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Five Questions: Simon Kövesi on John Clare: Nature, Criticism and History

Simon Kövesi is Professor and Head of the Department of English and Modern Languages at Oxford Brookes University.  He tweets as @kovesi1.  He has published widely on contemporary fiction (with a particular focus on the Scottish novelist James Kelman), on working-class literature and on the relationship between writing and the natural world.  At the heart of his work, though, is his abiding interest in and love for John Clare, on whom he has published numerous essays and book chapters.  He is the editor of the John Clare Society Journal and the co-editor (with Scott McEathron) of New Essays on John Clare: Poetry, Culture and Community (Cambridge University Press, 2015).  He has recently led a high-profile campaign to highlight the threat posed to Clare’s archives by ongoing local authority cuts.  His passion for Clare’s work has also led to his being one of the very few academics to have sparred with a straw bear on the silver screen.  Below, we discuss his most recent monograph, John Clare: Nature, Criticism and History, which was published by Palgrave in September 2017.

1) What first drew you to John Clare?

I was an undergrad on an exchange year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  It was clear to me then that the world needed my dreadful poetry, and (boldly) I showed it to a Professor of Romanticism, the brilliant Robert Kirkpatrick, who took pity on me, and kindly invited me to an evening poetry group at his house.  I’d written this nostalgic thing about watching a fox doing a wee – I suppose I was missing seeing them rifling through the bins of suburban London (to this day I’ve never actually seen a fox doing a wee).  Nevertheless, making the best of it, Kirkpatrick read us Clare’s ‘The Vixen’.  I’d never known of anything poetical about a fox and I’d never read any nature poetry of such precise clarity, all propelled by sharp, delicate sympathy, yet beneath no ostensible organising ego.  I stopped writing poetry straight away, and thankfully.  That was in 1993 – 200 years after Clare was born – and so it happened to be a great year for high profile celebrations and publications about his work.  When I returned to Glasgow for my final year, I became obsessed.  More often than not, I read Clare instead of revising for finals.  Early on, the rich pickings of his nature poetry were extended for me by the stylisations and politics of his (seemingly) wild language; by the capitalisation of land he occasionally protests about; by his diverse insights into folk culture and local traditions; by his unique prose; by his inversions of accepted valuations of nature; by his lyrical verse (which can be nothing but ego of course); by his playfulness, his cheekiness, his political lubricity, his isolation.  Like so many, I was haunted by the sad, depleted, often-romanticised story of his life.  At the start, however, it was his late love poetry that grabbed me most of all and that was the focus of my PhD with John Goodridge.

2) In your new book, you contend that ‘nature, feeling, fidelity persist as limitations on readings of Clare’, tracing the longstanding currency of characterisations such as ‘down-to-earth’ that serve to place and constrain him.  To what extent do you think that modern criticism of Clare is still shaped by the social and critical conditions of his original reception?

Those terms come from very early comments on his work.  I argue in the book that while they have been blown apart by the best of Clare criticism, they have been latently reaffirmed by the polemical accommodation of Clare to the agendas of contemporary green criticism especially, particularly because criticism can have a deaf ear, or a ham-shaped fist, when it comes to class.  The old model of Clare as ‘honest John’ does harm to the way we read his work – many have said so but it still creeps back.  Many critics reveal discomfort in the way they deal with Clare’s class; often, this manifests through treating his work as simple documentary evidence of landscaped fact, or a kind of social realism – as if he’s not capable of slippery, literary sophistication.  Partly this is Clare’s own fault – he often romanticises his agency out of the window – he denies his art and artfulness even in the manner in which he frames its conception.

In the book I also explore the ways critical awkwardness with Clare’s class can sometimes be downright insensitivity.  Calling Clare ‘homeless’ for example, is an historical nonsense, and yet it has such traction in Clare criticism, as it works well for a prevalent version of his relationship to land, or his supposed full-spectrum alienation.  But ‘homeless’ is now a dead metaphor in Clare, and if anything serves to stop us thinking about the subtlety and variety of his versions of ‘home’, and his constant, learned attention to people without one.  Perhaps because of its origins in conservation, but also because of founding tensions with the left and industrially-born socialism, ecocriticism has never been great on class; this is compounded in Clare studies by an understandable confluence between the sentimentalising of Clare’s location with the turn to the local in moralising green criticism – which of course many green critics worry about.

From all kinds of politicised critical approaches, you can track tendencies to reduce Clare to a kind of naïve holy fool whose knees and identity wobbled if he walked beyond the bounds of his parish – and that modelling (down to Clare himself of course – or at least partially so) has been entrenched by the blunter end of green criticism, but also by the crass end of historicism which can only see straightforward autobiography in a poem like ‘The Flitting’ (there’s certainly a reductive channel of class prejudice in assuming every time Clare writes ‘I’ it is uncomplicatedly and ‘honestly’ him).  Clare said himself in one of his most unbelievable and deliberately fragmentary poems – the wilfully fraudulent ‘Child Harold’ – that his life had been ‘one chain of contradictions’.  He did wear a green suit to go dining with his new London Magazine friends who all wore ‘sable’ – but a rich friend bought it for him.  Clare did mostly live in Helpston throughout his life, but that doesn’t mean he wanted to stay there.  Clare did write himself into a tradition of anti-enclosure poems, which have convinced everyone of their veracity, but we should not forget that he worked in enclosure gangs for many years, wrote his best nature poetry after enclosure, and continued to do so after he’d left Helpston – and by no means all of it is looking back to a pre-enclosure Edenic childhood – not at all.  Clare did thresh in a barn from the age of 8 or 9 – but by his own account, he suffered deep and lasting trauma over it.  He did that labour alongside his father so that he could help pay for his schooling, not because he lusted after labour.  He fantasised about having a domestic servant – we ignore these elements if we want honest John back.

It’s indicative of the romanticisation of Clare that no one has ever asked, before me, why he was able to find work in lime kilns.  Why were there so many lime kilns across the countryside in the Romantic period?  The answer is obvious: lime was pretty much the only material cheaply available that could help drain, fertilise and regulate the acidity of newly-enclosed land.  Lime was the main tool of enclosure and Clare helped make it, just before his launch as a poet; indeed the lime-kiln money was supposed to go towards funding his first publication of poetry.  It doesn’t mean he is a hypocrite – and I don’t care about it morally at all – it just means he is not a green messiah.  If we judge him, we have to be completely unhistorical to do so.  He was a poor labourer, and working in enclosure gangs or slaking lime in a kiln was decent money, if offering extremely low social status.  The only thing he seems to have worried about when working the enclosure gangs was the ‘wild and irregular habits’ of the itinerant men he was working with: not the ‘wild and irregular’ countryside they were enclosing.  I think critics need to start incorporating the moral messiness of Clare into their valuation of him – else we’re just forging self-affirming narratives and forgetting the contingencies of a life lived.  We don’t think any the less of the poems Wordsworth and Coleridge wrote, just because Lyrical Ballads was designed to fund a trip to Germany.  Clare is robust enough for these paradoxes, these tensions and multiplicities, to surface.  Too much criticism of Clare is sentimental and patronising – delicate, even.

