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Report from ‘Romantic Novels 1818’ – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Here is a report by Merrilees Roberts from the first ‘Romantic Novels 1818‘ seminar. This series is sponsored by BARS and seminars are held at the University of Greenwich. 

BARS also provides bursaries to support postgraduates and early career researchers who wish to attend. You can find more information on the application process and see details of upcoming seminars in the series here.



A Discussion of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) with Dr James Grande

Romantic Novels 1818 Seminar January 2018


James Grande delivered a fascinating paper on Frankenstein intended to spark ideas about how to capture the neglected ‘1818’ context of the novel’s first edition, which comprised only 500 copies sold mostly to circulating libraries. Grande took James Chandler’s England in 1819: The Politics of Literary Culture and the Case of Romantic Historicism as an inspiration for thinking through a microhistory of 1818 which would capture the novel’s historical – rather than literary – context. Resisting the critical orthodoxy of readings focused on biographical and ‘family romance’ narratives about the Shelley-Godwin family, Grande suggested possible ways of thinking through Frankenstein’s reception in 1818. These included setting the dedication to Godwin in the context of the repressive measures enforced by a government wishing to quash continuing debates fostered by 1790s radicalism, and research which shows that in this decade the fiction market was actually dominated by female authorship. This perhaps throws an interesting light on Percy Shelley’s support of and collaboration in the project. Another important consideration was the articles appearing in the same periodicals containing reviews of Frankenstein – those which express anxiety about the melting of the polar ice-caps, and which provide an unwittingly significant frame narrative to the novel.


University of Greenwich campus


Particularly interesting to me was the idea that the death of Princess Charlotte in November 1817 provides a more compelling analogue for the novel’s implicit preoccupation with the dangers of childbirth than Mary Wollstonecraft’s death in 1797. The idea that the changes in the weather throughout Europe following the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815, which created the so-called ‘year without a summer’ in 1816, was in some sense a causal factor of both the composition of Frankenstein and the continuing apocalyptic mood of this post-revolutionary period also offers an interesting point of relation to the burgeoning scholarly interest in eco-criticism and philosophies of matter.

– Merrilees Roberts

Conference Report: Writing Romantic Lives at Edge Hill University

Thank you to Oliver Thomas for this report from the BARS-sponsored conference ‘Writing Romantic Lives‘, which took place at Edge Hill University on 25 November 2017.

You can see the conference Twitter feed here.


Conference Report: Romanticism Lives!

by Oliver Thomas, MA student at Edge Hill University



The BARS-sponsored Writing Romantic Lives symposium was aptly titled, as the sterling keynote speech from Dr Felicity James demonstrated. Including fascinating elucidations on her own researches, James succinctly and stylishly laid the groundwork for the event. Our foci were collaboration, autobiography and its myriad forms, and the writing of lives, in the sense of writing the self and writing’s relationship to the (Romantic) Self.

Thus we embarked on our first engaging panel. Marvin Reimann’s presentation, ‘S.T. Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria and the Dynamic Process of Self-knowledge’, expounded on a powerful theme resonant throughout the conference, that the formation of a Self is a fluid concept dependent upon the construction of an ideal state defined against an original state, and the continuous transgression from one to the other. Jérôme Chemin of the Université de Lorraine illuminated this and other metaphysical concepts in his paper ‘From Poetic Experience to Metaphysics’. Chemin clarified the murky relationship between the Biographia Literaria and Coleridge’s better known poetry. The final paper of this panel saw a moving, powerfully personal account from Lilach Bornstein – ‘Christabel in Tel Aviv: A Group Reading Coleridge in Hebrew’ – that furnished those attendant with an appreciation of the analytical nuance offered by fresh eyes working collaboratively.

Lunch is a time to munch and mull over ideas. In the comfort and calm of Edge Hill’s quiet campus, that is exactly what happened. The culinary spread served amply and was enjoyed by all, with the mango and brie parcels bringing surprising delight to this attendee. The real substance of such a lunch, however, is never the food, but the thought, and around the room, much thought bounced and blossomed despite the late autumn darkness outside.

Some of that darkness stole into the conference in the next panel ‘Death and the Self’, chaired by Jo Taylor, and featuring three students from the conference’s physical host for the day, Edge Hill University. Melanie Senior’s paper on ‘Hysteria and the Romantic Woman’ offered an incisive examination how hysteria has been used to marginalise female romantic  writers, simultaneously demonstrating the resistance that authors such as Charlotte Smith and Mary Wollstonecraft performed to overcome this prejudice. Amy Warbuton’s presentation on ‘Gothic Aural Experience in Anne Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho’ followed: Udolpho is a tale ringing with echoes, the misheard, the warped and the restricted.  The focus lay in the ways the Gothic voice contributed to Emily St. Aubert’s degeneration. Anthony Gordon’s ‘A Life Devoted to Killing Death’ demonstrated the critique of attempting to avoid immortality offered by Beddoe’s Death’s Jest-book.  Beddoe’s text exemplifies the struggle against its subject, Death, and the (apparent) futility of the obsession with that struggle, and the danger to the self such an obsession can cause.

Michael Bradshaw, of Worcester University, chaired the next panel, ‘Romantic Connections’. Emilee Morrall examined ‘Personal Reflections in Charlotte’ Smith’s Moral Tales’. Her paper showed how this once marginalised and forgotten Romantic writer could now emerge into the critical limelight. This time it was her children’s tales which were under primary consideration, and Morrall examined minutely Smith’s personal reflections embedded within those works, clarifying them in an analysis that was at once reflective and convincing, and tied in very neatly with the keynote speech and its theme, writing lives (in all the senses that those last two words may be interpreted).

A distinct and challenging personality to a room of academics came next. Corrina Readioff revealed James Lackington, bookseller, as a master self-marketer. His mercurial alterations of his Memoirs of the First Forty-five Years of the Life of James Lackington, Bookseller (there were several editions of this book) demonstrated eloquently the continuous process of self-promotion (and possibly self-fashioning) involved when writing such a memoir.

One effective way of rating the potency of the matter under discussion, is the discussions over coffee had between panels. I’m pleased to say I have seldom drunk a coffee (or tea) so steeped in knowledge, and my hungry student mind had a buffet of brilliant brains to learn from in that room.

The final panel, ‘Novel Approaches’, gave us two speakers who masterfully rounded off the evening’s panel discussions. Adam Neikirk  opened with a short reading from the novel at which he has been working, an effort to write a fictional autobiography in the voice of Coleridge (a kindred concept to the Dead Romantic Interviews competition, another part of the conference) which he described as ‘A novel in “Development Xanadu”’. This kind of literary ventriloquism and mimicry was a theme latent throughout most of the conference that, like Coleridge’s sacred river, burst forth via Adam’s talk. Adam’s endeavours were applauded and more than one attendee pointed out that, while he may be unsatisfied with the unfinished fragment of a novel he had in hand, to publish such, would be most Coleridgian.

On the subject of rivers and mountains, our conference ended with a truly inter-disciplinary, multimedia presentation from Rebekah Musk entitled ‘Beholding Shelley’s Euganean Hills.’ Musk gave a strikingly powerful insight into the imagined and physical world of a poem, and how these qualities relate to one another. Her work was infused with a level of detail and precision that was genuinely engaging and refreshing after the lofty literary and philosophical discussions of the day. In more ways than one, we came back to earth. Rebekah’s primary insight was that the eye of Shelley’s poem presented a composite vision, in which the language, and landscape, shifts and changes while the speaker remains rather still by comparison.

The symposium came to a close with the announcing of the winners of the Dead Romantic Interviews competition and a workshop from Andrew McInnes and Felicity James on academic publishing that was both engaging and insightful. There was a thematic harmony between the Interviews contest and the symposium. Its impact was as international as the conference itself, as the Canadian winner demonstrated well with her video message. The message included a brief reading from her entry which had resurrected the sharp-minded, no-nonsense Mary Shelley, author of that grandest of Gothic Romantic works, Frankenstein. For this observer, the competition synchronised the competitive and the collaborative for, as with many academic endeavours, it engendered a community spirit extending far beyond the winner, as well as enlivening Romantic studies with fresh creative engagements. The competition embodied the three themes within the study of Romanticism the conference set out to discuss; Writing the Self, autobiography and collaboration. Romantic studies, like the monster crafted by Mary Shelley, lives!

– Oliver Thomas

Conference Report: The Shelley Conference 2017

Note from Anna Mercer, BARS Blog Editor:
The Shelley Conference 2017 was a two-day event sponsored by BARS. As the organiser I am very grateful to BARS for the support, and then also to Ana Stevenson for compiling the following detailed report. You can see the full programme including all the parallel sessions here, and I am hoping to work on a published collection of essays, or a special journal issue, of some of the wonderful papers I heard at the conference. The keynote speakers’ talks will be available online very soon. Without further comment from me, please enjoy Ana’s account of this gathering of Shelleyans:

The Shelley Conference 2017. 15-16 September. Institute for English Studies, London.

