholic faith, he employs his firm belief in the merits of a strong national church to expose the empty ceremonies and lip-serving, cold-hearted religion of the English.  He also provides a survey of the sects that are springing up, whose charismatic prophets and zealous congregations are attracting members to what he considers insane beliefs and behaviour.  Through Espriella, Southey warns that the schismatic state of the English religion is a threat to the Anglican Church as well as national stability.  And Southey also uses the scandalised sensibilities of his outsider to lever a more concerned response from his countrymen towards the labouring classes and soften the hearts of the wealthy in their attitudes to the poor.  As might be expected from a member of the ‘Lake poets’, Southey shows prescience in anticipating our modern ecological concerns, by demonstrating how enclosure and industrialisation are diminishing the countryside as a natural resource.  The pedestrian tour of the Lake District made by Espriella shows his appreciation of its wild ruggedness at a time when theories of the sublime were popular, and the region was beginning to attract tourists (a word coined during this period).  In prioritising the subjective, experiential voice of the walker, Southey shows how he and his fellow Romantics have become identified with this emblematic region and how their aesthetic responses to it have endured in England’s cultural heritage.

4) Now that the edition’s available, how do you think that scholars might profitably employ the insights to be gleaned from Letters from England?  Are there aspects or elements which you think might be particularly useful for teaching the Romantic period at undergraduate or MA level?

The book is a rich source of information on the social history of the early nineteenth century.  In addition, the editorial apparatus explains topical references, literary and cultural allusions, and includes translations of foreign language material.  It provides references to Southey’s correspondence, facilitating greater understanding of the text, the influence of Southey’s friends and correspondents on its composition, and accurately identifies the sources he drew on in writing it.  The fact that sections of Letters from England have been frequently cited and anthologised demonstrates its utility as a resource for the period.  This new scholarly edition enables a full understanding of its socio-historical context, authorial intentions, and the relationship between this text and other works by Southey and his contemporaries.  It intends to assist in the current trend for reappraising Southey’s eminence as a literary figure and to highlight the limitations of categories such as poet, historian or journalist that have been previously applied to him.  Although Southey was a prolific and proficient writer in all these fields, we now know that he was also an amusing prose writer.  Southey’s centrality to Romantic-period literature and its textual and cultural practices is now evident, but this edition adds an extra dimension in showing how the established perceptions of genre and style within which he and his contemporaries worked were challenged in a debate over form and function that makes this one of his most innovative works.

There are several aspects of the text that are useful for teaching the Romantic period to students.  I have found the visitor’s view of London and his responses to the metropolis very helpful in teaching my MA module ‘Literary Londons’.  The Lake District sections explicate contemporary aesthetic theories of the picturesque and sublime.  The intertextuality of the book, identified in my research into Southey’s correspondence, identifies a range of correspondents and sources that illuminate the ‘bookmaking’ activities of nineteenth-century authors.  In addition, the bifocal perspective of the experienced English author and the naive Spanish tourist are ideal for teaching students on courses about narratology, its structures and functions and use of focalisation.  Letters from England is an essential source for the historical context of the period, against which many canonical and lesser-known texts can be read.  This will facilitate greater understanding of the social, political and religious background of the Romantic period, and illuminate the attitudes, beliefs and concerns of its authors and their characters.

5) What new projects do you plan to work on now that the edition is complete?

I intend to investigate some of the contemporary issues raised by Southey in Letters from England in greater depth in the form of articles and essays.  For instance, I am very interested in the version of ‘Englishness’ he presents to the reader and how this is informed by his views on history, literature and cultural precedents.  I also intend to explicate his Romantic engagement with landscape (domestic and alien) in this book and his poetry, to demonstrate how his responses to colonialist ventures originate from his Anglophile sense of historical tradition and the influences of pastoral poetry.  In the longer term I will be working on a monograph that examines the ‘politics of place’ in attitudes to travel, exploration and colonialism in the Romantic period.

Five Questions: Michael Bradshaw on Disabling Romanticism

Disabling Romanticism

Michael Bradshaw is Professor and Head of the Department of English, History & Creative Writing at Edge Hill University.  He has previously taught at a number of different institutions in Britain and Japan and has published on a wide range of Romantic-period subjects, including Thomas Hood, the poetry of the 1820s and 1830s, Walter Savage Landor, Romantic drama, George Darley, fragment poems and Thomas Lovell Beddoes.  His latest publication is a collaborative endeavour: the essay collection Disabling Romanticism, which has just been published by Palgrave Macmillan.  Below, we discuss the contexts for this collection and the new intellectual contributions that it makes to the field of Romantic Studies.

1) What first made you want to put together a collection on Romanticism and disability?

Critical disability studies (DS) is an expanding field; its impact is being felt across the full range of arts and Humanities disciplines.  I was particularly interested in the potential of critical DS to re-contextualise and re-interpret historical literature.  Being a Romanticist, I thought it was time this connection was made more explicit and visible.  I was also curious to find out how much independent scholarship was already going on ‘out there’; there seemed to be a timely opportunity to create a more prominent conversation in our subject about how bodily and mental difference is represented, and to co-ordinate an emerging theme.  The intersection of Romanticism and disability was established in Andrew Elfenbein’s well-regarded issue of European Romantic Review devoted to Byron’s lameness (2001).  Fifteen years later, it must be time to take stock again, and extend the debate to a more diverse range of texts and authors – Coleridge and addiction, Darley and speech therapy, Frankenstein and autism, Mary Robinson’s paralysis, and so on.

In terms of my own previous research, I have interests in ‘anatomy literature’ and critical / theoretical themes which foreground the body, which are conducive to a DS approach to texts.  I recently wrote an article on the poet Thomas Hood which observes his apparent fascination with amputation and prosthesis; although it fell outside the scope of that particular discussion, which was about anxiety and laughter, I thought there was another story to tell there, that texts and images which represent bodily difference for whatever apparent purpose should be put into contact with the historical lived experience of disability in the Romantic period.

2) How did you set about gathering your contributors?

I put out a brief CFA via subject networks such as BARS and NASSR.  There were one or two colleagues whose work I knew, whom I was able to contact directly.  But in general the team came to me, in response to the CFA.  I wanted this to be an edited collection from the outset, so I didn’t go through the preliminary stage of building a network with a themed conference.

3) Your introduction opens by contending that ‘dominant critical practices associated with Romantic studies continue to marginalise and disable the different in body and mind’.  What do you think are the most significant benefits to be gained through working to counter this marginalisation?

Historicist scholarship has had a lot to say over the years about race and ethnicity, about gender and sexuality, about nation and empire, and about socio-economic class as well; but a proper re-assessment of literature and criticism in terms of disability has been much slower to emerge.  Hopefully, this book will be a step forward in that process: it will help to raise awareness, and accelerate further development.

The introduction tries to give a sense of how intrinsic concepts of disability, incompleteness, and deformity are to many of the distinctive themes of Romanticism; and consequently, it draws attention to how marginalised and hidden disabled experience has been.  For example, the fragment poem – one of the signature forms of Romantic writing – connects transcendence with incompleteness.  The fragment projects beyond the arbitrary boundaries of the text into an ideal space, but it’s the present experience of incompleteness or brokenness which makes this possible.  The theme of disability has always been latent in critical debates about fragmentary texts, it seems to me.