3) In seeking to move beyond that echoing phrase from By Our Selves – ‘John Clare was a minor nature poet who went mad’ – which occluded aspects of Clare’s life and art do you think should be emphasised more strongly?

We need to think about what we do when we emphasise Clare’s ‘lack’ of education.  What did he gain by not having a ‘formal education’?  What forms of knowledge and routes to understanding did he have open to him that other poets ‘lacked’?  Could Byron play the fiddle like Clare?  What does Byron’s poetry lack because he didn’t go to the pub and listen to storytellers spinning folk narratives?  It’s as if academics just don’t know what to do with writers who have never been to a lecture, and so we flock to the poets who have.  People like us, right?  What we tend to do is express astonishment at writers like Clare and move awkwardly on: that’s the history of the reception of working-class writing in academia in a nutshell.  Clare’s education was incredibly complicated – it needs much more attention.

In the book, I talk about ‘place’ being not just a liberation for Clare – it was not merely a ‘positive’ platform for his locally ‘botanising’ focus.  Place was also a narrowing problem: being placed, knowing his place, keeping to his place, being regarded as ‘down to earth’ – the organicist impulse is still prevalent in contemporary criticism and you can see it in the accident of phrasing sometimes.  Clare talks about feeling like a donkey tied to a post in his relation to Helpston.  Too often we turn what was a severe limitation on the life of this poorest of poets, conflate it with a certain mood in some poems, and construct a magical green or folksily happy commitment to place, particularity and soil.  This move can be dangerously patronising, dismissive of material suffering, and can mean we ignore Clare’s constant changes of mood and temperament – let alone his shifting desires.  To shift all of this into blanket ‘alienation’ is also to obfuscate things.  Clare loved London, he loved travelling to the largest seasonal body of water in England (Whittlesea Mere – drained by one of his patron’s sons when Clare was in an asylum), he loved going beyond the ‘edge of the orison’ – he wasn’t ruined by doing so.  And he loved Helpston too – but he resented its parochialness, the lack of anyone to talk to about books, and wanted it to move closer to London.  There is a funny early poem where he speculates what his fantasy home will be like one day, when he’s made it, and while the house he builds for himself is determinedly rural, someone else will be doing the labour and chores while he writes, and there’s no family around to bother him, just a maidservant.  He hated being poor and not being able to buy the books he wanted, or food for his kids, or travel.  It is amazing we have to say this, but the fact is Clare criticism ignores it.  The fraudulent Reverend of a quack who ran Clare’s asylum – Matthew Allen – thought in 1840 that the only reason Clare needed help was what we would now call ‘anxiety’ over money coupled with a poor diet across decades.

There’s no romance in poverty, rural or urban, just as there’s little romance in hand-work or pre-mechanised agriculture – pre- or post-enclosure – though Clare does manage to squeeze a good deal of emotive nostalgia out of it, for sure.  He can be sentimental and conservative, as much as he can cry for reform and protest against the monied and the greedy.  His politics are as slippery as his accounts of grammar: in this mobility he is the most Byronic of poets.  Like all good poets, Clare is an unstable subject, and we need to be aware of that much more – and stop reducing a very long writing career to a moment of fury, passion or creative depression.  I think some of his greatest poems are not about enclosure or nature: they are about human poverty, about social mores, about status, ignorance and prejudice.  And to answer the question directly, Clare could have been a great satirist but nobody encouraged him, for example, when he wrote ‘The Parish’, while his sonnet parodying Wordsworth’s use of enjambment is brilliant, and his reworking of Byron by way of poetical masculinist empowerment is as foul as can be.  He also writes light comic verse of which John Hamilton Reynolds and Thomas Hood would have been proud.  He is so knowingly playful in rummaging amongst others’ styles and techniques – a sociable yet solitary magpie – stealing shiny bits – lining his own poetic nest.

4) Which of Clare’s works do you think are particularly ripe for reconsideration from a broader range of perspectives?  Which texts would you select for an undergraduate seminar to try and give a balanced sense of his value and achievements?

In Clare studies this is a sore point.  There just are not enough editions of his verse – particularly cheap ones or selections with good scholarly notes.  There are some good collections but they do not yet amount to easy access to the full range of his work.  I hope scholars reading this blog will one day produce their own editions of Clare, according to a wide variety of editing principles and presentational styles.  Imagine the possibilities of a manuscript-based facsimile edition online, with all sorts of reading texts (as the Cornell Wordsworth called them), of all the variants – which included (rather than demoted) lifetime published texts too?  That’s got to be the future of editing Clare.  To answer the question, I think Clare’s work offering social commentary does not get enough attention: sometimes it is satire, sometimes straight narrative, sometimes polemic, and some prose moments are also unique in the period; the letters can be really pointed in this area.  We have good engagement with the nature poetry, for sure, though I think more emphasis on the work of the early 1830s would reveal some real gems – and I think it is in this period that Clare’s writing about nature becomes super-sophisticated.  Though most commentary would have it that after leaving Helpston he loses his mojo, the poetic evidence just does not support it.

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

A big travelling exhibition of Clare portraits, original manuscripts, books and ephemera, to kick off in January 2020, 200 years after the publication of Poems Descriptive.  It’s a good time to take Clare on the road, I hope – just need to locate some funding.  I’ve just signed a contract with Palgrave to co-write a book with Bridget Keegan entitled The Occupations of Labour: Labouring-Class Writers, 1800–1900; this will group what shoemaker Chartist poet James Dacres Devlin (one of my personal favourites) called ‘hand-producer poets’ into their occupations for thematic consideration.  With Erin Lafford, I am putting together a collection of new Clare essays to propose to a publisher soon.  The longer-term book I’ve been chewing on for a while now is to be called British Literature and Poverty: 1800–2000, and the reading for that is opening up all sorts of new avenues for me.  It’s probably too big a project to ever finish, but I’m happy to give it a go.  Before any of that, I’ve got to finish an essay on poverty in the Romantic period – especially in agricultural improvement debates – and another on Clare’s reading, and rewriting, of Byron.