By Ana Stevenson

Delegates outside the mural dedicated to PBS (Poland Street)

Delegates outside the mural dedicated to PBS (Poland Street)

It took almost the length of Shelley’s lifetime for another event celebrating his life and work to be organised – the last one took place on the bicentennial of his birth, in 1992. For this and other reasons, Anna Mercer was determined to organise this exceptional two-days conference. After realising that most of PBS’s contemporaries enjoy various symposiums, Mercer took it upon herself to side with Harrie Neal and organised The Shelley Conference 2017, celebrating both Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Under the guidance of Kelvin Everest and Michael Rossington, Mercer and Neal welcomed Michael O’Neill, Nora Crook, and many scholars from around the world to present a variety of papers exploring the many aspects of PBS and MWS’s lives, work, and collaboration with one another.

The Senate House, London, opened its doors for The Shelley Conference 2017 for the first time on the 15th of September. With a plethora of fascinating panels, it was a hard task to decide which ones to attend. Luckily Graham Henderson has recorded a few, which will soon be available online for those who wish to watch it [see Graham’s website on PBS here]. The Conference started with a short introduction by the organisers, who briefly talked about the programme and thanked those who made the event possible. They expressed the Shelleys’ importance in Literature and Culture, as well as other aspects that inspired them to design this conference. Mercer closed the introduction speech and started the conference with a beautiful reading of ‘Mutability’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley – a poem that perfectly suited the occasion.

The first plenary, Mary Shelley’s Editing of Percy Bysshe Shelley, was delivered by Professor Nora Crook from Anglia Ruskin University. Crook discussed the misconceptions that the public has of Mary Shelley’s intentions when she edited her husband’s work. From his contemporaries to modern day scholars, many believe that MWS did not do justice to her late husband when editing his posthumous pieces. Some are certain that she aimed to change Shelley’s reputation by omitting ‘shocking’ content against his wishes, when in fact, Shelley himself had discussed this matter with his publisher, hoping that his accessible pieces would help him to regain a degree of attention with readers that would then also appreciate his political work. Mrs Shelley was not the only person responsible for the selection of poems to be published; the publisher decided not to include specific pieces in order to avoid being prosecuted. Although MWS meant well by holding Shelley’s radical pieces back, it is uncertain if this was the right attitude. Delaying PBS’s political material also delayed the readers’ understanding and the progress that its content could trigger. Professor Crook discussed the evidence that MWS was heavily involved in her husband’s work until the day of his death. It is not uncommon to find annotations by her as well as blank spaces left by PBS so that his wife could add her input. It must be taken into consideration that MWS was under pressure while editing the volumes of her late husband’s work, which lead to a few mistakes. However, Crook says that their collaboration did not end with Shelley’s death – in life the Shelleys helped to inspire and edit each other’s poems, after Percy’s death, Mary seeks his memory in order to make decisions.

Amongst the first parallel panels was a section concerning Revisions and Editing. It began with Madeline Callaghan from the University of Sheffield presenting her paper ‘“Sweet visions in solitude”: P. B. Shelley’s Rejected Opening of Laon and Cythna’ which discussed Percy Bysshe Shelley’s preoccupation with eternity through the rejected opening of Laon and Cythna. It explores the limits and possibilities of experiencing, and imaging humanity’s relationship with eternity. Callaghan presented the poem as the ultimate way to express Nature and its powers, and Imagination as a complement to beauty, with Shelley thinking carefully about the responsibilities of the poet, amidst words that can encapsulate dreams, the splendour of the mighty dead, and death without glory. Bysshe Inigo Coffey from the University of Exeter followed Callaghan with a paper focused on PBS’s writing style. ‘Verse Under Erasure: Shelley and the Energies of Cancellation’ was a splendid complement to Crook’s lecture as it explored the difficulty of editing the poet’s manuscripts, which were often filled with doodles, scribbles, cancellations, and other abstract imagery, causing the editing of his work to be a hard task. While some say that rhymes kill the meaning of poetry, Coffey argues that its efforts enhance the English language and doesn’t take the poet away from the poem; it takes him beyond. Shelley can cancel our understanding of the Spencerian stanza and doesn’t allow form to limit his creations. Amanda Blake Davis from the University of Sheffield presented the final paper on this panel. Davis discussed MWS’s editing and framing of Prometheus Unbound, adding to Crook’s plenary as she defended that MWS’s editing did not deprive the reader of the poet’s ideas. She argues that Mary prolongs Shelley’s life as a source of happiness to the reader as her framing of P B Shelley’s works assure that his words will be available to readers and Shelley lovers for years to come.

Before the second parallel panels, attendees were invited to a discussion between Michael Rossington and Nora Crook on Current Editions of PBS’s poetry. Prof Rossington is editing poems for, and coordinating, the fifth and final volume of the Longman Annotated English Poets edition of The Poems of Shelley (Routledge). Shelley is the only English poet who did not have a complete academic edition of his work. Rossington explained that the fifth volume, which contains poems and plays from 1821, is scheduled to appear in 2019. Prof Crook gave a brief presentation about the John Hopkins University Press edition of The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Rossington discussed the Longman Annotated English Poets edition (The Poems of Shelley). When asked about having two different collections of the poet’s work being released simultaneously, they affirmed that the many editions of Shelley’s work guarantee him a world of fame.

L-R Anna Mercer, Elizabeth Denlinger, Joanna Harker Shaw

L-R Anna Mercer, Elizabeth Denlinger, Joanna Harker Shaw

Percy and Mary Together was one of the options for the second parallel panels section where the speakers concentrated on breaking the myth that PBS and MWS were no longer collaborating towards the end of his life. Anna Mercer from the University of York and organiser of the event started the panel by presenting evidence of the collaboration between the Shelleys in Italy from 1818 until P B Shelley’s death. While some scholars suggest that Mary was no more than Shelley’s copyist, Mercer explores manuscripts and letters that prove otherwise. Annotations show that Mary contributed with suggestions while editing her husband’s work, and pieces written simultaneously by each author show the inspiration that one drew from the other. Joanna Harker Shaw, who is working on a novel about the Shelleys, used her research to defend the position of the Shelleys as advisors. Shaw claims that the lack of evidence that we have of the couple’s collaboration is due to their physical proximity: when most information was recorded through letters, it is not surprising that sources are limited when it comes to people who lived together. However, that is not to say that such evidence does not exist, as it is clear through Shelley’s letters to MWS’s father, William Godwin, that their collaboration and influence on one another was heavily discussed. Elizabeth Denlinger from New York Public Library closed this panel by defending the importance of manuscripts. The modern public is attracted to the visual aspect of an exhibition, which is why Denlinger finds it essential to make manuscripts available. A piece of history creates a stronger connection to the material shown, resulting in a more significant interest from the spectator, who is more likely to have their attention drawn through an artefact than through a piece of text. A potential reader is more likely to become interested in Shelley’s work by seeing the original document than from being presented with a printed version of that piece in question. These manuscripts are more than the text itself; they reflect the person who has written it, their personality, relationships, and life.

Kelvin Everest delivered the second plenary. In his superb ‘The Heart’s Echoes’, Everest explores the reverberation of Queen Mab through Shelley’s career, the formal complexity and various movements of ‘The Cloud’, and how Shelley’s life echoes itself on his final years. Everest’s plenary granted the perfect conclusion for the first day of this excellent event. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that ‘The Heat’s Echoes’ conveyed Shelley’s true essence, and remained with those who had the privilege of enjoying this outstanding talk.

Kelvin Everest delivers his plenary

Kelvin Everest delivers his plenary

The second day of the Shelley Conference 2017 started with its third section of panels. Rethinking Shelley for Later Generations commenced with Mark Summers’s ‘Reclaiming the Radical Republicanism of P. B. Shelley’ which portrayed the humanist and socialist perception of PBS, who perceived individual freedom as a non-dominant aspect which is not limited to economic conditions and is inclusive of all citizens. Shelley, as a radical and Republican, was against violence and, although inspired by the French Revolution, reproved the lack of control from the reign of terror. Summers was followed by Tom Mole from the University of Edinburgh who has recently published his book What the Victorians Made of Romanticism. In his paper ‘Shelley’s Long Poems in Victorian Anthologies’, Mole explained that anthologies became popular with the working classes (for leisure as well as culture) and made Romantic poems conform to Victorian morals. Editors and publishers had to be careful when publishing Queen Mab due to its radical content; only eleven books show it, and Canto IV is the most printed section of that work. These anthologies were not interested in the entirety of the poems and their structure; they published excerpts of lyrics and natural descriptions extracted from dramatical context. Mole claims that by removing parts of the poem, it diminishes its value. However, shattering a text also inspires those who read it to seek its source, and those who are already familiar with it, to frame the extracted part of the poem. The final speaker, Graham Henderson, explored the meaning of Shelley’s visit to the Alps. When Shelley visited Mont Blanc, he was seeing the mountain for the first time – unlike today, their visual descriptions were limited to word accounts, sketches, and paintings. Due to the Napoleonic wars, that area became almost inaccessible to foreign visitors; therefore Shelley was unlikely to have a personal relation accounting this experience. When S T Coleridge visited Mont Blanc, he expressed that no one could see its sublimity and question the existence of a god, but Shelley’s registration in the hotel proves otherwise. He wrote ‘eimi philanthropos, demokratikos, atheos te’ (I am a lover of mankind, democrat and atheist) – Greek was perceived as an intellectual language, therefore by writing in Greek, Shelley was declaring that his view did not come from ignorance. ‘Philantropos tropos’ was used be Aeschylus to describe Prometheus as a ‘Lover of Humanity’, which Shelley was undoubtedly aware of. In 1816 he became more famous for his declarations on this registration book than for his poetry, but this is not the only entry Shelley left in a registration book. In that year, at the Hotel de Londres Shelley has written ‘lover of humanity, democrat, atheist’, at the Hotel d’Anglaterre the entry says ‘Democrat, great lover of mankind, Atheist’, at Montenvers Shelley writes ‘one and all atheists’, and at Sallanches the poet simply wrote ‘atheist’. Henderson expresses that when Shelley says that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, he means the delegators of humanity.

