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Conference Report: Substance Use and Abuse in the Long Nineteenth Century

This conference, held at Edge Hill University on 13-14 September 2018, was part-funded by BARS. You can see tweets from the conference here. Anna Rowntree reports from the event.

Substance Use and Abuse in the Long Nineteenth Century:

a report by Anna Rowntree

Substance use and abuse: can there be a subject that more intimately and richly connects the long nineteenth century with our own modern moment of being? We live in a world of blurred boundaries – our food, our clothes, our drugs, and our technology grown, mined, manufactured and designed in a cross-pollinated global world where nothing is ever straightforward.

But perhaps we can track something – perhaps we can go back and pay attention to the time which from this vantage point looks a little like a beginning. We can burrow into the literature, art and artefacts of the long nineteenth century and we can draw lines which trace the moving, trading, inhaling and consumption of substances such as tobacco, hashish and opium. We can look at the ships facilitating the new globalising world economy and political landscape of colonisation, revolution and capitalism. We can chart the psychological landscape of the individual drug user and observe the blooming of new ways of painting, thinking or conceiving of self and world. And that is exactly what the conference ‘Substance Use and Abuse in the Long Nineteenth Century’ managed to do. From the minutiae of each scholar’s intricate research came a bigger picture which expressed something not unified but mutating and on the move. What every paper did in its own way was get things rolling – the effect was a view of the long nineteenth century where nothing stayed in its box and things were allowed to bleed.

Thursday began with a keynote from Noelle Plack entitled ‘Alcohol, Power and Identity in the Age of Revolution’. What Plack’s comprehensive research revealed was that alcohol consumption both encouraged social breakdown and simultaneously defined and reflected power hierarchies in an era of social upheaval. Whilst places of consumption and the loosening of tongues allowed a subversive physical and psychological space to open up, the choice of alcoholic beverage was highly coded with nationalistic and class associations. Plack’s conclusion that social movements and drink are intimately entwined laid the foundation for a conference in which culture revealed itself to be consistently under the influence – and in which substances are much more than recreational toys.

Panel One continued the investigation of alcohol with Jean Webb discussing the fascinating field of Victorian children’s fiction. Her reading of Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies and Hesba Stretton’s work showed the complex ways in which these writers were considering the social anxieties around alcoholism, degeneration, poverty, and child labour. Here Darwin, science, religion, literature and social activism all came together in an affective nexus. This interdisciplinary approach laid the foundation for a conference which at its best sought to be historically, culturally and artistically inclusive.

In Panel Two, Bob Nicholson treated us to a bodily understanding of cocktail culture. His shot glasses of blue liquid were not celebrated for their taste but were a fitting way to embody the subject. Nicholson’s conclusion that the British public were enjoying cocktails as part of a celebration of American culture spoke to the transnational nature of substances and the complex cultural interactions they encourage.

Speaking on the next panel, I made a case for reading De Quincey’s opium use through the lens of the posthuman, and argued that when we do so we introduce the possibility for exploring the role of peace in defining the shift between occasional and habitual drug use. Menglu Gao followed my paper with her rewarding reading of De Quincey alongside John Brown’s Elements of Medicine. Gao’s focus on energies and the invigorating effects of opium on the individual body, and as a nationalistic metaphor, was a beautiful illustration of the engagement of the personal and the political.

Panel Four was another rich offering. Sarah Irving complicated a traditional reading of Mary Eliza Roger’s memoir Domestic Life in Palestine. Instead of rejecting the text as an example of a romanticising European gaze, Irving argued that we read the work in terms of authenticity. The act of shared smoking implied Roger’s bodily knowledge of the orient which went beyond the mere onlooker. Suzanne Bode’s work on the hyper-realistic paintings of the pre-Raphaelites was a welcome inclusion of visual art in our discussion. Whether paintings of drugged models or paintings composed under the influence of mind altering substances, it was fascinating to analyse both the representation of the drugged body and the subjective reality of the drugged mind.

The day concluded with Susan Zieger’s keynote ‘Nineteenth-Century Revolutions: Psychoactive, Logistics, Aesthetic’. Zieger gave us a glimpse into her new work (her earlier work Inventing the Addict informed several of the papers at the conference). Her argument that we need to read the success of opium as a global commodity in terms of logistics encouraged not only a deep appreciation for the storage, transportation and handling technologies that enabled the success of opium, it formulated a new aesthetic understanding of the nineteenth century. Whilst the scale of opium’s production may seem at first to be unmeasurable and chaotic, in fact the strictly regulated ways in which it was managed reveals an underlying choreography which describes fetishised sleek capitalism. The modern implications of this kind of logistical sublime can be seen in Silicon Valley’s promotion of psychedelic micro-dosing as a tool for greater efficiency and productive creativity. The capture of substances – which for many stand for unpredictable freedom in oppressive modernity – is a worrying issue. Zieger’s work showed how profoundly relevant an understanding of the long nineteenth century is to our modern moment of crisis.