Re-reading literature from a DS approach also involves interrogating our reliance on metaphor.  Disability metaphors are very widespread, but sometimes seem to pass almost unnoticed.  So when an instance of blindness is said to evoke a sense of ‘inner vision’ or spirituality, a DS critic might want to question that in terms of symbolic appropriation, and to test the idea in terms of the historical lived experience of blindness.  Cognitive difference and mental illness are already better established in Romantic studies, I would say, in that the Romantic cult of the creative mind has long been connected to alternative mental states.  But in terms of physical and sensory impairment, there is a lot of work still to be done – a lot of re-reading in terms of challenging negative images, and reclaiming agency.

These are just examples, of course; it’s a big and diverse field.

4) To what extent do you conceive of the collection as providing a series of discrete case studies sensitive to the individualities of the people and works it considers, and to what extent you think that larger narratives about the history of disabilities and attitudes to them can be traced within it?

I think it has to be both these things.  I like the specific case study approach, and don’t feel the need to subsume studies of specific texts and authors, or make them obedient to a meta-narrative or agenda.  I felt it was important for the collection to be a ‘broad church’ and to include some different methodologies.  So there are some chapters written from a very committed DS / disability theory perspective, and others which are less ideological in approach, contextual studies of disability themes in Romantic writing.  I thought there should be space for all these things.  I think breadth of methodology is important for a book like this to stay current, and to achieve its aim of promoting further debate; I would like to reach not only professional academics, but also students of Romanticism looking for new challenges and possibilities.

Having said that, the book can be seen in the context of a larger ongoing project to challenge the exclusion of disabled experience in academic discourse.  David Bolt and Claire Penketh’s Disability, Avoidance and the Academy (London: Routledge, 2016) gives a good overview of this debate.

In terms of content, I’m really pleased that we’ve not only managed to cover some of the key canonical texts and authors – we have our Byron chapter, our Frankenstein chapter, our chapter on Lyrical Ballads, etc. – but also some less familiar figures, such as George Darley, Richard Payne Knight, and Mary Robinson.

5) You and Essaka Joshua write in the introduction that you see the book in part as a means ‘to promote further research and discussion’.  Are there particular directions that you think could fruitfully be further explored, or particular works or figures that you think could be re-examined using the critical tools that the collection provides?

At this point, that’s for other to decide.  But I think the book shows that a DS approach to Romantic literature can be very comprehensive, working in terms of historical / social context and author biography, and also at the level of close analysis of textual form and genre.  I would be interested to see some interdisciplinary work analysing literary texts and visual images of disability themes, perhaps facilitated by the Romantic Illustration NetworkDisabling Romanticism is specific to Romantic literature; there are equivalent complementary studies of eighteenth-century literature, Gothic, and Victorian culture also ongoing.  I’m sure we’ll see some exciting new scholarship on these themes in the coming years.

I hope the book can also help readers to look at familiar texts afresh.  As Peter Kitson and Tom Shakespeare generously write in their Foreword: ‘Who, after reading the essays in this collection, will ever read the opening lines of Percy Shelley’s ‘England in 1819’ with its vivid depiction of George III as an “old, mad, blind, despised and dying king” in quite the same way?’

Five Questions: Markus Iseli on Thomas De Quincey and the Cognitive Unconscious

Markus Iseli - Thomas De Quincey and the Cognitive Unconscious

Markus Iseli holds a PhD from the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland.  He has recevied a Swiss National Science Foundation grant in support of his research; his work on the cognitive unconscious in the nineteenth-century context has also earned him the Henry-E.-Sigerist-Prize from the Swiss Society for the History of Medicine and Sciences.  He has published journal articles on his work in European Romantic Review and Romanticism.  His first monograph, Thomas De Quincey and the Cognitive Unconscious, which we discuss below, was published by Palgrave Macmillan last year as the first book in the new Palgrave Studies in Literature, Science and Medicine series.

1) What first got you interested in Thomas De Quincey?

I discovered De Quincey only towards the end of my MA.  A couple of his essays from the Reminscences were on my reading list for the final exam.  He hadn’t been on any of the syllabi before, so I didn’t know much about him at the time, but the essays roused my interest.  Eventually I stumbled over the Confessions.  I began reading it during the preparations for my finals though it wasn’t on the list and rushed through it.  As it had happened to many other people before me, I was fascinated by his prose and, of course, by his story.  The autobiographical endeavour was initially at the core of my interest.

2) You select as your epigraph a quotation by J. Allan Hobson: ‘Let us break down the barriers between science and the humanities’.  What do you think are the main benefits of pulling down these barriers?

There is a great deal that can be learnt on both sides of the barriers.  Hobson is a good example of what scientists can learn from the humanities.  My experience, of course, is mainly that of the opposite direction.  Six years ago I would never have thought that I would say this one day, simply because I didn’t know much about the other side.  However, the more I read about the scientific approach to literary texts, the stronger became my conviction about the importance of that interdisciplinary perspective.  In literary studies, the barriers are, I think, to a large extent a question of sensibilities.  Cognitive science, for example, is not just about brain scans with blue and red areas that supposedly reveal the blueprint of what it means to be human, to which it has been reduced by some literary critics.  The insights may be limited, but they reveal exciting facts about the way we think and feel about things, and that’s what a lot of literature is all about.  This knowledge provides new, fruitful perspectives on literary texts.

Furthermore, today we know that science had an important influence on literary texts in the nineteenth century.  The many friendships between philosophers, writers of all strands, and scientists, who all profited from the knowledge of their peers from other fields, were crucial.  So, if modern science allows us to understand the science of the past, it also allows us to understand literary texts that make use of the scientific discourse of this period.  Breaking down the barriers allows us to come to a more complete understanding of a literary period, for which the nineteenth century is exemplary.  In more concrete terms, modern theories of the cognitive unconscious helped me understand nineteenth-century notions of the unconscious.  They sharpened my sense for instances that don’t fit into the literary theories of the past decades and provided a theoretical framework.

3) In your introduction, you make a persuasive case for many studies of Romantic psychology framing it principally in opposition to Freud.  How do you think we can benefit by considering Romantic notions of the unconscious in their own terms?

My endeavour is finding out what people in the early nineteenth century, in particular De Quincey, thought about the workings of the mind and the unconscious and how this might change our understanding of their literary output.  As I explain in my introduction, the psychoanalytic approach in literary studies fails to do this because it does not take into account historical aspects.  This, however, is indispensable to make claims about the theories of an author or to talk about the rise of an idea in a specific historical period.  It was amazing to find out about nineteenth-century theories of the unconscious that are so different to the theories that were used in the critical discourse of the past decades.  The irony, of course, is that I also needed a modern theory, that of the cognitive unconscious, to be able to make sense of Romantic theories of the unconscious.  However, I tried very hard not simply to impose the modern theories and to make nineteenth-century theories fit our modern views.  Theories of the cognitive unconscious guide my readings and analyses up to a certain point, but the claims I make for Romantic theories of the unconscious are also backed up by thorough historical research.  The award I received from the Swiss Society for the History of Medicine and Science speaks in favour of this, I hope.

4) To what extent were De Quincey’s notions about the unconscious particular to him, and to what extent were they drawn from ideas circulating more widely?

This is a crucial question in my research and my opinion changed considerably during my research.  At first I thought that De Quincey was on to something really new.  The more I looked at other authors, scientific ideas, and cultural movements, however, the more I realised that he was articulating his version of something that many other people were contemplating and investigating around the same time.  This insight does not diminish his achievements, though.  His originality lies in the way he picks up various notions that were in the air at that time, in the way he reworks them, and in the way he articulates the resulting ideas through his famous impassioned prose.  Furthermore, one of De Quincey’s achievements is the promulgation of these ideas, in particular that of the cognitive unconscious.