Texts Composed in 1816 was one of the last parallel panels. Deborah Stiles from the Dalhousie University brought a variety of booklets from places visited by the Shelleys in order to support her paper ‘Geneva Summer, Dundee Winter: MWS, Seasonality, and Settings in Frankenstein’. During her early teenage years, Mary Shelley was sent to Scotland to live in Dundee with the Baxters. They often visited the port where whaling ships were found, which is later portrayed in Frankenstein. While in Geneva, the cold weather experienced in the year without a summer reminded Mary of the winter she spent in Dundee, which may have awakened her early ideas of the themes found in her first novel. Stiles explains that Mary’s book is very weather-based, having its story set through various seasons which may be perceived as a reflection of various moments when Mary had thoughts that lead to Frankenstein. Carl McKeating from the University of Leeds followed with ‘A City of Death: The Shelleys and “Mont Blanc”’, showing Mont Blanc is a pace of confrontation; it represents glory, but it also has the fame of being a ‘cursed mountain’. Percy Bysshe Shelley describes it as snowy and serene, but also as a city of death, and for Mary, the mountain symbolises hope, but it is also the conveyor of death. The Shelleys’ excursion to Mont Blanc was a safe one led by guides. However, they were aware of the dangers of such place – perhaps they saw an avalanche or received accounts of it. The dangers of Mont Blanc are seen in a metaphysical way in Frankenstein, with humanity as the ultimate prey of the snow. Miriam Sette from the University ‘G. d’Annuzio’ Pescara expresses Mont Blanc’s echoes of text influences from Plato to Blake in her ‘Poetry as Vision: “Mont Blanc” by Shelley’. Percy Bysshe Shelley was a natural organism of Romanticism; ‘a passionate advocate of the platonic world and mutability’. Mont Blanc was not only appreciated for the sublimity of its beauty, but also for what it represented. It is powerful, remote, and unaffected; the top of the mountain remains unaffected no matter what happens in the world below. The speakers debated the humane aspects of the Shelleys’ works, which have been inspired by their personal experience of Mont Blanc, which is often underestimated.

The Conference Dinner

The Conference Dinner, held at Vasco & Piero’s, the building where PBS lived in 1811

The Shelley Conference 2017 concluded with a third plenary by Michael O’Neill from Durham University. In ‘“Pictures” and “Signs”: Creative Thinking in P. B. Shelley’s Prose’, O’Neill expressed Shelley’s commitment to writing poetry as a poet. While ancient as well as contemporary poets inspired him, Shelley’s language is common, not individual. Shelley does not deny his inspiration; ‘Our words are dead, our thoughts are cold and borrowed’. Yet he is not limited to the form – ‘On Life’ is a prose poem with great Philosophical weight, and ‘A Defence of Poetry’ shows a decline from image to sign. It is how Shelley perceives poetry that sets him apart, and his prose is a great proof that soul and imagination are very much relevant in politics. Michael O’Neill presented examples such as ‘An Address to the People on the Death of Princess Charlotte’ where Shelley manipulates the audience through language, and instead of grieving the dead princess, he laments the death of Liberty. ‘Shelley tells us that language is both a veil and a pointer to what lies beyond the veil’. [n.b.: O’Neill’s talk was based on an essay to be published in a forthcoming book by Oxford University Press: Thinking through Style ed. Michael D. Hurley and Marcus Waithe].

So with this extraordinary plenary, The Shelley Conference 2017 came to an end. Two days worth of excellent panels and speakers passed by hastily, however, the success of the conference shows the relevancy of the Shelleys and the demand for such events. This will hopefully mark the start of a new era of conferences and seminars dedicated to explore and discuss the Shelleys and their work. Until another event is confirmed, the public can expect great material from many of the speakers, such as the Longman Annotated English Poets edition of The Poems of Shelley, the John Hopkins University Press edition of The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Tom Mole’s What the Victorians Made of Romanticism, and Joanna Harker Shaw’s novel.
– Ana Stevenson


Images are the organisers’ own.

Conference website here.

Conference twitter here.

BARS 2017 Reports: Part II

More reports from BARS 2017! Thank you to the bursary winners who sent these in.

See the storify here, and part one here.


Yasser Shams Khan – University of Oxford

This was the first BARS conference I had attended and it was truly a treat! The conference offered a great opportunity to witness the exciting directions the field of Romantic studies was taking. The opening plenary by Catherine Hall on colonial slavery and its impact on the development of many towns around England never thought to have been associated with the abhorrent institution was as good an opening as one could expect, especially since the theme for the conference was Romantic Improvement. It set the tone for the rest of the conference with papers ranging from improvements from laboring class poetry to interrogations into moral and sentimental improvement. Two panels of particular interest to me were those on illegitimate theatres, presented as a tribute to the late Jane Moody. As my work deals with romantic period drama and racial representation, the papers in these panels offered me great insights and I managed to learn a lot. My own paper dealt with the political valence of the trope of the Noble Savage in the various adaptations of Oroonoko across the eighteenth century. I received some really good feedback on my paper which gave me a lot to think about. The conference was very well organised thanks to the tremendous work put in by the organisers and the dedicated student volunteers. Their effort is much appreciated.

Apart from the conference, the city was a joy to walk through with the beautiful sights around the old wall. The streets and the sight of the York Minster was just fabulous on those rare occasions the sun peeked out of the clouds. It was all in all a great experience. I look forward to my next BARS conference.


Our conference packs

Our conference packs


James M. Morris – Universities of Dundee and Glasgow

Embodying the ethos of the British Association for Romantic Studies as an organisation, the University of York’s BARS 2017 conference managed to combine intellectual rigour with a friendly, relaxed and encouraging atmosphere. With a panoply of papers covering the theme of ‘improvement’ in a broad variety of forms and contexts, delegates were spoilt for choice and, short of being able to be in two places at once, I most definitely missed as many great paper as I managed to hear. Warmly hosted by the conference organisers and supported by a team of knowledgeable and helpful postgraduates, the conference not only provided me with a chance to present on Scott and develop some ideas for the future, but also opened my eyes to entirely new fields of research. As is the case with all of the best conferences, indeed, I spent the days following BARS in a flurry of reading, keen to pursue some of the ideas discussed both in papers and during the all-important coffee, lunch, and wine breaks.

With the musical stylings of Le Strange and Maxim’s, ‘Lyrical (Power) Ballads’ offering an unforgettable soundtrack to the conference, BARS 2017 will not only be, for me, a fond memory, but will also be key in the development of my future work and research. Many thanks to the organisers for providing all delegates with such a great weekend!


York Minster on day 1

York Minster on day 1


Caitlin Kitchener – University of York 

BARS 2017 was certainly a conference that improved me intellectually. Coming from archaeology rather than a literature background threw me into the proverbial deep end, with my notebook filling up names, theories, and ideas I was previously unaware of. The session I spoke in was particularly enlightening due to the fruitful and stimulating discussion that followed the papers. Alison Morgan’s paper on the songs and poetry of Peterloo was fascinating too and her forthcoming anthology should prove to be a useful and interesting book. Ideas of sound and soundscapes, the role of material culture in constructing spaces and landscapes, where the snuff boxes of Bob the horse may be, and the importance of tunes in poetry and songs of radicalism and protest were all explored. Overall, it was an engaging conference and I am grateful for the bursary that allowed me to experience it and Theresa May’s lyrical ballads.


The venue

The venue


Alexis Wolf – Birkbeck, University of London

BARS 2017: Romantic Improvement was a truly engaging conference that brought together scholars from across the world. King’s Manor provided a stunning conference venue in the heart of medieval York, and the team from the University of York put together a wonderful event. I’m surely not the only delegate who will forever cherish the memory of Christabel being sung to the tune of ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’. Numerous concurrent panels made selecting one quite difficult, particularly given the wide range of topics in Romanticism included in the programme.

Women’s writing was especially well represented at this year’s conference. The first of two panels on Improvement in Austen’s Novels kicked off this thread, with papers by Joe Morrissey, Emma Clery and Rita Dashwood, all of which suggested nuanced readings of women’s agency in Austen’s fiction. My own paper on forms of improvement across variant versions of Katherine Wilmot’s circulated travelogue manuscripts was situated on a panel with Nick Mason, Sarah Faulkner and Susan Civale. The panel stirred a thought-provoking debate on methodologies for researching and recovering Romantic women’s life writing and biography. An excellent panel on the Leverhulme-funded project on The Lady’s Magazine argued for a new appraisal of the periodical, with Chloe Wigston Smith, Jennie Batchelor and Jenny DiPlacidi all presenting compelling research that resituates The Lady’s Magazine as a community building and intellectually stimulating forum for women readers and writers of the Romantic Period.