Five Questions: David Stewart on The Form of Poetry in the 1820s and 1830s

David Stewart is Senior Lecturer in Romanticism at Northumbria University.  He has published widely on figures including Lord Byron, William Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, Robert Southey and Charles Lamb and on topics including short fiction, ephemerality, paradox, commerce, mass culture and the politics of style.  His first monograph, Romantic Magazines and Metropolitan Literary Culture, was published in 2011 and considered the qualities of the extraordinary wave of periodicals that burgeoned in the period after the Napoleonic wars.  His new book, The Form of Poetry in the 1820s and 1830s: A Period of Doubt, which we discuss below, has just been published by Palgrave.

1) When do you first remember encountering the poetry of the 1820s and 1830s, and what led you to want to write a monograph about it?

For a long time I didn’t know that I was writing a book about it.  I’d been teaching Leigh Hunt’s Story of Rimini for a few years and kept having fascinating discussions with students who loved it, and yet found it oddly unstable, almost, but not quite, laughable.  There are some kinds of poetry that we don’t quite know how to read: do we look for a deep and serious philosophy or a buried political context beneath the surface, or do we delight in its seemingly superficial charms?  I found some other poets who provoked the same reaction in me, and I realised what linked them was that they fell somewhere between ‘Romantic’ and ‘Victorian’ poetry.  A poem like Rimini might be the beginning of a poetic history that never quite took shape.  The usual story is that the poetry market collapsed in the mid-1820s, and the few poets who did produce poetry were not very good.  The fact that neither part of this is true (the market did not collapse, and these poets are just joyous to read) was something I wanted to correct.  Equally, though, I kept coming back to my own unstable reactions to these poets: the wavering uncertainty with which we view this hinterland might be its most valuable feature.  I wanted to bring the period’s poetic scene to a fuller attention, but without giving it the firm outlines of a clearly demarcated ‘literary period’.

2) Your subtitle characterises the two decades as ‘a period of doubt’, a doubt manifested both in poets’ responses to their contexts and in later critics’ attempts to frame their achievements.  How can working to understand the doubts that poets struggled with help us to gain a better understanding of their cultural moment?

I find doubt a fascinating state of mind.  Doubt can be active, even aggressive, but it can also be comic, a matter of being baffled; it might even produce wonder.  It is not a fixed state; instead, when we are in doubt we can test things out, we can speculate on what things are, or how things might be.  Byron writes so well about doubt in Don Juan, and I like especially these lines in Canto 1: ‘What is the end of Fame? ‘tis but to fill / A certain portion of uncertain paper: / Some liken it to climbing up a hill, / Whose summit, like all hills, is lost in vapour’.  The poets of this period are remarkable partly because they thought so often, and so playfully, about the possibility that critics like me might come along and sift and sort them into a period.  The form that that writing takes – the fact that it is on ‘uncertain paper’ – is the means by which it can be transmitted to future readers, but equally is itself a matter that prompts doubts.  Are some ways of ‘filling’ that paper (some metrical techniques) more ‘certain’ of Fame than others?  Are some kinds of paper (some methods of publishing) more ephemeral, more ‘uncertain’, than others?  The lesson that I hope I’ve taken from these poets is that doubt can be a pleasure.  To ‘gain a better understanding’ of this ‘cultural moment’ means, I think, accepting that we’ll always be groping around in vapour.

3) Introducing the book, you stress the divide between emergent formalist and commercial aesthetics, and also discuss the prominence of light verse during the period, but you stress that these three strands have more in common than the discourses surrounding them often admitted.  How would you characterise the defining qualities of these three modes, and what are the main things that unite them?

One of the real pleasures of writing this book has been getting back to reading poetry attentively.  We tend to associate this kind of ‘formalist’ close reading with a detached idealism, and also with only particular kinds of poet.  One group of poets might seem to fit that model.  I discuss the young Browning and Tennyson, but also poets like Hartley Coleridge, George Darley, and Thomas Lovell Beddoes who have always found ‘fit audience, though few’, admirers who pride themselves on hearing the delicate modulations of their metre.  We can place these poets as the first buds of a Victorian aestheticism that comes into full bloom with Walter Pater.  They are opposed to another group associated especially with the material form of their commercial books: the poets of the literary annuals, Felicia Hemans, and Letitia Landon.  These poets use metres, of course, but metre is deemed an irrelevance in books that are merely objects for display in the drawing room.  A final group – Thomas Hood, Winthrop Mackworth Praed, John Hamilton Reynolds, for example – provide something like what Kingsley Amis calls ‘light verse’: punning, bright-eyed wit that skims over the surface of society, valuable for the very perfection of the metrical surface they create and polish.  The attempt to create oppositions between kinds of poet is important, most particularly the role that gender plays in that process.  But they all share a curiously enabling doubt about categorisation.  Landon, for example, plays brilliantly with verse form and its relation to the books in which she appears; that tactic is mirrored by George Darley who, when he was not writing poems about fairies, was busy writing abusive articles about Landon.  The fact that Darley, Hood, and Hemans are all bound up in the green silk covers of the annual The Amulet in 1828 suggests some of the possibilities and perplexities this culture presents.  All of them think carefully, and with a disarming self-consciousness, about the place their poetry might have in culture, and how their poetry might form itself (metrically and materially) for readers in their own time and in an unguessable future.  It’s a conversation that is worth tuning in to, particularly in our own critical moment as we attempt to rethink critical methods like ‘formalism’, ‘historicism’ and ‘book history’.

4) If you were selecting a few key poems as standard-bearers for the poetry of this period (for a MA seminar, say), which would these be?

This feels like a slightly mischievous question: I feel uncomfortable with the idea of ‘standard bearers’, poets marching under the banner of a territory that I would prefer to remain bewitchingly vague!  But no MA seminar can try to cover everything.  Some of these poets are well known: Hemans, Landon and Clare need no introduction for Romanticists.  There’s been excellent recent work on poets I look at like Hartley Coleridge and Thomas Lovell Beddoes.  Others will, I hope, prove more interesting than they have hitherto: George Darley and Winthrop Mackworth Praed especially.  I end with a section on the young Tennyson, who hardly needs my help to find fame, and consider how his work starts to change when we place him alongside Clare, Landon, Praed, Hood, Hunt and others.  I think we might learn the lesson from the editors of annuals like The Amulet and Friendship’s Offering: place a diverse selection of poems together, and see what chance lights are thrown out.  If I had to choose one poem, though, that gives a glimpse of what I love about this period, it’d be Praed’s ‘The Fancy Ball’ from the New Monthly Magazine of 1828.