One point in this respect that I would love to be able to explain in more detail is the relationship between De Quincey, the scientist Thomas Laycock, and the philosopher Sir William Hamilton.  They published almost the same ideas in almost the same terms at almost the same time.  Is is clear – from direct and indirect evidence – that this was no coincidence.  But what was the direct influence, in which direction did it go, how impactful was it, and did they share the same basis for their theories?  I discovered some exciting links but I can only give tentative answers to these question for the lack of evidence.  In any case, it shows that De Quincey’s ideas were not wholly new.  They were the result of that time and De Quincey considerably helped shape the notion of the unconscious.

5) Which Romantic-period writers beyond De Quincey do you think would be particularly suited for reconsideration in light of the issues you raise in your book?

There is a range of authors that would be interesting to look at in this light, not only from that period.  Going back a little further in time, Erasmus Darwin comes to mind, who articulated similar ideas about the unconscious.  Of course the canonical authors, such as Wordsworth and Coleridge deserve attention in this respect. Thomas Carlyle needs closer attention, too.  His essay ‘Characteristics’ is full of allusions to what we now call the productive unconscious.  I hope future research will expand this list.

Five Questions: Meiko O’Halloran on James Hogg and British Romanticism

Meiko O'Halloran - James Hogg and British Romanticism

Meiko O’Halloran is a Lecturer in Romantic Literature at Newcastle University.  She has published articles and book chapters on writers including Robert Burns, Walter Scott and Joanna Baillie and touching on topics including borders and boundaries, the theatre, poetic self-fashioning, cosmic ascents and illustration.  At the centre of her network of interests is James Hogg, the subject of her first monograph, James Hogg and British Romanticism: A Kaleidoscopic Art, which was published last year by Palgrave Macmillan.  Below, we discuss her book in the contexts of her long engagement with Hogg, his positions and his legacies.

1) How did you first become interested in James Hogg and his works?

My interest in Hogg began when I read The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner the summer before my second year as an undergraduate at UCL.  The narrative was riveting and I thought the idea of telling it twice from different points of view was ingenious.  The changing narrative lenses and the open-endedness of the novel made it fascinatingly indeterminate.  It’s a novel that forces you to think for yourself and I found that incredibly exciting.

I wrote an essay on the Confessions at the start of term and listened with great excitement to Karl Miller’s lecture on Hogg; Karl had retired, but he taught a series of seminars on Romantic-era fiction that year which I felt privileged to attend.  When I later decided to write a longer research essay on Hogg, John Sutherland suggested I ask Karl’s advice.  The first volumes of the Stirling/South Carolina edition of The Collected Works of James Hogg had recently been published and I wanted to write on several of Hogg’s works of fiction.  Hearing Karl talking inside his office at the time of our appointed meeting, I politely waited until he’d finished speaking before nervously knocking at the door.  I was startled when he asked, from his chaise longue, why I was twenty minutes late and revealed that he’d expected me to interrupt his phone conversation with Christopher Ricks!  After quizzing me on why I’d chosen an author who is so difficult to write about, he eventually conceded that I “might have something to say” and advised me to focus on the Confessions.  I got a pass to the British Library reading room (then in the British Museum) and began my research.  Karl was kind enough to take an interest in reading my essay after I graduated, and over the next seventeen years, we became friends.

I’d planned to include Hogg’s work in my proposed Oxford MPhil thesis on Romantic Outcasts, but when the time came, Hogg didn’t seem to fit in!  I abandoned the outcasts and, with Fiona Stafford’s encouragement, decided to concentrate on developing my understanding of Hogg’s fiction instead.  This paved the way for my DPhil.  Little did I realise that my graduate research would eventually lead me to argue for Hogg’s inclusion in and centrality to British Romanticism.

2) How did you come to settle on the kaleidoscope as a metaphor for the kinds of art which Hogg produced?

Changeability is a feature of nearly all Hogg’s works—in his handling of literary form, genre, voice, and so on.  But it wasn’t until I returned to the Confessions to write about it in my DPhil thesis that I was struck by its kaleidoscopic qualities—in the multiple interpretative possibilities that are opened and the startling effects produced on readers’ sympathies by continuously shifting the narrative lens.  The most impressive shape-shifter in the novel, Gil-Martin, is said to have the ‘cameleon art’ [sic] of changing his appearance; it seemed to me that the novel also reconfigures its identity continuously, and that Hogg himself demonstrates an enjoyment of shape-shifting across his literary career—through his bold experiments with literary form and by playing with his own identities, as well as creating protean characters in his works.

To my surprise, I found that Hogg had been friends with David Brewster, a fellow Borderer from Scotland, who had invented the kaleidoscope at a time when they were both living in Edinburgh.  I learnt more about the features which made Brewster’s invention a sensation all over Europe in the late 1810s.  I had no idea that Brewster’s kaleidoscope was so sophisticated.  Its most distinctive feature was the huge array of choices it gave viewers.  It was up to each viewer to choose how to assemble the kaleidoscope (in its ‘simple’, polyangular, annular, parallel, polycentral, or stereoscopic forms) and to select what items to put in the viewing cell at one end (these could include beads, glass, coloured fluids, spun thread, or painted images).  If the objects in the cell were loose, the kaleidoscope could produce an infinite number of images, making each viewing unique.  Viewers were also encouraged to experiment with looking at objects outside the instrument, using the kaleidoscope in its telescopic or microscopic modes.  Hogg was fascinated by optical science—as seen in his dramatic use of the Brocken Spectre at Arthur’s Seat in the Confessions—but it’s the unpredictability of his genre-mixing and the range of interpretative choices he gives readers that makes the kaleidoscope such a fitting analogy.

Brewster’s kaleidoscope offers a model from Hogg’s day that foregrounds the flexibility and endless creativity that characterises him as a writer.  It’s tremendously helpful for reassessing Hogg’s work as both a maker and a viewer of Romantic literary culture.  The idea of a ‘kaleidoscopic’ literary practice helps us to understand Hogg’s radical literary aesthetic—his creation of textual spaces in which readers can exercise choice and play with their perceptions.  But the kaleidoscope is also wonderfully apt for defining Hogg’s art because in the act of turning the kaleidoscope, the reflections of the objects being viewed are continually realigned so that the viewer sees what was peripheral becoming central and what was central being moved to the periphery.  Hogg, who was (and is still) often regarded as a “minor” or “marginal” writer, not only shakes up, plays with, and juxtaposes existing literary genres and traditions, but also re-focalises readers’ attention through a range of narrative perspectives, some of which involve placing himself at the centre of his works.  He repeatedly repositions himself and his readers in relation to his texts in ways that force us to reassess our views.

3) What do you think are the main insights that can be gained through situating Hogg as a central figure in British Romanticism?

Hogg positions himself centrally in The Poetic Mirror, or The Living Bards of Britain (1816), and invites us to examine an emerging Romantic poetic canon both from the inside and the outside.  Crucially, here, as elsewhere, he is a critical viewer as well as a maker of literary culture.  Through his kaleidoscopic unsettling of readers’ perceptions of what is central and peripheral, his self-positioning invites us to reconsider British Romanticism itself; with Hogg at the centre of the picture, it looks more miscellaneous, expansive, and dynamically unpredictable.