Other highlights included a panel on Print Culture and Knowledge, with Anthony Mandal rediscovering gothic networks in the Romantic book trade, Marianne Brooker investigating Coleridge’s fluttering, fugitive knowledge, and Gillian Russell exploring the ephemeral ballooning trail of Sarah Sophia Banks. Nigel Leask’s plenary took us on a hilarious Scottish tour alongside two outlandish pedestrian vagabonds, raising questions about the limits of philosophy and hospitality in Romantic travel literature. The conference dinner at the Merchant Adventurers Hall provided a lovely cap to the proceedings, with Professor Jon Mee stepping in as quiz master for all things York-related.

The BARS conferences continue to offer an exciting range of research while also provide a welcoming space for collegiality among Romanticists. I’m already looking forward to the next meeting in Nottingham in 2019.


Christy Edwall (University of Oxford)

‘Romantic Improvements’ was my first international BARS conference and my notebook is filled with the detritus of twenty panels: of James Hogg’s fictional sojourn in South Africa, John Clare’s involvement with the politically significant Beerhouse Act of 1830, and Shelley’s ruinous poetics.  My paper on Clare’s transcriptions of Keats found echoes in Casie LeGette’s paper on the Co-operative Movement’s suggestive reprintings of poems by Southey and Wordsworth – a connection I’ll be sure to follow up. Most fruitful perhaps were the new friendships – cemented at the pub and within earshot of a brilliant combination of Lyrical Ballads, togas, eighties rock, and political satire. After failing dismally at the BARS quiz, held during the conference dinner in the rich-timbered Merchant Adventurer’s Hall, I’ll never forget that it was Frank Churchill’s aunt who lived in Yorkshire. Nor will I lose hope that some enterprising filmmaker will turn Nigel Leask’s pair of philosophical vagabonds travelling through Scotland into the subject of a Michael Winterbottom Trip-like film: green-tinted glasses, disintegrating sailor’s outfits and all! Thanks to all the organisers, to the York Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies, and for the wonderful King’s Manor for hosting the conference.

BARS 2017 Reports: Part I

Thank you to everyone who came along to our international biennial conference:


BARS 2017

Romantic Improvement

The University of York

27-30 July


This was the 15th conference of the British Association for Romantic Studies.

Postgraduate bursary winners have been invited to write short reports on their experience as a delegate and/or speaker at the event. Here are the first three – more to follow at a later date.

Enjoy! You can also see the storify of the tweets, and pictures from the event, here.


Sarah Faulkner (University of Washington)

I had a wonderful time at BARS–and that wasn’t just because of the discounted ice cream, though that was a serious plus. I really enjoyed the collegiality of the conference, especially between Romanticists at all stages of their career. I felt invited to speak with senior faculty, and found new, wonderful friends among other graduate students. Having just come from the wonderful Austen/Staël conference at Chawton House Library, it was wonderful to reconnect with other Chawton delegates, and to really feel like I was a part of the Romanticist community. I have always felt a bit like an imposter in Romanticism since I study women’s novels rather than male poetry, but this conference changed that feeling for me entirely. The multitude of panels on women’s writing and novels, the generosity of feedback, and most of all the fervent interest expressed by all about each other’s work, made this an exceptional conference.

Sarah is organising JANEFEST 2017 at the University of Washington, in Seattle, WA, USA.

Twitter: @janefest17

Conference Banquet. Via @BARS_official on twitter

Conference Banquet. Via @BARS_official on twitter

Joshua Schouten de Jel (University of Plymouth)

BARS 2017 was my third conference this year (I also presented at Budapest and Brighton). Held at King’s Manor, and nearby to the idyllic Museum Gardens, it was a tremendous setting for what was an absolutely intriguing conference. Topics ranged from ecocriticism, to Leigh Hunt, to war trauma, and the Romantic book trade, but the panel (chaired by Jon Mee) on which I presented was based on William Blake, upon whom I am conducting my PhD at Plymouth University.

Lucy Cogan, from the University of York, gave a paper on prophecy and futurity, concentrating on the Continental Books, primarily America (1793) and Europe (1794). Her fascinating reading of the shadowy female of the Preludiums in conjunction with Oothoon from Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793) opened up an interesting dialogue between Blake’s works, as well as suggesting the revisionary nature of his mythopoeia. The other presenter, Amadeus Kang-Po Chen from the University of Edinburgh, gave an exciting paper which also concentrated on Oothoon, but drew in the two other characters from Visions of the Daughters of Albion, Bromion and Theotormon. Working through Blake’s erotic resonances within the text, Amadeus’ readings highlighted the similarities between Oothoon and the plants of Erasmus Darwin’s ‘The Loves of the Plants’ (1791). Noting the pictorial representation of Theotormon, it was illuminating to note the asexual nature of his posture (which corresponds to his actions in the narrative), and how such a reading is enlivened by the botanical work of Darwin.

My paper looked at Blake’s millenarianism and traced the internalisation of apocalypse throughout the 1790s and into the latter Prophetic Books. The private and personal nature of Blake’s self-annihilation is always balanced with the outward-looking and inclusive idea of brotherhood, and thus my paper concentrated on the limitations of Orc in contradistinction to the possibilities provided by belief and faith, the driving forces behind Milton’s descent and Albion’s reawakening.

The conference provided an excellent arena in which to share a number of my doctoral findings, and I hope has stimulated further research (especially in Blake!).

Photo by Eugenia Zuroski‏ @zugenia via twitter

Photo by Eugenia Zuroski‏
@zugenia via twitter

Rayna Rossenova (Sofia University)

Let me start a while back: When last September I went on a trip to Lancaster, in one of my outings I met a nice lady, who told me I should definitely go visit York when I got the chance. Little did I know that it would be for an occasion of such a scale.

I was extremely delighted and grateful to be the recipient of one of the bursaries, generously awarded by BARS, the York Georgian Society and Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies. BARS 2017: Romantic Improvement was truly an event which I shall remember and neatly wrap up in a bundle of memories comprised of the inspiring papers I heard and the people I met, along with the sights of the magnificent city of York.

The conference was a true cosmopolitan space which gathered scholars from all over the world. The papers inspired animated conversations in the rooms of King’s Manor, located in the heart of the city. Undoubtedly, these four days were marked by a vibrant and convivial atmosphere where ideas and discussions flourished.

The organisers had thought of everything to make our experience a memorable one. Each day met us with versatile panel sessions offering engaging and thought-provoking papers, followed by comfort and coffee/tea breaks to recharge our batteries and prepare for the next round of talks. I immensely enjoyed the papers in the sessions I attended and the plenary lectures.

Also, there were tours in and out of the city specially arranged for our amusement and a lavish banquet at a medieval house. What more could one possibly want? I only wish I had a “time turner” so I could turn back time at will and be able to hear all those interesting papers being delivered in the parallel panels.

Saturday afternoon offered a delightful trip to the stately Castle Howard, which was mesmerizing in both its interiors and exteriors. The grandeur of the façade was matched by the exquisitely furnished halls and rooms inside the house. Fortunately, the weather was on our side, so we could walk in the open air and enjoy the beautiful gardens and scenery. I would definitely like to re-visit it someday.

Castle Howard

Castle Howard, photo by Rayna

After the lovely trip, the evening promised to be just as exciting. The conference dinner was held in the medieval Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, where we were entertained by Prof Jon Mee who, in his role as quiz compère, challenged us with some brain-racking questions to test our York knowledge over a delicious meal. Sitting in this authentic setting, one could not help but imagine the days of yore when medieval revellers made merry and filled the hall with jubilant glee.

But as all good things must come to an end, so did the conference. I think I can safely say this was yet another year of firsts for me – it was my first BARS conference and my first visit to York. So, I would once again like to thank BARS, the Organisers, and all the delegates for making this conference the tremendous experience it was.

Conference Report: The Second International John Thelwall Society Conference

Here is a fascinating and detailed conference report by Val Derbyshire on a recent BARS-sponsored conference at the University of Derby.

‘Re-staging History: Report from the Second International John Thelwall Society Conference held at the University of Derby, 21-23 July 2017


Val Derbyshire, School of English, University of Sheffield


This month saw the Second International Conference of the John Thelwall Society, the theme of which was ‘Radical Networks and Cultures of Reform’. The question might be asked: why stage this important international event in Derby? The first panel (‘Origins’) provided the solution. It was here during recent years that world-renowned Thelwall scholar, Judith Thompson, discovered new manuscript material in the Derby Local Studies Library, resulting in a new edition of John Thelwall’s Selected Poetry and Poetics from Palgrave MacMillan.



Professor Judith Thompson from Dalhousie University, Canada, re-enacts the moment she discovered the Thelwall manuscripts at the Derby Local Studies Library.


During Mark Young’s[1] opening paper, Mark gave a detailed and informative account of the provenance of the Thelwall manuscript and how – somewhat fortuitously – the discovery had been made only during the last fortnight that it was likely that the manuscripts came into the possession of the library via their purchase of the Bemrose collection during the early part of the twentieth-century.   To compliment Mark’s paper, independent researcher Richard Gravil provided a detailed analysis of the marks and symbols used by Thelwall on his manuscripts and the works of other poets, including Wordsworth’s The Excursion. Thelwall included these within his poetics in order to ensure correct pronunciation. Thelwall was, of course, an elocutionist, as well as a poet, novelist, radical orator and polymath.