5) What new projects are you currently at work on?

I’m working on place and fiction in the Romantic period.  My focus is on the Anglo-Scottish borderlands, and on writers including Walter Scott, Allan Cunningham and James Hogg.  There’s a relationship between humour, lies, fiction, and the experience of movement that I want to track.  I’ve been approaching it from a longstanding interest in this ‘region’ and these writers, but also via theories of place and mobility in geography and anthropology.  The anthropologist Tim Ingold’s work has been a revelation for me, as has work that sits between the creative and the critical by Rebecca Solnit and Kapka Kassabova.  I have an article on James Hogg that is the first fruit of this work: it should be coming out in The Yearbook of English Studies in a special issue on the 1830s.  I’ve also got a piece about Wordsworth and parody coming out this year in European Romantic Review.  I secretly want to write something about V. S. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival, but don’t tell anybody, least of all my research lead.

Five Questions: Tom Mole on What the Victorians Made of Romanticism

Tom Mole is Reader in English Literature and Director of the Centre for the History of the Book at the University of Edinburgh.  He has published extensively on Byron, Romantic-period celebrity, periodicals and print culture.  His recent books include The Broadview Introduction to Book History and The Broadview Reader in Book History (both with Michelle Levy); he is also a member of the Multigraph Collective, which authored the recently-released Interacting with Print: Elements of Reading in the Era of Print Saturation.  His new book, What the Victorians Made of Romanticism: Material Artifacts, Cultural Practices, and Reception History, which we discuss below, was published by Princeton University Press.

1) How did you come to realise that you wanted to write a book about what the Victorians made of Romanticism?

This project grew out of my previous work on Romanticism and celebrity culture.  One of the things I discovered in that research was that people at the beginning of the nineteenth century often talked about celebrity as a second-rate kind of fame.  Celebrity was a kind of fleeting recognition you received in your own lifetime; true fame was usually posthumous, but it lasted much longer.  Once the idea was established that these two kinds of fame were mutually exclusive, it became easy to assume that people who had been famous in their lifetimes – Byron, Scott – would be forgotten after their deaths.  Lots of people actually said that these poets would be forgotten.  And yet they weren’t.  So my starting question was – why?  What kinds of cultural work were necessary to keep those writers in the public eye?  That question, in turn, led me to others, as I started to uncover what I’ve come to call the web of reception – all the material artefacts and cultural practices that shaped the reception of Romantic writers and their works.

2) In your second chapter, you set what you’re doing in the book against a tradition of ‘punctual historicism’ that privileges moments of composition, first publication and initial reception.  What are the principal kinds of insight that you believe we can gain by turning to longer and more diverse reception histories?

The trouble with punctual historicism, as I see it, is that it focuses on one context to the exclusion of all others.  This can make literature seem like something that’s tied to a particular historical moment – the moment of its production – and that cannot operate outside of that moment.  But one of the things that makes literature special is that it outlives its moment of production.  I don’t want to go back to the old idea that great literature transcends its historical moment and becomes timeless because it appeals to some kind of universal humanity.  Instead, I want a kind of criticism that recognises that works of literature can be reactivated in historical moments beyond the imaginations of their authors, and even that they might make their most important impacts when they are redeployed in new historical, social, political and media contexts.

3) After an initial section on the web of reception, your book mainly focuses on four media through which Victorian culture remade Romantic-period authors and texts: illustrations, sermons, statues and anthologies.  How did you come to select these four media to make your case, and were there others that you explored during the process of composition?

These four strands of the web of reception give me a broad range to explore.  They allow me to take in artefacts and practices, verbal and visual responses to Romanticism, mass-produced books and one-off sculptures.  They allow me to tell stories of remediation, as works produced in one medium were mediated through another to new audiences.  These strands of the web also constitute their own self-aware traditions, so that, for example, anthologies refer back to earlier anthologies and sustain an ongoing debate about what a good anthology should be like.  But I could certainly have divided my material along other lines.  Photography is discussed in relation to both illustrations and statues, but it could have had a section of its own.  There are other strands of the web, and I hope I’ve identified enough that other people will be able to unpick them, taking up where I’ve left off.

4) You argue convincingly that ‘complex acts of selective forgetting’ were as crucial as acts of memory for Victorians making use of Romantic poets and their works.  What, for you, are the most telling things that the Victorians sought to forget, either about the individual poets you examine (Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Scott and Hemans), or about the Romantic-period generations more generally?

It wasn’t surprising to learn that the Victorians found Shelley’s atheism to be a problem. But I was surprised to discover the lengths they went to in their effort to forget it. First, they claimed that his atheism wasn’t important for his poetry.  Second, they went so far as to argue that his poetry carried a Christian message, even if Shelley the man would have denied it.  More generally, commemorating the Romantics meant forgetting many of their political commitments.  This wasn’t just true for radicals like Byron and Shelley, but also for a Tory like Scott – the problem wasn’t a particular set of political views, it was politics per se.  Romantic poets had to leave political commitments behind them as they were absorbed into the canon of English Literature.  Some critics have approached reception history through the lens of cultural memory – but I think that cultural memory studies are only helpful up to point.  We need to grasp that this process is as much about motivated forgetting as it is about remembering.

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

I have a number of articles coming out: one about the connections between celebrity and anonymity in the Romantic period; one about John ‘Walking’ Stewart, the Romantic pedestrian traveller and philosopher; and two about Byron – ‘Byron and the Good Death’ and ‘Byron and the Difficulty of Beginning’.  After that I have some ideas for another book, but it’s really too early to talk about them at the moment.

Five Questions: James Whitehead on Madness and the Romantic Poet

James Whitehead is a Lecturer in English Literature at Liverpool John Moores University; he is also correspondent for the Hazlitt Society and The Hazlitt Review and a former lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary.  His major interests include Romanticism and its legacies; psychiatry and mental illness in nineteenth-, twentieth- and twenty-first-century literature; and autobiographical and biographical life-writing.  These interests all combine in his first monograph, Madness and the Romantic Poet: A Critical History, which was published earlier this year by Oxford University Press and which we discuss below.

1) How did you first become interested in the putative links between Romantic creativity and madness?