Hogg was widely known in the Romantic marketplace as the author of The Queen’s Wake (1813) and many short stories, and the Ettrick Shepherd of the ‘Noctes Ambrosianae’ in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine.  By returning him to a central place in his era, we see that his inventiveness and playfulness are absolutely part of the wider Romantic practice of genre-mixing—and that, like William Blake, he is one of the most exciting and daring genre-mixers of them all.  Given that Hogg is experimenting with literary form in more invigorating and extreme ways than many of the poets in Stuart Curran’s Poetic Form and British Romanticism (1986) or other genre-mixers in David Duff’s fascinating Romanticism and the Uses of Genre (2009), it becomes clear that his work deserves substantial attention in critical accounts of Romantic formal experimentation.

Resituating Hogg as a central figure in British Romanticism also enables us to examine a much broader array of his intertextual relationships.  While it’s wonderful that he is now recognised as a major figure in Scottish Romanticism, there’s still a critical tendency to compare him with his most “proximate” models, Burns and Scott, or to pigeonhole the Confessions as a defiant reaction to the manipulation of his identity in Blackwood’s.  This critical mould tends to emphasise Hogg as a rebellious victim of the literary marketplace rather than an inventive and willing player in it, in a way that can misrepresent or reduce his creative achievement.  Examining the distinctive, kaleidoscopic quality of his work puts him into productive dialogue as well as dispute with many of his more famous contemporaries, and opens up our understanding of his agency, his flexible self-positioning as an author, and his deft use of a plethora of literary traditions.  I explore his responses to major English as well as Scottish writers, because the work of Shakespeare, Spenser, and Sterne was demonstrably as important and stimulating to his imagination as, say, that of Macpherson, Burns, and Scott, or Byron, who was half Scottish.

4) Which particular works by Hogg – beyond the obvious Confessions of a Justified Sinner – would you recommend to scholars seeking to incorporate insights from his works into undergraduate and taught postgraduate courses?

My top recommendation is The Poetic Mirror which includes Hogg’s parodies of Wordsworth and Coleridge and is brilliant for discussing canon-making and the tensions and competiveness that are part of that process.  It would be great to teach alongside the Smith brothers’ Rejected Addresses, Byron’s English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, or Leigh Hunt’s The Feast of Poets, for example.  I think Hogg’s witty mock epic about ancient Scotland, Queen Hynde (1824), would be fantastic to teach alongside Don Juan and other Romantic appropriations of the epic.  I’ve found that undergraduates and postgraduates learn a lot from reading The Pilgrims of the Sun (1815) in dialogue with The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Queen Mab due to its use of otherworld journeys, pantheistic ideas, and syncretic methods.

Students who are interested in pursuing Hogg’s experimental narrative techniques beyond the Confessions should read Tales of the Wars of Montrose (1835), which is fascinatingly rich and surprisingly critically neglected; the EUP edition is available in paperback, which is helpful for teaching purposes.  Lots of the stories in The Shepherd’s Calendar (1829) and Winter Evening Tales (1820) are also full of unexpected narrative techniques and many of them draw on rural superstition and folklore in a way that’s illuminating to consider in relation to urban magazine culture, the rise of the short story, and the Gothic.  The Three of Perils of Woman (1823) is well worth studying for ideas of nationhood, the treatment of history, and formal innovation in the novel.

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

My new book project examines how Romantic poets reconceptualised the role of the poet and the social value of poetry, using imagined places and otherworld journeys to confront real-world issues.  I explore how, in picking up the mantle of first-generation poets such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey, poets who included Shelley, Hogg, Keats, and Byron sought to sustain a radicalism of form and imagination by reconnecting with a longer poetic ancestry—which included epic forefathers, Virgil, Dante, and Milton, as well as popular ballads of supernatural abduction.

A Special Five Questions Interview: Heather Glen on Marilyn Butler’s Mapping Mythologies

Marilyn Butler - Mapping Mythologies (2)

Professor Heather Glen has many notable academic achievements to her name: she is the author of Vision and Disenchantment: Blake’s Songs and Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads and Charlotte Brontë: the Imagination in History, and an editor of Wuthering Heights, The Professor and Charlotte Brontë’s last five Angrian novelettes.  She is currently completing a book on Wordsworth and the discovery of ‘the people’ in the 1790s.  In this special interview, though, we discuss her recent work preparing for publication Mapping Mythologies, a book which was largely completed by the much-missed Marilyn Butler in the mid 1980s.  Mapping Mythologies was published in August last year by Cambridge University Press.  Celebrations of its publication and commemorations of the kindness, brilliance and generosity of its author were at the heart of ‘Marilyn Butler and the War of Ideas’, a commemorative conference held at Chawton House Library in December.

1) How did you first discover the manuscript that has now been published as Mapping Mythologies?

Linda Bree from Cambridge University Press and I were helping David Butler sort Marilyn’s papers to go to the Bodleian Library.  Amongst the masses of drafts for different projects – some hand-written, some in fading print on perforated-edged continuous computer paper – we found a ring binder containing the neatly typed manuscript of an apparently completed book.  On top was a letter, written in 1985, by the late and still much missed Kim Scott Walwyn, then commissioning editor for literary studies at Oxford University Press.  She and Marilyn had evidently been discussing the publication of a much larger work, with more extensive chapters on later romantic mythologizings.  In this letter, Kim urged Marilyn to go ahead and publish this, the first part, as an independent volume.  It would, she suggested, need very little work: it could be done in a couple of months.

I took the typescript away, and read it with mounting interest, realizing as I did so that this was the hinterland to Marilyn’s work on Southey, Shelley, Byron, Keats, and early nineteenth-century orientalism.  It dealt, however, with an earlier group of authors and a distinctively British ‘mythologising’, and raised questions of a rather different kind.  It was succint, suggestive, and laid out a compelling argument.  And it was written with the inimitable blend of witty sophistication and democratic clarity that characterized Marilyn in her prime.  It seemed to me well worth publishing.

2) What were the major challenges that you faced in preparing the manuscript for the press?

That initial manuscript was less finished than it looked.  The notes and references were sketchy at best; there was some repetition, and in a few places there seemed to be lacunae.  And there were, in fact, some later drafts of various parts of it.  When it was decided that I should prepare the book for publication, I had taken with me not merely that manuscript, but several box files of Marilyn’s writings dealing with related subjects.  These papers – now deposited with the rest in the Bodleian – show that Marilyn herself didn’t quite think that Mapping Mythologies was finished.  She returned to it again and again in her heyday, sometimes to use material for a lecture or a conference paper, sometimes simply to re-work a point with which she was dissatisfied.  As I worked my way through, when I came to a passage that seemed problematic I learned to trawl through the box files to see if there was a later rewriting that I might be able to use, weave in or substitute.  I didn’t see it as part of my editorial brief to rewrite passages myself: I simply drew on Marilyn’s later text.  Indeed, I more than once had the humbling experience of gradually coming to realize that a formulation of hers that I had thought clumsy, or not quite right, was actually saying something much more precise, and more subtly original than I had at first supposed.

It was time-consuming but relatively easy to complete the notes, especially once I had made the decision not to try to update them with references to more recent work.  In Marilyn’s own historicist spirit, I thought it important to present Mapping Mythologies as a book that had been conceived and in large part completed in 1984.  This is also why, with some prodding from Jim Chandler, I wrote such a long Preface.  I thought it was important to contextualize Mapping Mythologies as a strikingly original intervention in debates of the 1980s, such as those initiated by Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, with its exploration of the cultural bases of nationalism, and by the ‘Cambridge school’ of intellectual history, with its then ground-breaking emphasis on historicist and contextualist interpretations of what had become fossilised as ‘the history of ideas’.