After a short coffee break, Friday afternoon concluded with a panel detailing Thelwall’s connections to ‘Nature and Art’, where I then presented my own paper. I am a Doctoral Researcher from the School of English, University of Sheffield, and I spoke on Thelwall’s connections to novelist, poet and writer of works for children, Charlotte Smith (1749-1806) and how the use of artwork within their works demonstrates a convergence of political ideology. Finally, Peter Collinge (University of Keele) presented a fascinating analysis of Joseph Wright of Derby’s portrait of Ellen Morewood and how Wright’s somewhat radical portrayal of this interesting and determined woman exhibits her extraordinary business acumen and resolution.

During the evening, the question of ‘Why Derby?’ was answered once again, when a team of actors re-enacted the 1792 Revolutionary Address originally staged by members of the Derby Political Society. This Society featured illustrious members such as William and Joseph Strutt, Erasmus Darwin, Samuel Fox, William Brookes Johnson, Henry ‘Redhead’ Yorke, Peter Crompton and John Hollis Pigot and demonstrates how Derby was at the centre of the Midlands Enlightenment. The Revolutionary Address was delivered in November 1792 to society members, before members William Brookes Johnson and Henry ‘Redhead’ Yorke travelled to France to deliver the speech on behalf of the society before the National Convention.



Original document of the ‘Revolutionary Address dated 20th November 1792’, delivered at the Derby Political Society in support of the French Revolutionary cause. Reproduced with the kind permission of Mark Young, Librarian, Derby Local Studies Library.


The actors delivered a spirited re-enactment of the original events in the authentic setting of the eighteenth-century Old Bell Pub. They also re-enacted other political events including local protests over the sale and enclosure of Nun’s Green Common Land, which also took place in 1792.



The actors who recreated the Radical Pub Night Historical Re-enactment during dress rehearsal at The Old Bell Pub, Derby. Featuring (from left to right): Melanie Hopkins as ‘A Lady of the Town’, Josh Hayes as ‘William Brookes Johnson’ and ‘Tully’, James Naughton as ‘Joseph Strutt/Samuel Crompton’, Jennifer Argent as ‘A Loyal Servant’ and ‘John Thelwall’, Noa McAlistair as ‘Erasmus Darwin’ and ‘Josiah Wedgewood’, Charlie Ayers as ‘A Peasant Girl’ and Kira Barnett as ‘Henry “Redhead” Yorke’ and ‘Lord G. Cavendish’.


            This was open to conference delegates but was also a public engagement event which was well-attended by members of the public with an interest in recent research in this area.



‘Radical Pub Night Poster’ promoting this public engagement event. This event was generously funded by WRoCAH/AHRC.


I constructed the script, primarily from archival sources held at the Derby Local Studies Library. I also put together the costumes. The audience were particularly struck by the powerful eloquence of the speeches given by these historical figures. The evening concluded with a performance by the poetry of contemporary poet of protest ‘Liz Ferrets’.




Liz sadly died eighteen months ago, and so the performance was given by Maggie, Liz’s mum. It was a touching and entirely appropriate close to the evening, demonstrating how the spirit of social protest is alive and well and is perhaps more necessary than ever in our troubled times.

Saturday morning commenced with the key note address by Professor Jon Mee of the University of York. Jon focussed on ‘Thelwall’s Unheroic’ years which he elucidated as 1801-1806, in his discussion of Thelwall’s networks. This was a fascinating presentation which situated Manchester as the beating heart of scientific and technological innovation during this period. Writers of the time, Jon explained, access a discourse of industrial sublime in delineating Manchester at ‘the heart of [a] vast system, the circulating branches of which spread around it.’ He also provided an insight into what it must have been like to attend Thelwall’s lectures by accessing archival sources such as diaries which recorded the experiences firsthand.

During the next panel, concerned with key Midlands Enlightenment figure Erasmus Darwin, the University of Derby History Department’s Paul Elliott described ‘A Brush with the Doctor’. This absorbing paper presented the experiences of artist Samuel Arnold as he took Darwin’s portrait. Arnold’s recordings of the time provide a real sense of Darwin as both a Lunar Society member, but also of his character as a man.   This was followed by former Emeritus Professor Jonathan Powers (University of Derby) whirlwind tour through the evolutionary optimism and radical politics of Darwin. This was a spellbinding paper which provided masses of information for Darwin scholars.

After a short break for lunch, Judith Thompson gave a wonderful paper presenting her findings in connection with the Derby manuscript. Judith explained how her research and her amazing discovery of the Thelwall manuscripts demonstrates the democratic values of intellectual accessibility embodied by such institutions as the Local Studies Library in Derby.

In the spirit of intellectual accessibility, the conference delegates then proceeded on an excursion to the Library itself to view the wealth of holdings there. Delegates had the opportunity to view the Thelwall manuscripts, along with a host of other rare documents and books, including the original source documents regarding the sale and enclosure of Nun’s Green Common Land, from which the script of the historical re-enactment had been constructed.



Conference delegate David Watkinson holds one of the speeches of ‘Tully’ (played by actor Josh Hayes during the historical re-enactment) protesting against the sale of Nun’s Green common land in Derby. This is one of the valuable documents held in the Derby Local Studies Library and was viewed during a conference excursion there.


The day closed with a panel discussing Thelwall’s ‘Legal Trials’. AHRC-funded PhD Student from the University of York, Fiona Milne, presented an absorbing paper concerning the years following Thelwall’s legal trial and how his publications during these years urgently sought to vindicate his character before the tribunal of public opinion.

The second inspirational paper in this panel was presented by David Watkinson, Barrister, who, before retirement, was the joint Head of Garden Court Chambers, which is now one of the largest sets of Barristers’ Chambers in the UK. Since 2004 this has been situated at 57-60 Lincolns Inn Fields, where John Thelwall taught and lived during the years 1813-21. David’s paper provided a detailed analysis of Thelwall’s trial and also speculated how its conduct – and potentially the result – might differ today.

The final paper of the day was presented by Edmund Downey of the University of Lincoln, who provided a wealth of information upon radical publisher of the 1790s, Daniel Isaac Eaton. Edmund’s paper demonstrated the power of the printed word and how the repressive Government at the time were anxious to prevent publishers disseminating this type of material.

To close the day, the conference held a wine reception and optional conference dinner.



Conference delegates mingle at the wine reception which concluded Saturday’s proceedings.


Sunday’s itinerary included panels on ‘Local Networks’ and ‘Radical Urban Landscapes’. The conference closed with the Annual General Meeting of the John Thelwall Society. The Society has many events planned for the future, including the unveiling of a new blue plaque on Bedford Street in London. New members are always welcome and information can be found here:

Conference organisers, Professor Judith Thompson, Professor Paul Elliott, Dr Paul Whickman, Kathryn Hindmarch and myself wish to express their gratitude to BARS for their generous conference subvention which supported this event.


[1] Librarian, Local Studies Library.

Conference Report: Romanticism Takes to the Hills

The BARS-sponsored conference ‘Romanticism Takes to the Hills’ was held at Edge Hill University on 29 April 2017. The following conference report is by Hannah Britton (University of St Andrews).




‘Romanticists Take to Edge Hill’


Location, shadowed by its uncomfortable opposite, dislocation, was at the heart of the one-day ‘Romanticism Takes to the Hills’ conference hosted by Edge Hill University, which took place at the end of April. The gentle word-play of the title (the second in a triad that includes last year’s successful ‘Edgy Romanticism/Romanticism on Edge’ and what I’m reliably informed will be next year’s ‘Romanticism Goes to University’) set the stage for a day that would see Romanticism and its embodied figures climb mountains and scramble back down them (most likely on all fours), travel along the British coastline as well as through the Wye valley, and head to distant shores. Those of us who gathered at Edge Hill’s leafy, out-of-the-way campus came from all over—from the nearby universities of the North-West of England and the Midlands, to the far-flung edges of Scotland (the six-hour journey from St Andrews on the previous day, I think, permits me this liberty), to Denmark, Sweden, Italy, and the United States. Although set in the quiet Lancashire countryside, this was an international conference with an international perspective.

The day opened brilliantly with a keynote from Professor Tim Fulford entitled ‘Beings of Energy: Poets, Geologists and the Science of Mountaineering’. The paper explored the communal culture of enquiry that emerged on the mountainside in the Romantic era between poets and scientists whose experiments and explorations would forge the new science of geology. Tim paid particular attention to the relationship between Sir Humphry Davy and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose shared desire for a scientific practice that would lead to social levelling found voice through, and in, their mountain experiences. Tim was the first of a number of speakers to engage with Coleridge’s (in)famous descent of Broad Stand, a point of return that would remind all present that the mountain sublime of the Romantic era also contains mountain ridiculousness. Coleridge’s letters detailing this feat and other of his mountain excursions were drawn within Tim’s discussion of the idea of the Romantic mountain conversation, a dialogue both of, and on, the mountain. Tim concluded with a thought-provoking look at the poem that perhaps most clearly embodies and explores this idea: Wordsworth’s The Excursion.