The book began some years ago as an undergraduate essay.  I still have it somewhere written out longhand, which tells you how old it is!  At that point I was probably more of a callow enthusiast for the idea of ‘mad genius’, but even as I wrote about it then, and tried to assess Cowper, Smart, Blake, Clare, etc. on those terms, I think I realised that a more sceptical and historically defined account might be in order.  (I never finished that essay to my satisfaction.)  When I returned to academia and was formulating a PhD proposal, I was surprised to find nothing comprehensive on the topic; in addition to which Dino Felluga’s Perversity of Poetry, which set out several useful lines of interpretation and argument that I wanted to extend, had just been published, as had the unabridged translation of Foucault’s History of Madness, at last (this was in 2006).  So the timing seemed right.

2) You write in your introduction about the dangers of perpetuating ‘a cycle of endorsement and denial’ when discussing poets and madness.  How did you come to fix upon the form you describe in your subtitle as ‘critical history’ as a means for escaping this cycle?

From the moment of formulating the book as a PhD topic, I always imagined it as a reception study: a study of the posthumous mythologizing of the lives and writings of the relevant Romantic poets.  But I didn’t want it to be just a dismissive debunking of this mythologizing (that would be the ‘denial’).  For a start, that wasn’t really necessary on a case by case basis, because of the amount of information easily available about these canonical writers.  I doubt that anyone who has read any amount at all of Shelley or Blake, for example, and certainly any modern biography and criticism on them, is going to straightforwardly dismiss or celebrate them as simply ‘mad’ any more, although this did once happen in spades, as the book shows.  At the same time I felt that a lot of general critical writing on literature and madness still vaguely assented to or gestured towards the ‘mad genius’ or ‘mad poet’ idea, without really examining it as the product of particular historical moments or discourses (that would be the ‘endorsement’).  In terms of Romantic studies specifically, I also wanted to strike a balance between acknowledging some of the ideologically constructed aspects of canonical Romanticism or ‘Romantic genius’ and providing an account of its real continuing appeal and productivity as a category and idea, rather than making it a bad object to be violently ejected, which recent scholarship has sometimes tended to do; so again, neither endorsing or denying.  ‘Critical history’ is a pun, of a sort, with which I wanted to convey a sense that the book is a sceptical history, critical of the myth from the beginning, but also that it is (in one small way) a history of the critical; of critical assumptions and practices specifically developed around Romantic writers, but also wired into the later construction or study of ‘English’ generally.  In many ways it’s a book about how hard it can be to escape such assumptions once they set in.

3) What would you identify as being the most important forms and discourses that fed into the nineteenth-century construction of the figure of the Romantic mad poet?

For me, they are undoubtedly: periodical reviews and reviewing; literary biography; and pop psychology about genius, in its nineteenth-century manifestations in medical writing.  Each of these gets a chapter, and each concatenates with the others.  Early reviews fed into periodical sketches, and thence biographies; biography provided data-sets for later (pseudo) medical studies; and medical writing had originally provided many of the diagnostic attitudes and ideas that underpinned the reviewers’ rhetoric of madness.  The modern form of the ancient idea of ‘poetic madness’ (furor poeticus) was the product of reviewers, and the new persona of the ‘mad poet’ (the old vesanus poeta) was the product of biographers.  And the last part of the book, chronologically, discusses writing about degenerate genius from the fin de siècle, which I came to see as the unholy alliance of journalism, life-writing, and popular science (the book gives a more detailed summary about how these discursive domains fit together on pages 207–8.)  Again, this pattern seemed compelling to me in the ways that it foreshadowed the piecemeal combination of formal scrutiny from the perspective of the reviewer, the assessment of ‘life and mind’ from the perspective of the biographer, and the systematic elaboration on the nature of the imagination or creativity from the perspective of the scientist or theorist, that characterizes so much later literary critical practice.

4) Do you think that madness, properly contextualised, deserves to continue to occupy an important place in modern conceptions of Romantic artistry, or would you argue for its decentring or reformulation?

Well, while I hope the book provides some new information or a new frame for thinking about the connection between Romantic poetry or creativity and madness, as it was discussed across the nineteenth century and beyond, by writers who mostly were not poets themselves, I can’t pretend that I offer much here that is new on the real nature of literary creativity or poetic artistry.  Because it is mostly a reception study, it is limited to epiphenomena, which may not say anything at all about this, indeed.  However, I think it does raise some interesting questions about whether any conception of ‘Romanticism’ has always been a constellation of reactions and receptions, as well as of primary texts.  And one of the consequences of moving Foucault’s ‘great confinement’ of unreason from physical institutions in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries into cultural institutions and symbolic forms of confinement in the nineteenth century (a necessary move following various critiques of Foucault, and one which I hope the book partly effects) is that Romantic madness cannot then simply be a ‘lightning flash’ of reaction and protest (Foucault’s characterization) against Enlightenment reason: it comes before the real ‘great confinement’.  So Romanticism and its associated stereotypes of madness come to be seen not just as reactions to but as auguries of instrumental rationalism; as part of the powerful processes of conformity and control in modernity where rebellion and deviance from norms are accommodated or projected onto special classes of homines sacri.  But obviously, and more plainly, a genuine openness and willingness to admit the irrational, non-rational, or anti-rational remains an important and enduring part of why we (and I) value the great poetry of this period, and I don’t think I’ve even begun to sound this out fully.  So I hope to continue thinking about this question!

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

I have two other ongoing larger projects, although neither of them is really new, and neither is about Romanticism.  There is a sequel of sorts to this book in the form of a monograph, in Liverpool University Press’s Representations: Health, Disability, Culture and Society series, which addresses the representation of schizophrenia in twentieth-century culture.  It’s a sequel in so far as it picks up from where Madness and the Romantic Poet’s account of the modern mythologizing of the connection between madness and creativity ends, in the fin de siècle, and explores how this mythologizing continued into the twentieth century, in divergent ideas about (supposed) schizophrenia or the schizophrenic, and especially in the appropriation of these ideas by modernism and other avant-garde movements.  My other project is amends for writing so much about cultural myths of madness: a book about actual mental illness, and a history of how its experience is communicated in autobiographical accounts.  As a Romanticist, along with the usual teaching, I do practical things for the Hazlitt Society, and continue to think about Romantic prose writing and literary criticism in particular.

Five Questions: David Fallon on Blake, Myth and Enlightenment

David Fallon is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English and Creative Writing at the University of Roehampton.  He has published widely on topics including the debates surrounding the French Revolution, London bookselling and Romantic-period notions of sociability, but has a particular interest in William Blake, on whom he has published a series of articles and book chapters that have now culminated in his first monograph, Blake, Myth, and Enlightenment (Palgrave, 2017), which we discuss below.