There has been one major revision, that of the title.  Marilyn’s working titles were A Map of Mythology or Poets and Myths.  Linda Bree suggested Mapping Mythologies as both more dynamic and more pluralistic.  The rather clunky subtitle was Marilyn’s own subtitle: I wanted to keep it to draw attention to what I saw as the book’s central, shaping, and quite original idea: the connection between the cultural projects of the poets it discusses and the beginnings of what we now call cultural history in the literary histories and popular antiquarianism of eighteenth-century England and Wales.

Editing Mapping Mythologies was an enormous privilege, and I gained a great deal from it.  It gave me a whole new perspective on eighteenth century poetry and cultural history.  It made texts I had never thought much about spring to life: The Castle of Indolence, Chatterton’s African poems, Warton’s History of English Poetry, Joseph Ritson’s Robin Hood. Reading those scribbled over print-outs, I could sense, again and again, the excitement with which Marilyn felt her way towards a new idea, see how she was arguing with the books she was reading, and gradually refining and clarifying her thoughts.  It was a revelation: a privileged glimpse of the inner life of a friend I thought I had known very well, and an exhilarating example of what it means to have an intellectual life.

3) How do you see Mapping Mythologies as expanding on Butler’s earlier book-length studies?

It doesn’t so much expand on them as take a new direction. Marilyn’s critical biographies of Peacock and Maria Edgeworth had dealt with single authors.  Jane Austen and the War of Ideas opened out to consider the differences between Austen and her contemporaries.  Romantics, Rebels, and Reactionaries was briefer, but paradoxically covered more ground: it was an ‘overview’ of a whole period.  It was, however, not a conventional ‘survey’of the period in question, but one that consciously revised accepted ways of seeing it.

Mapping Mythologies is also a revisionary overview, but it is rather more polemically pitched.  It is, indeed, in part, a response to some of the more negative reviews of Romantics, Rebels, and Reactionaries that were appearing whilst Marilyn was writing it.  In particular, she is responding to those that accused her of privileging historical contexts over literary texts, of implying that (as one put it) ‘the work of art is caused by the age, and is not in any sense the cause of it’.  In this, her next book, she delivers a witty but entirely serious riposte to such criticisms by turning to a series of writers – poets, literary historians, antiquarians – who saw themselves as makers of history, often in a peculiarly literal sense; for whom tradition was not something given but chosen, sometimes even made up.  Mapping Mythologies is not merely a renewed argument for a historicist literary criticism, pitched against those giants of romantic studies in the 1980s, Frye, Abrams, Bloom, and Hartman.  It offers a quietly original view of how imaginative works might indeed be instrumental in the shaping of history.  It is a view that anticipates much more recent, more speculative, theories of aesthetic agency and of cultural politics.

4) To what extent do you see themes and strands from Mapping Mythologies being developed in Butler’s later essays?

This book on the eighteenth century was always intended as the first part of a longer study of romantic mythologizing.  Marilyn had begun to explore the significance of myth, or ‘paganism’, in the writings of romantic poets in Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries.  She was to explore it further in a number of published essays, which she conceived of as chapters in that unfinished second part (e.g. ‘Nymphs and Nympholepsy: the Visionary Woman and the Romantic Poet’ (1985), ‘The Orientalism of Byron’s Giaour’ (1988), ‘Romantic Manichaeism: Shelley’s “On the Devil” and Byron’s Mythological Dramas’ (1989),‘Shelley and the Empire in the East’ (1996)).  Mapping Mythologies is, as I have suggested, the hinterland to this work.

But it was a hinterland that sometimes came into view.  During the decade after she finished Mapping Mythologies, Marilyn returned to some of the subjects she had first touched on there in conference papers and published essays.  She reworked some of her thinking on images of the British nation in ‘Romanticism in England’, in Roy Porter and Mikulás Tiech’s volume, Romanticism in National Context (Cambridge, 1988); on ‘Antiquarianism (Popular)’, in Iain McCalman, ed., An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age (1999); on ‘Blake in his time’ in Robin Hamlyn and Michael Phillips, eds., William Blake (Tate Gallery, 2000).  She gave conference papers on ‘the Bristol school’ and on Iolo Morganwg.

And she also pondered the larger theoretical questions that had emerged for her during the writing of Mapping Mythologies in several seminal essays published between 1985 and 1996 – especially, perhaps, ‘Against tradition: the case for a particularized historical method’, in Jerome McGann, ed., Historical Studies and Literary Interpretation (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1986); and ‘Repossessing the past: the case for an open literary history’, in Marjorie Levinson, ed., Rethinking Historicism, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989).

5) In what ways do you hope that Romanticists will engage with and learn from Mapping Mythologies now that its insights are available to them?

One answer to this question is that some of those insights have been available for a long time: partly through the published work outlined above, and partly through Marilyn’s vivid contributions in more informal contexts – supervising graduate students, participating in conferences.  She always saw her own work pragmatically, as something that others could pick up and take forward.  Academic work was for her not a solitary search for stardom, but an ongoing conversation; she loved being part of it, and she was genuinely excited by other people’s ideas.  The ideas and material that she was unfailingly generous in sharing have been questioned, refined, and expanded on in much more detailed scholarship – such as Nigel Leask and Philip Connell’s Romanticism and Popular Culture in Britain and Ireland (Cambridge, 2009), and the series of brilliant publications on Iolo Morganwg and the Romantic Tradition in Wales produced by researchers at the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, University of Aberystwyth.  But there is much more in Mapping Mythologies that might be taken up, argued with, developed – its brief but suggestive new readings of Thomson and of Collins and (more provocatively) of Lyrical Ballads; its concern with provincial towns, bookshops, journals as centres of oppositional culture in eighteenth-century England; its insistence on importance of popular antiquarianism and its place not merely in the intellectual history of the eighteenth century but in a longer tradition of cultural politics (to name but a few).

The original manuscript of Mapping Mythologies had no conclusion: it simply ended with the chapter on Blake.  The few pages I have included as a Coda were actually a fragmentary draft of an essay or a lecture, apparently written in the late 1980s, that I found amongst Marilyn’s papers and that seemed to pull together much of the thinking in that book.  But also, and appropriately, they seemed to be the beginning of a new project: they ended on an upbeat, exploratory note.  For beyond its particular insights and provocations, Mapping Mythologies offers a timely reminder of the kind of bold thinking that years spent in historical scholarship can make possible, of the importance of keeping in mind the larger picture, as well as the close-up view.  The exigencies of academic careers, the pressures imposed by the demands of the REF, have come to mean that the standard academic publication is now the exhaustively argued essay or monograph on a specialised topic: it is more usual now for literary critics to look for an untilled corner in which to stake out a position than to draw a map of a whole field.  Mapping Mythologies, with its insistence on the centrality of the literary (in its widest sense) in the intellectual and political landscape, might, I would, hope, give its readers an expanded sense of their subject.  As Marilyn puts it in her final sentence, ‘Must we really go on treating this as mere superstructure, rather than as the thing itself?’

Five Questions: Amy Culley on British Women’s Life Writing

Amy Culley - British Women's Life Writing, 1760-1840

Amy Culley is a Senior Lecturer in the School of English and Journalism at the University of Lincoln.  She has particular interests in life writing, women’s writing and editorial practice, and has co-edited essay collections on all of these topics either published or forthcoming.  She has published articles and book chapters on topics including Sophia Baddeley, Elizabeth Fox, Lady Rachel Russell and court memoirs.  Her first monograph, British Women’s Life Writing, 1760-1840: Friendship, Community, and Collaboration, which we discuss below, was published in 2014 by Palgrave Macmillan.