The keynote set the tone for a day that would have dialogue at its heart. Not only did epistolary conversations and transcultural exchanges play a leading role in several papers, the communal culture of enquiry that Tim located in the Coleridge/Davy circle was shared by the conference attendees. The inspired choice to arrange the conference room in the style of a seminar, rather than a lecture, fostered the openness of the discussions that were had by all, and of the sense of the day itself as an on-going conversation. The well-timed refreshment breaks enabled conversations to be carried on over revivifying cups of tea and coffee, and I certainly gained as much from these moments of dialogue as from the papers themselves. It should also be noted that the conference catering was excellently done, and I’m sure I won’t be the only person disappointed if the next academic event I attend doesn’t include a specially scheduled break for petit fours…

The first panel of the day explored Romantic travels and travel-writing from the Lakes to the Scottish lochs to the seashores of Britain. Kirsty Anne McHugh’s opening paper examined the experience of the ‘home tour’ through the correspondence of Dorothy Wordsworth and Jane Marshall, and the way in which this dialogue sheds light on how the discourse of domestic tourism shaped and defined expectations and experiences on the ground. A real tour of Scotland was followed by an invented tour of the Lakes as Carol Bolton discussed Robert Southey’s 1807 pseudonymous work, Letters from England: By Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella, and the poet’s complex response to the influx of ‘Lakers’ and the business of Lake District tourism. Zoë Kinsley’s concluding paper sounded a darker note as it explored the literary representations of lighthouses in Romantic-era travel accounts and uncovered in these narratives anxieties over the liminal lives of the lighthouse-men and their troubling existence outside the boundaries of culture and society.

The second panel imaginatively transported the conference from Britain to Denmark with three papers that considered the place of Denmark in British Romanticism and the importance of place in Danish Romanticism. Cian Duffy opened the panel with a discussion of the changing place of Denmark—and Copenhagen in particular—in the cultural imagination of Romantic-era Britain. In responses to the two British attacks on Copenhagen in 1801 and 1807, Cian traced the rise and fall of a sense of cultural fraternity between Britain and Denmark that centred upon a shared ‘northern’ identity, in opposition to the Napoleonic ‘south’. Both Robert Rix and Lis Møller went deeper into the topography of Denmark itself in their corresponding explorations of the way in which specific sites—both real and imaginary—were invested (or re-invested) with a sense of national identity, with Robert focusing on domestic travel-writing and Lis on the revival of the Danish ballad tradition.

Panel Three continued the focus on Romanticism beyond the geographical borders of Britain, and the figures of the exile, the migrant, and the stranger set a new tone for the ongoing discussion about travel and place writing. Val Derbyshire’s opening paper examined the marginal space of the text in relation to the marginalised place of the author-in-exile, as she unpacked the complex gender dynamics present in Charlotte Smith’s translation of Manon L’Escaut. Gioia Angeletti extended the discussion about edges and peripheral spaces in her exploration of colonial discourse and transcultural negotiations in the poetry of John Leyden and Thomas Pringle. Gioia examined the ways in which a changed geography resulted in a refashioning of identity for Leyden in India and Pringle in South Africa, and considered the complex expression of otherness and in-betweenness in each poet’s verse. Julia Coole rounded off the panel with a paper on Washington Irving’s experience of being a quasi-outsider in England, as expressed in his phenomenally successful The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon (1819), and suggested that Irving’s liminal position enabled him to create space for American writing and writers within the British literary and cultural landscape.

In a fitting conclusion to the day, the final panel looked to new approaches and methodologies for engaging with the ideas of place and space in Romanticism. Brennan Sadler opened up the vast potential of the digital humanities for teaching and research as she walked the conference attendees through her own digital scholarly edition of ‘Tintern Abbey’, which importantly enables the reader with no personal experience of the Wye Valley to engage with the poem in its locational context. This was followed by Sean Nolan’s nuanced exploration of moments in Coleridge’s poetry of dejection in which the poet’s psychic landscape may be mapped onto a physical topography, and how such affective mapping sheds light on Coleridge’s experience of acedia. The final paper, given jointly by Joanna Taylor and Christopher Donaldson, continued the theme of mapping in its demonstration of the use of Geographical Information Systems in reading Romantic accounts of climbing Scafell. Having begun the conference thinking about mountain climbing and mountain poetics, it was appropriate that Joanna and Chris brought us full circle in their exploration of the physical geography of the mountain and the alternative geographies and cartographies of the text.

A BARS-sponsored wine reception, held in the rooftop garden of the Business School, was the perfect coda to an inspiring day of scholarship—a suggestive reminder that for us, as for the Romantics, dialogue matters and it matters where that dialogue takes place.


– Hannah Britton, University of St Andrews

Report from the 19thC Matters public engagement training day at Chawton House Library

Thank you to Jessica Hindes for the following post, reporting from the Nineteenth Century Matters public engagement training day. This event was held at the stunning location of Chawton House Library on 28 January 2017, and was sponsored by BARS and BAVS. You can follow tweets from the event by searching for the hashtag #C19Matters. Jessica is also on twitter (@bleakho).

The Nineteenth Century Matters Training Day on Public Engagement: A Report for BARS

The Nineteenth Century Matters public engagement training day at Chawton House Library offered postgraduate researchers in Romantic and Victorian studies the opportunity to come together in order to consider both the wider purpose of public engagement in academia, and the types of engagement activity they might begin to develop from their own research. With bursaries on offer to researchers without permanent academic employment, the day’s organisers displayed a refreshing awareness of the pressures faced by those coming out of the PhD into a difficult job market. As an early career researcher without institutional affiliation, one of the aspects of the day that I most enjoyed was the chance that it offered to connect with others in the same situation.


Chawton House Library in Hampshire

It was also a delight to attend an event where every one of the papers, panels and activities was so practically useful and so well thought out. The morning began with a talk from Professor Mark Llewellyn, the Director for Research at the AHRC, on ‘Living (in) the Library’, which considered the ways in which academics’ work might be enriched through contact with cultural centres outside of the university (libraries, museums) and which centred on Mark’s own experience as an early career researcher living and working in what is now the Gladstone Library in Hawarden, North Wales. In a highly entertaining paper, Mark raised thought-provoking questions about the ways in which scholars’ work is perceived by those outside the academy, invoking the notion of ‘hospitality’ to describe an approach that starts from an audience’s existing knowledge and beliefs rather than holding them to rigid academic standards from the outset.

As the day developed, Mark’s ideas about meeting an audience in spaces outside the university and his emphasis on the public engagement process as something reciprocal – something that benefits both sides – reappeared in papers from Dr Claire Wood (of the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement) and Professor Holly Furneaux (of Cardiff University). Claire’s paper provided a whistlestop tour through some of the fundamental principles of public engagement best practice, recommending that researchers planning any public engagement activity consider purpose, process and people (audience) as well as prioritising evaluation as a fundamental component of their work. Claire offered links to numerous resources and pointed those attending toward NCCPE’s work in linking researchers with institutions beyond the academy, in particular the MUPI programme which connects university scholars with small museums. Holly’s presentation reflected on a public engagement project undertaken in collaboration with the National Army Museum, for whom she is a research ambassador. Holly had worked with children in schools local to the Museum (and incidentally, to Chawton House) on ‘The Ballad of the Boy Captain’, a story from the Crimean War. Holly made an enthusiastic case for academic public engagement, suggesting that done right, it could shape the direction of research in fruitful and unexpected ways. However, she was also honest about some of the challenges of this work. She pointed to the ‘opportunity cost’ involved in establishing the relationships that underpinned good engagement activity, as well as the real financial cost incurred in making study visits and giving up time to volunteer. Of course, any early career researcher is familiar with the investment of time and often money required to participate in the activities necessary to maintain a strong academic profile, but it was refreshing to hear this addressed so openly here.

Mark Llewellyn

Mark Llewellyn

Other speakers were drawn from the type of non-academic institution suggested as useful partners in undertaking this kind of activity: Professor Gillian Dow, the Executive Director of Chawton House Library (and an academic at Southampton), and Mary Guyatt, the curator at Jane Austen’s House. Gillian spoke about her experiences since joining Chawton House in 2014 and the efforts she has made to bring new audiences into the library, focusing on an exhibition hosted at Chawton in 2016 to mark 200 years since the publication of Emma. As Mark had done earlier in the morning, Gillian offered an amusing insight into some of the difficulties of reaching out to the public alongside her assessment of the many benefits of doing so (with an acknowledgement that working on a popular figure like Jane Austen brings particular challenges of its own). Mary then shared some of her expertise about the ways in which universities and museums can work together, suggesting that this might take the form of less obvious collaborations, such as writing labels for exhibits, or cataloguing parts of collections as well as offering talks or events.

After lunch, participants separated into smaller groups to work with the speakers and experts in attendance on developing public engagement activities from their own research. Although the time limitations meant that ideas could reach only a very early stage at this point, I found the exercises thought-provoking, and my fellow conference-goers full of creative insight. I also appreciated the focus with which Gillian (leading my session) encouraged us to consider the practicalities of what we suggested: where would the money come from? Where would we stage and how publicise our work? As was the case with all of the morning’s talks on the day, the session felt grounded in the reality of today’s humanities research environment, offering concrete suggestions to point the researcher on their way. Alongside the chance to connect to others in a similar position, this was for me the best thing about the whole event: its pragmatic focus on getting things done.