1) How did you first become interested in Blake’s tangled relationship with Enlightenment thought?

I’d originally got interested in Blake through music and he seems to combine the dreamy utopianism of psychedelia with the hard-headed opposition and disillusionment of punk.  I was always drawn to Blake as a contradictory writer and artist, whose difficulty to pin down was part of his fascination.  From my undergraduate days I found him sitting uneasily with traditional notions of Romanticism.  I’d always been captivated by the deep and creative spiritual vision in his poetry and art, but I felt that Blake was too hard-headed to simply be a flaky mystic dreamer, in the way he can sometimes be dismissed.  The work of a number of Blake specialists, including Donald Ault and Matthew Green, suggested there was more to Blake and Enlightenment than opposition and I was keen to trace how this intellectual side emerged through the structures of meaning in his art and poetry.

2) How did you come to choose apotheosis (in Samuel Johnson’s words, ‘Deification; the rite of adding any one to the number of the gods’) as your key point of focus in the book?

The original project, in the earliest days of the PhD was rather broad, looking at Blake and the idea of heroism.  As part of this, I was looking at the pair of ‘spiritual form’ paintings of William Pit and Horatio Nelson from the 1809 exhibition.  They were pretty bewildering, but I noted that the Descriptive Catalogue labelled them ‘grand apotheoses’.  I started tugging away at the key term ‘apotheosis’ and that became the end of the golden string that I spent many years unravelling.  I’d always been fascinated – albeit confused! – by Blake’s interest in transformations and his use of star imagery in his poetry and designs.  I felt I had discovered a context in which these began to make more sense.  The term’s many strands (art history, anthropology, classical culture, religion, political satire and so on) were particularly appealing, as they took me towards a focus which allowed me (hopefully) to do justice Blake as an artist who gleefully capered across disciplinary boundaries.

3) What for you are the most important insights that we can gain from seeing Blake as actively engaged with Enlightenment, as opposed to ‘an exemplary Romantic opponent’?

Blake can be a bit straightjacketed by the label ‘Romantic’, so I hoped that this approach might make room for a lively, different sort of Blake to wriggle out.  The book hopefully allows us to situate Blake’s hermeneutics and myth-making historically.  While rather unBlakean in resisting the embrace of Eternity, this helps to show how his poetry and art could have been more meaningful to his contemporaries and it shows how his model of ‘contraries’ in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is fundamental to the ways in which he conceived of his creativity.

4) You contend that ‘Blake came ultimately to give precedence to mythopoesis over critical thought’.  How do you conceptualise Blake’s early position on this issue?  Do you see his movement towards mythopoesis as happening in a relatively smooth manner across his artistic career, or was his engagement with Enlightenment and myth (as expressed in his works) more complex and conflicted?

To me, there always seem to be two key features at play in his work, one partaking of Enlightenment scepticism towards myths of power, the other celebrating myth as a powerful mode of collective vision.  Approaching Blake’s visionary imagination in a dynamic relationship with Enlightenment critical approaches allowed me to sketch out shifts in his thought over his career, with his later works representing something of a recovery from his pronounced radical scepticism of the mid-to-late 1790s, albeit still attacking institutions of state repression and deploying that critical impulse productively to enable creative, utopian imaginings.  Some of his annotations from the 1780s and early 1790s suggest he saw himself as a sort of philosophe and the later works are clearly more emphatically Christian, but rather than there being a linear progression, these identities seem to rub along together in different permutations throughout his career.  I’d go for ‘complex and conflicted’…

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

I’m gleaning grains of information about the lively world of eighteenth-century and Romantic publishing, working on my next monograph which is on literary sociability, production, and booksellers’ shops from about 1740 to 1840.  I’ve also co-edited a special issue of Romanticism with Jon Shears on Romanticism and Ageing, which will appear in 2018.  I have an essay on Caleb Williams in the pipeline for William Godwin: Forms, Fears, Futures, which should be out in 2018 too.  There will undoubtedly be a few essays on Blake, too, developing material which has been sparked off by writing the book.

Five Questions: Beatrice Turner on Romantic Childhood, Romantic Heirs

Beatrice Turner is Research Facilitator in the Department of English and Creative Writing at the University of Roehampton.  She completed her undergraduate education and Master’s degree at Victoria University of Wellington before moving to the UK to pursue a doctorate at Newcastle University.  She is broadly interested in Romantic afterlives and periodicity, and has worked on nineteenth-century children’s literature, the Godwin-Shelley circle and the Coleridge family; the latter two threads come together in her first monograph, Romantic Childhood, Romantic Heirs: Reproduction and Retrospection, 1820-1850, which was recently published by Palgrave Macmillan and which we discuss below.

1) How did you first become interested in the children of canonical Romantic-period writers?

Quite a few years ago now, my Master’s supervisor at Victoria University of Wellington, Harry Ricketts, read me Hartley Coleridge’s sonnet ‘Long Time a Child’.  I can’t remember what we were talking about – probably Swallows and Amazons, and definitely not Romantic poetry – but the line ‘For I have lost the race I never ran’ seized me absolutely.  It seemed to express a complexly doubled feeling about being entered into something unconsciously, or without having a choice, and about failure being a form of both resistance and of capitulation, which I found very powerful.  I set out to read more, and found again and again in Hartley’s poetry this compelling idea of the child who is both literally and literarily produced by his father: he feels simultaneously a flesh-and-blood child and a text, something birthed in a poem.  I’d have called myself someone who was interested in children’s literature, if anything, up until then, but when I decided I wanted to do a PhD, I found I couldn’t get Hartley’s poems out of my head.  So Hartley was the starting point, but from there it made sense to turn to his sister Sara, and other children of Romantic authors.  What I found was that Hartley’s not unique but emblematic, as I say in the introduction: that doubly-born feeling recurs in the work of all four authors I wrote about, and the reproductive failure it triggers seemed to resonate across the period.

2) What do you feel are the most important things that we can learn about the period between 1820 and 1850 by studying it as an age of ‘writing back’, characterised, at least for the biological children of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Godwin, by ‘cultural, aesthetic, and intellectual disruption’?