1) How did you come to realise that you wanted to write a monograph on women’s life writing around the turn of the nineteenth century?

I became interested in Romantic autobiographies by Rousseau, Wordsworth, De Quincey and others as an undergraduate, but it wasn’t until I began thinking about possible PhD topics that I first considered working on women’s life writing.  The idea was sparked by browsing in indexes and bibliographies of women’s autobiographies during a visit to The Women’s Library.  I was struck by just how many women had written about their lives in the Romantic period and how many of these writers I had never heard of.  The book was based on the research of my PhD, during which time I discovered the pleasures of archival study, and the project expanded to include women’s lives written in manuscript as well as printed sources.  I was fortunate that after the PhD I became involved in other activities that broadened my perspective: running a conference on life writing at Lincoln in 2009 (with Rebecca Styler), editing four volumes of Women’s Court and Society Memoirs for the Chawton House Library series, and co-editing a collection of essays (with Daniel Cook) Women’s Life Writing, 1700-1850: Gender, Genre and Authorship (Palgrave, 2012).  These experiences returned me to the thesis with a greater awareness of its flaws and (more positively) with a renewed sense of enthusiasm for the book I was hoping to write.  My original aim was to write a critical history of women’s life writing focusing on the importance of personal relationships, communal affiliations, and creative collaborations in these often hybrid and indeterminate texts, and these ideas remained central to the project.  But stepping back and reading more widely in contemporary life writing theory and scholarship on female communities and family authorship in the eighteenth century and Romantic period enabled me to find new ways to approach these concerns.

2) Your book is divided into three parts, examining Methodists, courtesans and women writing during and about the French Revolution. How did the process of your research and reading lead you to choose these divisions?

This may seem an unlikely trio of ‘God, sex, and politics’, and at my viva we discussed how any one of these parts could have been the focus of a book-length study (a comment that has also been made by several of the book’s reviewers).  But addressing these diverse (net)works enabled me to challenge the association of autobiography with single authorship and personal feeling and instead establish its importance as an articulation of relationships and communal identities and as a contribution to the history of a family, community, or nation.

I began with an archive of spiritual writing by Methodist women preachers whose journals and diaries, autobiographies, transcribed oral testimonies, and letters provided rare insights into friendship and spiritual fellowship and demonstrated the importance of collaboration, in contrast to the traditional association of spiritual autobiography with individualism.  Writing about the self enabled these women to explore family relationships and spiritual belonging, as well as to challenge Methodist historiography by providing a collective history of women’s preaching for the nineteenth century.  Next I addressed the life writing of courtesans whose literary experiments moved well beyond the scandalous memoir to explore themes of friendship, rivalry, maternity, marriage, and their complex identifications with the aristocratic woman of fashion.  This section, in contrast to Part I, enabled me to discuss print culture and the influence of readers, publishers, and ghost-writers on these women’s self-representations.  In the final part of the book I wanted to show how women’s life writing contributed to political and historical debates through attention to the life writing of British women travellers during the French Revolution, addressing both the writing of radical supporters of the Girondins and counterrevolutionary texts.

To create these divisions some parts of the original thesis were removed (the Quakers sadly didn’t make the cut) and some writers were added (which resulted in a very enjoyable summer in the company of courtesan Harriette Wilson).  In grouping these authors I followed the self-identifications and priorities of their life writing, but I was also aware of the instabilities of these categories and the intriguing overlaps and potential distortions created by my approach.  For instance, the courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott (discussed in Part III) shared lovers and column inches with Mary Robinson and Elizabeth Fox (discussed in Part II) and exploited the self-vindicatory strategies of the scandalous memoir, but in her Journal she defines herself exclusively in relation to events in revolutionary France.  Conversely, Mary Robinson is an important respondent to the French Revolution and a member of the radical intelligentsia, but her Memoirs (discussed in Part II) provides few traces of these connections.

3) To what extent do you see the women you examine as seeking to carve out new kinds of life writing distinct from those produced by their male peers?

I focused on women writers in particular to demonstrate their rich contribution to the culture and practice of self-narration in the period and to offer new perspectives on female communities and collaborations through the lens of life writing.  Gender shapes women’s relationships to autobiographical traditions and frames the reception of their works, but I make no claims for a distinct female tradition or poetics of life writing.  The women I consider often wrote in relation to prominent male life writers, particularly John Wesley, James Boswell, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and William Godwin and reading them in dialogue with these authors creates new webs of interpretation.  For instance, the recovery of life writing by unfamiliar figures like Methodists Mary Fletcher, Sarah Ryan, and Mary Tooth places an established author like Wesley in new contexts, while Godwin’s Memoirs of the Author of a Vindication of the Rights of Woman is enriched by considering it alongside the life writing of Mary Hays and Mary Robinson.  The spiritual autobiography and scandalous memoir are familiar categories of women’s life writing, but I wanted to show the diversity and hybridity of these forms and to consider auto/biographical contributions to political and historical writing as women used personal narratives to shape the collective memories of the age.  I was also interested in connections in women’s life writing across traditional literary periods; how do experiments with semi-autobiographical fiction by Romantic women relate to the playful experiments with amatory fiction, secret histories, scandalous memoirs, and the sentimental novel of an earlier era, or uses of the roman à clef in the Regency?  Many of these questions about gender and genre are in need of further investigation, particularly women writers’ contributions to biography and the place of manuscript culture and collaborative and collective authorship in histories of women’s life writing.

4) Of the writers your book examines, whose works would you particularly recommend to scholars seeking to increase their knowledge of the field, and which works do you think would provide the most opportunities for fruitful interchanges if included on undergraduate and/or postgraduate programs?

Studies of female authorship in the Romantic period are no longer dominated by the novel, poetry, and drama and, happily, women’s life writing has been receiving considerable attention of late.  Mary Robinson’s Memoirs, Mary Wollstonecraft’s Letters Written in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, and Helen Maria Williams’ Letters Written in France (the most well known of the works I discussed) are now firmly established on English programs and I’ve greatly enjoyed teaching them.  But access to affordable scholarly editions of life writing remains a significant challenge and quite a few of my sources were manuscript journals running to multiple volumes written over many years.  That said, if an affordable edition was available, I would love to teach The Memoirs of Mrs. Sophia Baddeley (1787), the history of a friendship between the actress and courtesan Sophia Baddeley and her companion and biographer Elizabeth Steele that is punctuated by cross-dressing, bed swapping, and duels.  It illuminates topics such as the lives of actresses, the literature of sentiment and satire, and the scandalous memoir, and it would provide an interesting counterpoint to Boswell’s Life of Johnson (published four years later) or Hester Thrale’s Anecdotes of the late Samuel Johnson (published the year before).  Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s Journal of my Life during the French Revolution is another intriguing text which deserves to be better known, particularly by readers interested in women writers and the French Revolution, aristocratic authorship, and counterrevolutionary narratives.  Elliott was courtesan to the pro-revolutionary Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orléans and sought to defend her reputation from the taint of regicide by writing a personal history of the French Revolution on her return to England around 1801.