The grounds at Chawton

The grounds at Chawton

The last session of the day offered the opportunity to come back together, to thank those who had offered their expertise throughout, and to express gratitude to the event’s organiser Catherine Han for her hard work in putting on the day. I left Chawton not only with some useful new connections in hand, but with a renewed confidence in my own position within the nineteenth-century studies research environment and (most of all) with a number of positive ideas about my own future practice as an academic in the public sphere.

Jessica Hindes

Some tweets from the day-

Also, you can read the BAVS report here:

Conference Report: Placing Charlotte Smith, Chawton House Library, 14th-16th October 2016

‘Tell my name to distant ages’: Placing Charlotte Smith: Canon, Genre, History, Nation, Globe, held at Chawton House Library, Chawton, UK, 14th-16th October 2016

Val Derbyshire, School of English, University of Sheffield



The conference took place within the beautiful setting of Chawton House Library, Hampshire


Twenty-three innovative research papers, two recitals of original pieces of music, two long-lost ancestors, one new edition of Smith’s Ethelinde, one potential new literary society and one beautiful setting were just some of the elements which comprised the Placing Charlotte Smith conference which took place this weekend (14th to 16th October 2016). From this list alone, one can see the ground-breaking research into the work of this once-lost author which took place at Chawton House Library over this past weekend, and which was generously part-funded by BARS.

Just a peep at the delegate list alone was enough to get Smith scholars everywhere into a state of excitement. Present at Chawton House Library were Professor Stuart Curran from the University of Pennsylvania (and editor of the 1993 edition of The Poems of Charlotte Smith [1]), Professor Loraine Fletcher of the University of Reading (and author of Smith’s most acclaimed biography Charlotte Smith: A Critical Biography [2], not to mention the editor of the Broadview Literary Text editions of Emmeline [3] and Celestina [4]), co-organisers Professor Jacqueline M Labbe (author of numerous works upon Smith, including Writing Romanticism: Charlotte Smith and William Wordsworth, 1784-1807 [5],) Professor Beth Dolan, and a whole host of other senior and emerging scholars with an interest in the works of Charlotte Smith.

Professor Labbe opened the conference by providing a glimpse of a programme from a Charlotte Smith conference in 2006. Since that time, she informed us, more scholars than ever before were studying, writing and publishing papers upon this author. Smith scholarship is demonstrably a burgeoning area of research, and one which now has a global reach, as the international nature of the delegates attending this conference substantiated.

The conference then proceeded with the first panel which considered what must be many students’ first introduction to Smith’s works, the Elegiac Sonnets. Within this panel, Rick Ness from the University of Wisconsin-Madison discussed ‘Apostrophes and Opiates’ in the sonnets. Samuel Rowe from the University of Chicago discussed the dissociative form of the poetic ‘I’, and Mary Ann Myers from Bard Microcollege Holyoke gave an innovative and informative reading of Smith’s sonnets in conjunction with the sonnets of John Thelwall. Notions of patriotism were highlighted in this insightful paper which gave a long overdue consideration of these two Romantic-era authors who speak to each other so well.[6]

The next offering on the conference agenda was Ned Bigham (Viscount Mersey and current owner of Bignor Park, Sussex, Smith’s childhood home). This session comprised the first original piece of music from this conference: Elegiac Sonnets Recital. The music had been performed beautifully by students of the Department of Music from the University of Sheffield and was accompanied by a stunning video of some of the many beautiful locations in the South Downs which inspired both Charlotte Smith and Ned Bigham as artists. Ned also gave some commentary on the raison d’être behind his composition. It was a simply wonderful interlude within the conference and provided a fascinating new interpretive light to the sonnets we know so well.  Ned also introduced a video featuring one of Smith’s ancestors in Australia, who gave a moving account of how her own interest in Charlotte Smith’s life and work had inspired her to take many journeys to the UK to visit Smith’s places.


Bignor Park, Sussex. Once Smith’s childhood home, now home to Ned Bigham, Viscount Mersey and musician.

Bignor Park, Sussex. Once Smith’s childhood home, now home to Ned Bigham, Viscount Mersey and musician.


After lunch, Professor Labbe chaired the session entitled ‘Market and Canon’. First within this session, the delegates heard from Professor Michael Gamer of the University of Pennsylvania, who offered a detailed and revelatory reading of the early editions of the Elegiac Sonnets and how Smith cannily worked the market via the means of subscription publishing. Bethan Roberts from the University of Lancaster gave a fantastically meticulous consideration of Smith’s famous sonnet XLIV ‘Written in the church-yard at Middleton in Sussex’, chronicling later responses to this poem and offering the delegates an enticing view of how artists responded to this most-anthologised of sonnets via a variety of paintings. Finally, Professor Matthew Grenby (Newcastle University) gave a lively elucidation of Smith’s place in the market, looking at just how profitable her books proved to be for her: ‘she was the J. K. Rowling of her day’.

Next, ‘Nature and Art’ were considered in Smith’s works through eco-critical readings of Rural Walks (1795) by Professor Lisa Vargo (University of Saskatchewen), discussions of the issue of museum collections in Conversations Introducing Poetry (1804) by Richard De Ritter (University of Leeds) and a consideration of the picturesque in Smith’s first novel, Emmeline (1788), by myself, Val Derbyshire of the University of Sheffield. My own paper traced the childhood relationship between Charlotte Smith and landscape artist George Smith of Chichester (c. 1714-1776) and how his particular vision of the picturesque seems to inform the backdrops to her first novel.



William Pether, Portrait of George Smith of Chichester (c. 1714-1776), c. 1811. This landscape artist provided drawing lessons to Charlotte Smith whilst she was a child.

William Pether, Portrait of George Smith of Chichester (c. 1714-1776), c. 1811. This landscape artist provided drawing lessons to Charlotte Smith whilst she was a child.


The first day’s action concluded with papers from Emilee Morrall of Liverpool Hope University and Leanne Cane from Northumbria University, with Emilee discussing transitional spaces and Leanne discussing Charlotte Smith’s novels and the eighteenth-century education debate. Both papers were bright and engaging and ensured that the day’s scholarly discussions ended on an informative note.

Conference dinner was held at the Alton House Hotel and was a very enjoyable event. I particularly enjoyed speaking with Ellen Moody who has just completed a new edition of Ethelinde which is available now through Valancourt Books. A new edition of what Professor Labbe terms ‘Smith’s weirdest work’ is long overdue. Having seen a sneak preview of the book, it looks like a very fine tome indeed (and an awful lot of hard work on Ellen’s part – she informed me that she typed it all herself!)


Ellen Moody, editor of the new edition of Smith’s Ethelinde (1789), at lunch on Saturday 15th October 2016.

Ellen Moody, editor of the new edition of Smith’s Ethelinde (1789), at lunch on Saturday 15th October 2016.


Saturday’s panels commenced with Ellen again, providing a wonderfully innovative post-colonial reading of Smith’s works alongside Ahdaf Soueif’s The Map of Love [7] and the poetry of Margaret Atwood. Elizabeth Edwards (University of Wales) followed this by mapping Smith and Wales in the Welsh settings in her novels and her one play, What Is She? Finally, Jane Hodson (University of Sheffield) gave a fascinating insight into a literary-linguistics project she has been involved in, mapping regional dialects in works dating from 1800 to 1836. Jane then discussed Smith’s original use of regional dialect in her Letters of a Solitary Wanderer (1799) and demonstrated how Smith was much ahead of her time in her use of this.

After coffee and home-made lavender shortbread biscuits by the incredibly talented staff of the Chawton House Library, the gothic in Smith’s work was considered, with the question being raised by Jenny McAuley of Queen Mary University of London whether Smith’s most famous novel, The Old Manor House (1793), could have been based on a real-life Hampshire ghost story?

Lunch included a visit from a second member of Charlotte Smith’s family, Sir Eldred Smith-Gordon, a descendant of her son, Lionel. It was wonderful to meet this charming gentleman and also to hear his thoughts upon Professor Dolan’s proposals for forming a new Charlotte Smith society. This idea was discussed over lunch, with insight and advice being provided by Professor Stuart Curran, Professor Emma Clery (University of Southampton) and BSECS Chairman, Professor Matthew Grenby. After this discussion, it was decided that a working group is to be formed to potentially progress the idea further.


Sir Eldred Smith-Gordon, a direct descendant of Lionel Smith (the son of Charlotte Smith and ‘the other chap, who we mustn’t mention’, as Sir Eldred termed it - Smith’s profligate husband, Benjamin).

Sir Eldred Smith-Gordon, a direct descendant of Lionel Smith (the son of Charlotte Smith and ‘the other chap, who we mustn’t mention’, as Sir Eldred termed it – Smith’s profligate husband, Benjamin).