‘Writing back’ is what I came to call the move, which I see in all four children’s work, to look back towards their fathers and to reckon with their textual selves as produced by those author-fathers.  It’s a term that for me helped articulate the sense of productive or reproductive failure all four children register in their own writing and some extent in their cultural moment at large.  It’s this failure which I think brings the period into view as a period, with its own distinctive anxieties.  I spent a long time going back and forth with Palgrave (sorry Ben!) about the title because I wanted both ‘reproduction’ and ‘retrospection’ in there (which is also how I ended up with a rather unintentionally alliterative title): to me, those two terms are particularly useful for thinking about the decades between 1820 and 1850.  It’s a period defined in many ways by looking back, assessing, memorialising (this is one reason why biography and history and reviewing culture are so prominent) – but also by the problem of reproduction, by this anxiety of inheritance.  What can you create when you yourself are a hybrid production of a set of discourses which are intensely invested in childhood?  I think this anxiety registers across the period, not just in the work of the four children, from Hazlitt’s concern in The Spirit of the Age that there’s no-one capable of climbing the monuments left by previous generations, to Shelley’s sense that the ‘age of theory and enthusiasm’ has given way to a more cautious and less optimistic one of ‘facts and practicabilities’.  Writing back, then, is the mode in which such anxieties might be articulated, and a way of registering the felt gap  – or disruption – between the two generations.

3) To what extent do you think that there were general modes through which the Romantic heirs you consider engaged with the writings of their fathers, and to what extent were their responses distinctly individual?

One of the things that unites the four children is their strong resistance to being reified into symbols by their fathers’ texts and by Romantic-era discourses of childhood and creative production, so it feels particularly unfair of me say that the reason I chose to focus on the four is because of what they represent.  All four are doubly born – both as their fathers’ children, and as their fathers’ texts.  I think we can use their predicament, and their responses, to read this wider moment.  In that sense, all four are working in a similar mode, and asking versions of the same question: whether what I’m crudely calling the Romantic inheritance was one that allowed its children the space or the material for their own creative authority.  The conclusion reached by Hartley, Sara, Shelley, and Godwin Jr was that it didn’t, that aesthetically and psychically fulfilling production (whether as an author or a parent) was not possible if you were a child of Romanticism and its various discourses.  But it’s also true to say that each reaches this conclusion through different generic and formal modes, and sometimes to different ideological ends.  All four textualise their own lives to some extent, but only Hartley explicitly and self-consciously writes autobiographically, and I think this is because Hartley is so directly taken into and produced by his father’s verse – responding in kind, as the child-text STC creates, is almost the only option.  Sara achieves her most powerful readings of her father by a kind of stealth, through her work as his editor, while her maternal poetry, in which she speaks with raw feeling and sometimes something like malice, remained largely unpublished and possibly unread in her lifetime.  Shelley and Godwin Jr are both novelists, rather than poets (I do think there’s something interesting in the way both sets of siblings followed their fathers’ preferred formal modes), but they are also working to uncover different things.  Hartley and Sara’s labour I read as being to uncover the ways in which a form of childhood which is presented as entirely natural is actually produced through artifice and subject to stringent cultural surveillance.  Shelley and Godwin, however, are concerned with showing how the Godwinian idea of family relations which are entirely and self-consciously culturally constructed runs into its own generative dead-end, producing increasingly deformed and sterile versions of family feeling.

4) Mary Shelley is well-known as a writer in her own right, but Hartley Coleridge, Sara Coleridge and (perhaps especially) William Godwin Junior are less familiar even to educated modern readers.  Which of their works would you particularly recommend to those interested in exploring them?

It’s hard to restrict myself to just a few – I think all three deserve to be much more widely read!  Hartley’s sonnets are really beautiful.  He’s the master of the overlooked, the miniature, the apparently inconsequential, and the feelings that can hide within an idle thought or a glimpsed object.  The messier and more complex the emotion he’s working with, the more formally neat and gem-like the sonnet.  ‘Long Time a Child’ is the most anthologised, but ‘Let me not deem that I was made in vain’ is probably my favourite: it works through a clever sequence of negative statements and images to construct a self-portrait defined by absence or negative space, and is quietly heartbreaking.

Sara’s work is becoming more widely-read I think, thanks in most part to Peter Swaab’s excellent selections of her poetry and criticism, as well as recent monographs by Alan Vardy and Jeffrey Barbeau, to which my chapter’s indebted.  A lot of her poetry (unpublished in her lifetime for fairly obvious reasons!) is about profoundly ambivalent maternal feelings, and I think poems like ‘To Herbert and Edith’ and ‘To a Little Invisible Being’ offer a useful corrective to the ‘angel of the hearth’ narrative of nineteenth century motherhood: Sara is precise about the physical, emotional, and creative sacrifice attendant on mothering a Romantic child.  I’d also recommend her introductory essay to the 1847 Biographia Literaria as a fascinating, clear-eyed assessment of her father’s power as a thinker and failure as an author.

As for Godwin Jr, I think all Romanticists, and especially anyone working on the Godwin-Shelley circle, should read his short story ‘The Executioner’.  It’s a gothic psychodrama about a man who’s tricked into executing his biological father by an evil foster-father (a barely-disguised Godwin).  It’d be worth reading anyway as an astonishingly raw expression of Godwin Jr’s sense he doesn’t belong in the Godwin family and as a version of the family romance fantasy, but it’s also a skilful psychological narrative.

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

Right now I’m combining my interest in Romantic ideas about childhood with my love of pop music, writing an essay for a volume on Romanticism and David Bowie along with Matt Sangster, Jo Taylor, and Emily Bernhard Jackson.  I’ve also gone back to Godwin, and I’m thinking about how he felt about owning, gifting, and borrowing books, and the way they can function as affective objects, in the context of his frankly baffling ‘Essay on Sepulchres’.  That’s for an essay collection which I’m co-editing with Eliza O’Brien and Helen Stark, called New Approaches to William Godwin: Forms, Fears, Futures.  Thinking about Godwin and books and feelings is a sort of precursor to my next big project, which is about the relationship between literary biography and literary criticism in that same in-betweeny 1810 – 1840ish period – there’s obviously something in me which is drawn to the definitionally awkward and the marginal!

Five Questions: 2017 BARS First Book Prize Winner Julia S. Carlson on Romantic Marks and Measures



Julia S. Carlson, the winner of the 2017 BARS First Book Prize, is Associate Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Cincinnati.  She completed her undergraduate degree at Stanford University and her graduate degrees at the University of Michigan.  She has published numerous essays on Romantic poetry, poetics, cartographies and sensation; is a member of the Multigraph Collective, co-authors of the forthcoming Interacting with Print: Elements of Reading in an Era of Print Saturation, 1700-1900 (University of Chicago Press, 2017); and is one of the co-editors of Romanticism on the NetShe received the First Book Prize for Romantic Marks and Measures: Wordsworth’s Poetry in Fields of Print (Penn Press, 2016), which we discuss below.