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

I’m still very interested in life writing.  Thanks to a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Grant I’m in archives working on women writers who lived from the mid-eighteenth century to the early Victorian period to see how they narrate experiences of old age in their journals and letters.  I’m hoping that personal accounts of ageing and old age written by women in the early nineteenth century will be the topic of my next book.  At the moment I’m focusing on the exchanges between Mary Berry and Joanna Baillie in late life for a collection on Romantic women’s literary networks.  My earlier interests in textual editing have resulted in a co-edited volume (with Anna Fitzer) Editing Women’s Writing, 1670-1840 that will be out this year with Routledge and I’m really enjoying working collaboratively on this.  When it’s done, I’ll be researching a book chapter on women writers’ contributions to early literary biography.

Five Questions: Oskar Cox Jensen on Napoleon and British Song

Oskar Cox Jensen - Napoleon and British Song

Oskar Cox Jensen is currently a Research Fellow at King’s College London working on the Music in London 1800-1851 project.  His work focuses on the political, social and cultural histories of Britain and Europe in the long eighteenth century, with a particular focus on balladry, street music and mass culture.  Prior to taking up his post at King’s, he completed his doctorate at the University of Oxford, where he worked on the project that became his first monograph, Napoleon and British Song, 1797-1822, which was published in October by Palgrave Macmillan and which we discuss below.  As well as researching songs, Oskar is also a performer and recording artist; versions of many of the Napoleonic songs that his book examines can be heard on his Soundcloud.

1) How did you first become interested in the ways in which Napoleon was represented in popular song?

As an undergraduate historian, I was torn between two rather disparate interests: the Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary period (which is now so central to my thinking that I tend to forget to put ‘French’ before ‘Revolution’, just as ‘the ’90s’, to me, means the 1790s…) – and Viking-age Scandinavia.  Lacking the necessary six languages required for the latter, it became 1789 and beyond.  Song, meanwhile, has always mattered hugely to me, and I’ve been writing songs for more than a decade: drawn in by the thunder of the Marseillaise, I wondered if the two worlds might collide.

Of course, they did (for more of which, see question two!).  I needed a topic for my Master’s dissertation, ideally British, and while the 1790s seemed well covered, there was this immensely potent figure looming at the decade’s end that no one really had a handle on.  Stuart Semmel’s Napoleon and the British, the key work, focuses on London society and the press, rather than the people.  Folk musicologist Vic Gammon had published on the puzzling fact that later British songs of Napoleon seemed to idolise him.  There was clearly a story here.  I began with 15,000 words on 1814–16 and, encouraged by Mark Philp and David Hopkin, didn’t look back.

2) In your introduction, you assert that popular song was ‘the most widespread and influential form of literary expression of the day’, but remark that it has thus far received very little scholarly attention. What do you see as being the main benefits of recovering the importance of popular song?

The great attraction here, and the great danger, is the thought that we are recovering ‘lost voices’: that the silent, unlettered majority was actually making a lot of noise (or, rather, music).  In fact, many scholars from several disciplines have been drawn to the vast number of extant songs, often digitised, that we tend to label ‘broadside ballads’.  The issue is less, why has there been no work done, but rather, why has it proven so unproductive?  There remains a good deal of sober scepticism about what we can do with songs: they are ephemeral, and thus unquantifiable; they are usually anonymous; there is too little contextual material to bear their weight.  Their aesthetic worth, both musical and literary, has been seen as negligible.  The Romantic period was also a great age of propaganda, and many songs are polemical, didactic, seductive: with almost no evidence for their reception, how are we to draw any meaningful conclusions?

To claw back something more positive in answer to the question: song was the ubiquitous mass medium.  Generically, it was heterogeneous, assimilating elite poetry, theatrical hamminess, and street doggerel, just as it assimilated sacred, dance, or military music.  It simultaneously united and divided society both geographically and along class lines.  Its perceived potency was such that political and moral activists of every stripe made use of it.  Subject matter ranged from the same day’s news to medieval romance.  More people consumed canonical poetry as song than as verse; singing and listening, even in an age dominated by print, was simply what people did.  If we can get to grips with this, then we recover a living culture.  For how we might attempt this, see question three…

3) In composing your monograph, how did you seek to deal with the problems implicit in what you describe as ‘the fractured and contradictory incoherence of popular culture’?

I’m beginning to go off ‘popular’ as a useful label (maybe twenty years too late), preferring, if anything, to use ‘common’, especially for song.  But in this book, yes, I was specifically concerned with addressing plebeian experience and perception, which is a massive mess.  But there are some basic propositions that help shape things.  That quotation comes from a discussion of E.P. Thompson’s point that popular culture embodied a tradition of rebelliousness – a rather pleasing paradox.  And this is central to the book: we find a quite old fashioned top-down/bottom-up struggle, whereby various actors are trying to impose a set of values upon the people by cultural means that these actors do not quite understand.  Whilst being incoherent, especially in terms of party politics and a sense of identity, popular culture had its idioms and conventions, especially in song, and these conventions were cultural rather than political.

That is to say, for example, that it’s no good advancing the cause of temperance by publishing mass editions of teetotal songs, because these songs will not be fit for purpose: their lyrics will be sermonising, unsuitable to sing, and their functionality will be minimal: when would you sing them?  It is this idea of the fitness of songs that proved to be my way through the mess.  Were the words sympathetic?  Was the choice of tune, in particular, appropriate, and could the words be sung to it in the first place?  In the end, it was only by turning to contemporary aesthetic and performative considerations that I could evaluate this mass of material, and advance theories about its reception.  Thus the book begins with a contextual analysis of song as a practice, considering its writing, publication, performance and reception by real people in specific times and spaces, as a necessary precondition of any close readings.

4) To what extent might musical responses to Napoleon be systematised in chronological or class-based manners?

For convenience, I’ll take ‘musical’ to mean ‘song’ here, as the book does not look at instrumental music.  It all depends on whose response we are looking for: do we mean what was produced, or what was consumed?  The former is achievable. 1797: the first responses, mostly admiring.  1798: Napoleon as the worthy adversary to Nelson.  1799: he becomes a heathenish, usurpatory butcher.  1801–3: ambivalence.  1803–5: the blustering Ogre.  1806–9: silence.  1810–12: domestic comedy.  1813–14: triumphalism.  1814 and after: the disappearance of anti-Napoleonic propaganda and the mass assertion of a sympathetic song tradition.  Underneath, it’s far more complicated, and that goes for class too.  Geography is also central.  If sweeping generalisations are permitted, then take England south of the M4, and Wales: staunchly loyal and anti-Napoleon.  Everything north of that, including Scotland and Ireland: far likelier to hold Bonapartist sympathies.  And there is an obvious narrative of elite disdain versus popular affinity.  But press too hard and it all falls down.  Look at Cobbett or Byron, and they change year by year.  Look at the contested performance of song in almost every major city and town.  Most importantly of all, look very hard at any individual song, the relation of words to music, and the multivalent interpretations that could be read into both: the same song in two mouths could carry two opposing messages, which might be heard as half a dozen more.  This is not a medium that encourages systematisation.  Indeed, this would be my central plea.  Just because there are thousands of songs, and just because most of them don’t appear to be any good, doesn’t mean we should turn them into big data.  In the first place, it doesn’t work, because what is extant is entirely unreliable as a sample of what circulated at the time.  And in turning songs exclusively into statistics (not that statistics can’t be great when done properly), we both belittle their value as cultural objects, and lose any sense of what they actually meant to audiences.