The afternoon concluded with considerations of Desmond and Beachy Head, before the second musical interlude of the conference, ‘The Songs of Beachy Head’, which was held in the evocative setting of St. Nicholas Church, Chawton. Composer Amanda Jacobs performed the magnificent collection of songs which had emerged from a collaboration between herself and Professor Dolan. Amanda provided the music, with mezzo soprano Janet Oates singing the pieces beautifully, and Professor Dolan delivering a lecture to introduce the songs. The lecture was an integral part of this performance, as it provided the role of ‘footnotes’ to the songs (as Professor Dolan pointed out, Beachy Head is Smith’s most heavily footnoted poem). Once more, the original composition provided new insights into Smith’s final poem, which can be a difficult one for readers to get to grips with. As Professor Dolan herself advised the delegates, it was the poem she found the most problematic to interpret. Professor Dolan stated that she hoped to be able to use the songs with her students in forthcoming classes.



Mezzo-Soprano, Janet Oates, and composer and musician Amanda Jacobs, perform ‘The Songs of Beachy Head’ with Professor Beth Dolan providing the ‘footnotes’ in the form of her accompanying lecture.

Mezzo-Soprano Janet Oates and composer and musician Amanda Jacobs perform ‘The Songs of Beachy Head’, with Professor Beth Dolan providing the ‘footnotes’ in the form of her accompanying lecture.


Sunday was the day of the optional excursion which visited many of the places in Smith’s life. Commencing at Smith’s childhood home of Bignor Park, Sussex, the excursion progressed to the grandeur of Petworth House (where Smith enjoyed/endured a somewhat troubled relationship with the third Earl of Egremont, George Wyndham), and concluded with the end of her life, with a visit to St John’s Church, Stoke-next-Guildford, where her memorial plaque remains today.

Within just one weekend, an enormous amount of ground was covered, which will potentially provide innovations in the teaching of Smith’s poetry (with the use of music) and the formation of a new literary society dedicated to her work. In the closing lines of the final poem of Curran’s edition of The Poems of Charlotte Smith, ‘To My Lyre’ [8], Smith appeals to her readers thus:

And as the time ere long must come

When I lie silent in the tomb,

Thou wilt preserve these mournful pages;

For gentle minds will love my verse,

And Pity shall my strains rehearse,

And tell my name to distant ages. [9]

This conference achieved what was arguably Smith’s dying wish, and told her ‘name to distant ages’, in addition to discovering new ways to continue telling her name to ages to come.

Conference organisers Professors Jacqueline Labbe and Elizabeth Dolan and myself are immensely grateful to BARS for their generous support and Chawton House Library for all of their hard work in making this event possible.


[1] Charlotte Smith, The Poems of Charlotte Smith, ed. by Stuart Curran (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).

[2] Loraine Fletcher, Charlotte Smith: A Critical Biography (Houndsmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001).

[3] Charlotte Smith, Emmeline, the Orphan of the Castle, ed. by Loraine Fletcher (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Literary Texts, 2003).

[4] Charlotte Smith, Celestina, ed. by Loraine Fletcher (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Literary Texts, 2004).

[5] Jacqueline M Labbe, Writing Romanticism: Charlotte Smith and William Wordsworth, 1784-1807 (Houndsmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

[6] The Call for Papers for the Second International John Thelwall Conference is now open. The conference will be held at the University of Derby over the weekend of 21-23 July. If anyone has an interest in submitting an abstract, please contact me on email and I will send you a copy of the CFP.

[7] Ahdaf Soueif, The Map of Love (London: Bloomsbury, 1999).

[8] Smith, The Poems of Charlotte Smith, ed. by Stuart Curran, pp. 310-312.

[9] Smith, The Poems of Charlotte Smith, ed. by Stuart Curran, p. 312.

Conference Report: Byron and the Romantic World

Please see below for a report by Julia Coole (Keele University) on ‘Byron and the Romantic World’, which BARS helped to support.


Conference Report: Byron and the Romantic World


On Friday 30th September Keele University hosted an undergraduate and postgraduate conference on Byron and Romanticism.  This event developed from an annual conference which was previously hosted by Edge Hill University under the command of Dr Mary Hurst.  This year, in the spirit of collaboration, Edge Hill teamed up with Keele for an inaugural event that sought to encourage undergraduate and postgraduate students from a range of institutions to meet, present, and potentially collaborate on future projects.  As our speakers varied in levels of study between year two undergraduates, to PhD students on continuation, our mission was to provide a warm and insightful glimpse into the academic environment.  This year Keele had the honour of hosting the event, and did so in the beautiful nineteenth-century mansion house, Keele Hall.  The papers themselves were delivered in the appropriate location of the mansion’s Old Library.

Keele Hall, Staffordshire

Keele Hall, Staffordshire


The Old Library, Keele Hall, Staffordshire

The Old Library, Keele Hall, Staffordshire

The first panel consisted of two relatively old hands, Kimberley Braxton (a third-year PhD student from Keele University) and Kirsty Harris (who has just submitted her PhD thesis at Anglia Ruskin University), and was chaired by the renowned Byronist, Professor Bernard Beatty.  Both speakers gave stimulating papers.  Braxton’s handling of the relationship between Byron’s public “Byronic” persona, and the influence of the Byronic hero on the subsequent writing practices of the Brontë siblings, was truly insightful.  Interesting distinctions were made between Emily Brontë’s appropriations of the Byronic hero in Wuthering Heights (1847), and Bramwell’s experimentation with Byronic ideals during the course of his personal life.  Harris followed this paper with a discussion on metamorphosis in Byron’s “shipwreck” narratives, with a close focus on Canto II of Don Juan (1819-1824).  In this paper, Harris discussed Byron’s apparent rejection of the deities which were “intrinsic to classical narratives”, which she argued allowed him to develop the idea of human regeneration and an idea of heroism which was not dictated by the divine.  The question session for this panel was understandably animated, with the questions themselves being skilfully fielded by both speakers.

Kirsty Harris, PhD Candidate, Anglia Ruskin University

Kirsty Harris, PhD Candidate, Anglia Ruskin University

The next session was chaired by Edge Hill’s enigmatic Dr Andrew McInnes.  Daniel Westwood (University of Sheffield) kicked off with an exploration of the monologue in Byron’s Manfred (1817).  Whilst evaluating aspects of monodrama and monologue in Byron’s first adult play, Westwood interrogated the complexities that arose from “a work that is both attuned to the power of the monological and willing to embrace open-endedness.”  With an emphasis on the ambiguity that these tensions present, Westwood sought to develop McGann’s ideas on Byron’s distinctions between lying and cant to show that neither label is quite appropriate for the “level of ambivalence” which surrounds this play.  This paper was followed by two papers from Edge Hill University, both of whom were presented by students in their second year of undergraduate study.  Megan Carney led the charge with a sophisticated analysis of the role of the servant in Gothic literature.  Carney suggested that, through their unique role of simultaneously being and not-being, the agency of the servant is difficult to determine and, as a result, their presence can be compared to that of a ghost which is inextricably bound to a particular place though not active in the events which occur there.  Soraya Atherton concluded this panel with a discussion of exile, with particular focus being placed on the exile of the Shelleys in the early nineteenth century.  Atherton made astute comparisons between different kinds of exile, with a strong distinction being made between the morose ideas of exile demonstrated in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) with the more jubilant exile depicted in Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812-1818) – in the later cantos in particular.

Megan Carney, Undergraduate, Edge Hill University

Megan Carney, Undergraduate, Edge Hill University

After a well-deserved lunch break and a tour of the iconic grounds at Keele Hall, the final panel (chaired by Keele’s own Hannah Scragg) commenced with an undergraduate student from Canterbury Christ Church University, Rosie Jackson-Horn.  Jackson-Horn argued that Byron’s self-fashioned identity, which he took pains to develop throughout his oeuvre, can even be seen through his letters and epistles to his half-sister, Augusta Leigh.  Rather than “merely composing love-poems”, Jackson-Horn demonstrated that these too can be perceived as self-fashioning texts aimed at strengthening Byron’s already distinguished persona.  Master’s student, Susannah Owen (Keele University), continued the theme of identity with a probing paper on the effects of the French Revolution on ideas of national identity.  Moving away from Byron slightly, Owen referenced Benedict Anderson’s renowned Imagined Communities (1983) to discuss the ways in which writers such as Burke, Godwin and Percy Shelley responded to, and commented on, new ideas of community “held together not by a shared monarchical ruler, but through a shared national identity”.  The final paper of the day was presented by Alexander Abichou, who starts a PhD at Durham University this year.  His paper rounded the panel off with a discussion of representations of history in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.  With particular emphasis on the discussion of the appropriation of the Elgin Marbles in Canto II, Abichou discussed Byron’s relationship to history and suggested that, to Byron, this appropriation of the marbles led to an idea of misplaced identity for the Greeks, which Byron attempted to reconcile through his narrative.

Alexander Abichou, PhD Candidate, Durham University

Alexander Abichou, PhD Candidate, Durham University

Our keynote speaker was greatly anticipated: Professor Drummond Bone from the University of Oxford did not disappoint.  As a leading figure in Byron studies, and Romantic studies more generally, we could not have imagined a more appropriate speaker to end our day’s discussion, and were very thankful to Drummond Bone for supporting both our event, and our burgeoning academics.  With a thought-provoking investigation into the impact of women on the English cantos of Don Juan, Drummond Bone provided a passionate and warming talk geared to incite further interest in, and appreciation for, Byron and Romantic studies.

Professor Drummond Bone, University of Oxford

Professor Drummond Bone, University of Oxford


Julia Coole, Keele University