1) How did you begin the research that led you to write this book?

My research on this project began after a Comparative Literature seminar in which we read Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira Le Hasard and the poems of Emily Dickinson followed by a facing-page edition of Wordsworth’s Prelude, a sequence which primed me to observe typographic and topographic differences between the 1805 and 1850 texts.  Why the abundance of dashes and near absence of exclamation marks in the Norton 1805 Prelude, so clearly belied by the original manuscripts, I wondered?  Why the late twentieth-century editorial resistance to the mark of passion, and what contemporary ideas and practices shaped Wordsworth’s marking?  To explore this question, I went deep into the stacks of Harlan Hatcher Library to read surprisingly animated disputes among grammarians, elocutionists, and rhetoricians on the use and significance of the “wondering point,” the “blank line,” and other “Typographical Figures of Speech.”  I was interested, too, in the poem’s self-reflexivity: its thematics of marking and attention and its vocabulary of mark, point, spot, line, and trace—terms used to signal places in the landscape and accent the growth of the poet’s mind.  Particularly evident in the episode of crossing the Simplon Pass, these terms for geometric and cartographic symbols made me wonder how the Alps were rendered in period maps and why they’d been neglected in the criticism.  This led me to the Map Library, with its then panoramic view of the streets, squares, and houses of Ann Arbor, where, with the help of librarian Karl Eric Longstreth, I stood gazing at maps of Switzerland published between 1768 and 1844, struck by the radical shifts in symbol, style, and perspective with which they construed the rivers, roads, and slopes that meet in the narrow confines of the Pass.

2) Your book positions Wordsworth’s poetry ‘within a matrix of inscriptional projects not traditionally considered to be part of the Romantic canon: the charting of terrain and the notating of language by cartographers, elocutionists, prosodists, and the writers of tours and guidebooks.’  What for you are most significant insights into Wordsworth’s poetry that this positioning reveals, and what do you think are the most important things we can learn about the galaxies of topography and typography that you examine through relating them to Wordsworthian verse?

The notational lexicon Wordsworth uses in composition and revision puts his poems in dialogue with and differentiates them from contemporary visual and verbal grammars, with implications for our understanding of poetic language and form.  For example, Wordsworth’s reflexive use of line and point in The Prelude, which registers the scientific, ideological, and aesthetic interests of the Ordnance Survey of Britain, reveals tensions and affinities between the experimental project of epic autobiography and the new cartographic portrait of the nation.  Thus we see that the ostensibly more natural language by which Wordsworth’s attempts to inscribe feeling and place is inflected by a technical semiotics, and conversely, that that the retention of hill portraiture in the first series of topographical maps of England and Wales—its expressive pictorialism —is indebted to the Wordsworthian aesthetics of Ruskin and Arnold.

Poems and maps were highly interactive and formally reinforcing.  In another context, that of picturesque tours and guidebooks, short excerpts of long blank verse poems intended to bring nature “closer to the eye” were published side-by-side with increasingly large-scale charts and outline views of mountain ranges, and also within complex itineraries.  My critical cartopoetics reveals that what we’ve come to know as Wordsworthian “nature lyric” is not a phenomenon of consciousness that transcends the function of pointing to the landscape, as Geoffrey Hartman has argued.  Short blank verse nature poems were formalized in dynamic relation to other line systems, such as surveying and hill portraiture, and within specific indexical and diagrammatic contexts that heightened attention to the marks and measures of landscape and cultivated the interpretation, and correlation, of heterogeneous scales and views.

The poems’ formalization in the context of sign systems that tried to graph speech patterns—elocutionary punctuation—is revealed in subtle effects such as the double-long dashes that Wordsworth began to use in the second edition of Lyrical Ballads.  Considered historically, the marks indicate Wordsworth’s experimentation with elocutionary punctuation and his thematic development of elocutionary concerns within the poems.  Not merely signs of suspenseful pause or the silent passage of time, however, the marks are iconographic as well—tracings in the print medium of the “finger of mortality” (“The Brothers,” 126) that has scored the landscape.  As such, they offer countermappings of place, controlling the reader’s movement through the poems and enhancing her affective response to a landscape conventionally, and less meaningfully, marked in the picturesque guidebooks the poems indict.  Wordsworth’s reflexive handling of the long dash across the blank verse of the book shows how what Richard Payne Knight called “blank and unmark’d metre” is hardly such, but depends upon a complex interplay of spatiotemporal marks that engage the acoustic and visual imaginations of readers.  What we learn, therefore, about the “galaxies of topography and typography” is that they become, in the period, more interrelated as they strive to be both more systematic and more expressive in their encoding of the national language and landscape.  They were related aspects of a diagrammatic and accentual turn in British culture that produced new forms of the spatial and temporal organization of print, new kinds of literacy, and new modes of feeling.

3) How did you come to decide on the final structure for your book, with three chapters focusing on the burgeoning of cartographic practices pivoting around a transitional interchapter into four further chapters on the marking of language within a thriving print culture?

The topographical and typographical systems through which I was reading Wordsworth are intertwined in his poetry, so it was tempting to consider them together in each chapter.  Ultimately, I thought this would make for too dense a narrative, so I explored the graphic representation of landscape in the first half of the book and the graphic representation of speech in the second; the interchapter articulates the two, foregrounding the many connections between them in the culture and in Wordsworth’s verse.

4) To what extent does your study focus on Wordsworth because he was a poet particularly alive to marks and measures, and to what extent might the approach you take in your book be extended to other poets or literary writers of the period?

Wordsworth, the poet who founded his verse on the “plainer and more emphatic language” spoken by rustics who were in daily communication with the enduring objects of nature, was more deeply invested in marking and measuring both landscape and speech than any of his contemporaries.  That said, the book also discusses other writers—Coleridge, theorist of punctuation and of “mingled measures”; Southey—poet of experimental meters; Thelwall—teacher of elocution and radical prosodist.  There are other poets too for whom the marking of speech on the page is a matter of self-reflexive reference: Byron in Don Juan for one.

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

I’m co-editing a collection for Cambridge with Sally Bushell and Damian Walford Davies called Romantic Cartographies. I’m also co-editing a special issue of Essays in Romanticism on historical poetics with David Ruderman and Ewan Jones.  And my new monograph project is Reading with the Hands: Impression and Inscription in Romantic-Era Britain, which explores, among other things, the development of tactile print systems for the blind.

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.