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

Music in London 1800–1851 is keeping me very busy.  I’d like to echo James Grande’s invitation in these pages to visit the website if you are interested in being involved.  Along with David Kennerley and Ian Newman, I am co-editor of a volume of essays, The Art of Miscellany: Charles Dibdin and Late Georgian Culture, which looks at the world of Charles Dibdin the Elder with the aim of suggesting a new model of thinking about cultural production in the period, one that spans all sorts of media and networks.  This book is currently with readers.  I am also writing my second monograph, The London Ballad-Singer, 1792–1864.  In writing the Napoleon book I moved from political to cultural history, and this is where I’ve come to: a belief that we can best understand society and its texts by looking at the lived experience of culture, in this case on the London streets.  The book focuses on the representation, politics, performances, and repertoire of street singers – and ends (tragically?) with their ultimate disappearance.  Which seems like a good place to finish.

Five Questions: Ina Ferris on Book-Men, Book Clubs, and the Romantic Literary Sphere

Ina Ferris - Book-Men, Book Clubs, and the Romantic Literary Sphere

Ina Ferris is Professor Emeritus in the Department of English at the University of Ottawa.   She has written a series of important and influential contributions to Romantic Studies, particularly in the fields of book history and the history of the novel, for which she has received numerous deserved plaudits, including, most recently, the Distinguished Scholar Award of the Keats-Shelley Association of America.  Her major works include the monographs The Achievement of Literary Authority: Gender, History, and the Waverley Novels (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991) and The Romantic National Tale and the Question of Ireland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).  In recent years, her research has focused on the book cultures of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, resulting in works including an edited volume for the Romantic Circles Praxis series on Romantic Libraries and a collection on Bookish Histories co-edited with Paul Keen.  One of the culminating achievements of this interest is her latest monograph, Book-Men, Book Clubs, and the Romantic Literary Sphere, which we discuss below and which was published in August by Palgrave Macmillan.

1) How did you first become interested in the idea of the bookman?

I’d been interested for some time in the intense bookishness of the early nineteenth century and I’d started by looking at familiar essayists such as Hunt and Lamb who made books and reading a focal point in their writing.  But in thinking more generally about how print was incorporated in the period I became more and more interested in a form of bookishness that hadn’t received much attention and was represented by bookmen who joined together to insert themselves in the circuit of book production and distribution as an alternative to the commercial market.

What sparked this turn was my running across the Bannatyne Club, the antiquarian printing club founded by Walter Scott in 1823 to print historical documents (a forerunner of the later learned printing societies).  Two things struck me as I did the research.  First, the club was formed not to read, discuss or collect books, as we might have expected, but to sponsor and produce books.  Second, the Bannatyne books came under surprisingly vehement attack from periodical reviewers and other commentators who derided or dismissed them as regressive ‘rubbish’.  The question was why they were so agitated in the first place by an inoffensive circle of bookmen and minor publications with restricted circulation.  I became interested in how bookmen, especially when they formed associations, functioned as flash points in literary culture not just because of their perverse attachment to the material book but because, in involving themselves in the making of books, they put into play an understanding of literary and disciplinary categories at variance with those sustaining the literary sphere.

2) You characterise the bookman as an outlier in the literary field, invested more fully in books themselves than in reading or in notions of literariness.  How does the liminality of the bookmen you examine serve to inform and enrich their perspectives?

The original title of my book was in fact Bookish Outliers: On the Borders of Literary Culture.  I wanted to foreground their position as figures detached from the centre of the literary sphere but not entirely removed from the sphere itself.  In relation to the question of perspective what this position means is that the bookmen’s location on the border put them in contact with contiguous spheres, letting them establish connections and introduce protocols and practices from neighbouring areas.  In this sense, their perspective was informed by a broader matrix of book production and practice, and one of my aims in the book was to draw attention to how this led to a different configuration of book, author and readers than what was being promulgated in literary circles.

One of the most striking examples in the book is Thomas Frognall Dibdin, founder of the elite bibliomaniac Roxburghe Club but also involved in the workaday world of the printing trades.  As a book designer as well as an author, Dibdin produced hybrid bibliographic volumes that embody his understanding of the book as the product of the printing arts as much as the writing arts.  What’s most interesting about them from a conceptual point of view is the way this understanding led Dibdin to make visible in his books what the modern book sought to make invisible.  He put print itself on flamboyant display, for example, and played with the format of the page.  He also credited by name printers and other craftspeople who contributed to the production, so that authorship in Dibdin is situated rather differently from authorship in the novels of Austen or even (despite their bookishness) in Scott’s historical romances.

3) In your introduction, you describe book clubs as having ‘largely disappeared from critical view’, becoming ‘not so much absent as elided’.  What do you think critics can gain by thinking through and countering this elision?

Book clubs have been typically lined up with literary societies, subscription libraries, and reading societies in lists of organizations exemplifying the conversational culture of politeness and the historical narrative of improvement.  This is not wrong (the clubs are certainly related to these other literacy-based organizations) but it obscures the specificity of the clubs, lumping them in with associations dedicated to reading, discussion, lectures, and so forth.  Moreover, placing all these associations on the same plane implies a smooth passage from one term to the next, but the book clubs have a different genealogy and trajectory, and they don’t stand in the same relation to the model of improvement.  By restoring their specificity we open a window onto overlooked dimensions of the experience and uses of print in the period, and so bring into view a more uneven terrain of the book and a more tangled process of the absorption of print into the everyday.  This seems to me the first critical gain.  The second is that in order to counter an elision, we must first track the process of elision, and this move induces critical reflectiveness, drawing attention to the investments/assumptions that sustain central literary categories (not only in the Romantic period but in our own time).  The response to the book clubs seems to me particularly resonant, presenting from a different angle the way literary culture in the Romantic period carved out a place for itself within a dynamic book culture that pressed in on it in different ways.

4) How did you come to fix on your book’s final structure, which circles out from establishment bibliophilia and printing centres in the cities to provincial book clubs and circuits?

To spotlight the constitutive friction between book culture and literary culture that helped to entrench dominant literary categories in the period, I isolated issues of circulation, production and reception triggered by book clubs not primarily devoted to reading or discussion.  At the same time I also wanted to expand the spectrum of book practices and the geography of the book, and so decided to filter these issues through three case studies centred in different regions.  The book starts in London with the high-toned Roxburghe Club of wealthy rare book collectors, which garnered criticism for restricted circulation, then shifts to Edinburgh where the more middle-class Banntayne Club issued historical documents relating to the Scottish past, prompting debate about what should be moved out of the archive into publication.  The final section widens out to look at a type of book club rather than a specific club, concentrating on ‘circulating’ book clubs that proliferated in small towns and rural areas and did not fit readily into the notion of the reading public.  These different spaces of the book make for a kaleidoscopic structure, showing different configurations of the book club, but underlying this structure is a historical thread (or story) about a ‘bookish interim’ which opened up and then closed down over the course of the early decades of the nineteenth century.

5) Now that this project is complete, what new research are you planning to embark on?

One of the discoveries for me in researching Book-Men, Book Clubs, and the Romantic Literary Sphere was the world of printers and the degree of literary activity linked to the printing house, and I’ve now begun to work on a project building out this interest in the printing trades.  I’m looking at the notion of authorship through figures who were involved in some way in these trades and who took to publication in their own right.  I have in mind figures such as William Hutton, who ran a paper factory and wrote the first history of Birmingham, along with various other works; or Pierce Egan, who trained as a compositor and produced the enormously popular Life in London.  What I want to do is revisit Foucault’s famous question ‘What Is an Author?’ by thinking about what happens if you pose this question not from the theoretical perspective of the function of a system of discursive regulation but from the historical perspective of those entering publication via unconventional paths.  How did they encounter or understand authorship?  What might this tell us about a period increasingly invested in the ‘literary character’?