Continuing the theme of productive, mechanised labour through substance use was Douglas Small’s keynote paper ‘Sherlock Holmes and “Sports Doping”: Cocaine, Profession, and Performance’, which kicked off day two. Day two was also notable for Kevin McCarron’s paper in which he made a case of returning to a Victorian model for understanding addiction. McCarron’s dissatisfaction with the modern idea of addiction as disease was generally appreciated but his argument regarding a moral model which sees the addict as weak created wide-spread consternation. Nonetheless it was a pivotal point in the conference which got to the heart of why addiction studies matter and clarified the need for an ethical approach to addiction and addicts.

McCarron’s paper was followed by Sean Witters’ deconstructive approach to understanding addiction. Witters asked us to consider how we use the words ‘addiction’ and ‘addict’ forcing us to confront the constructed nature of the categories and the shifting historical ways for describing and understanding the phenomena of repetitive drug use. What happens when we name ‘the addict’? How does the temporal immutability of the noun obscure our understanding of addiction as an act? It was a useful reminder that the language we use creates realities that may have unintended effects.

Natalie Roxburgh’s paper ‘Medication and Social Optimization in Dorian Gray and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ worked well as a follow up to both McCarron’s and Witters’ work. Here the reasons for taking drugs were shown to be culturally entangled and various. Roxburgh illustrated how the repeated ingestion of substances in Wilde’s and Stevenson’s work is about social functionality and optimisation (as opposed to biological inevitability or an anti-social disregard for society). The transhuman implications of Roxburgh’s argument spoke again to our modern moment and the hybridisation of the human in pursuit of perfection. It was also a thought-provoking way to conclude the conference, leaving us with the haunting suspicion that we are all in the business of socially optimising ourselves.

Report from ‘Romantic Novels 1818’ – Anna Maria Porter’s The Fast of St. Magdalen

Here is a report by Colette Davies from the recent ‘Romantic Novels 1818’ seminar (September 2018). This series is sponsored by BARS and seminars are held at the University of Greenwich.

A Discussion of Anna Maria Porter’s The Fast of St. Magdalen (1818) with Professor Fiona Price (Chichester)

Professor Fiona Price’s illuminating talk on Anna Maria Porter’s three-volume novel, The Fast of St. Magdalen (1818), engaged her audience in considerations of the role of the romance novel in national politics, the disposition and conduct of the hero, and characterology. Contextualising Anna Maria Porter as an author who produced an extensive oeuvre of historical romance novels, yet who has (as Peter Garside observed) often been eclipsed by the works of Walter Scott, Price moved past this overshadowing and drew links between Anna Maria Porter’s writing and the works of Jane West, Maria Edgeworth and Joanna Baillie in terms of the writers’ characterology and participation in ongoing debates about the role of romance in constructing the nation, its politics, and its leaders.

Particularly interesting was Price’s reading of Porter’s modifications of her heroes and heroines; Price focused on the role and construction of the novel’s hero, Valombrosa, arguing that Porter used this character to explore the role of the people within national politics, a focus responding to the Congress of Vienna (1814-15). Valombrosa is a character with inherent flaws of anger and jealousy. This tendency for erroneous sensibility suggests that the hero needs to be re-educated and, in the novel, Valombrosa improves his character by watching and learning from his acquaintance, Prince Angelo Rossano. These emendations of character and disposition ameliorate Valombrosa’s ability to participate in national politics and govern for the sake of the people. Similarly, Rosalia, Valombrosa’s sister, is improved through the novel’s heroine, Ippolita, who mentors her. Price focused on Porter’s decision to design Rosalia as blind, arguing convincingly that it elucidated Porter’s belief that bodily weakness facilitates and signifies mental weakness: Rosalia is indulged as a child due to her blindness and thus her gaze is introspective and solipsistic. Ippolita helps Rosalia to turn her gaze outward and, as such, fashions her as the perfect bride for Angelo Rossano. Price concluded by asserting that developed characterology within the novel’s characters illustrates that heroes and heroines skilled in self-government signify wider consideration and representation of the people in national rule.

In the lively discussion which followed, questions were asked regarding the strength and independence of the female characters in the novel, prompting debate on whether Porter focused more on redefining her heroes than her heroines. From this, we discussed the depiction of intimacy between Valombrosa and Ippolita; Porter intimates that a kiss is shared prior to their engagement, breaking conventions of representing courtship in the period. As the penultimate talk in the ‘Romantic Novels 1818’ seminar series, Professor Fiona Price’s illuminating paper and the ensuing discussion attest to the value of revisiting lesser-known novels of the early nineteenth century. It reiterated the productive practice of studying links between the 1818 novels, their contemporary reception, and the place of these texts and authors in today’s universities.

The next seminar will take place on 15 November 2018 with Christina Morin (Limerick), and will consider Charles Maturin’s Women. Full schedule here.

Conference Report: ‘Character to Caricature, 1660-1850’

A report from the conference held at Northumbria University on 3 September 2018 (part-funded by BARS). Call for papers and programme here.

‘Character to Caricature, 1660-1850’: by Jenny Buckley

‘Character to Caricature’ was an interdisciplinary conference held at the Institute for Humanities at Northumbria University on 3 September, 2018. Bringing together scholars from across the UK, the conference desired to build upon current understandings of character. More particularly, it sought to explore character’s wider narratological implications and transmedial qualities in the long eighteenth century. With ‘character’ open to a range of definitions – from that which is branded or stamped, to styles of writing, distinctive personalities, moral and mental qualities, and status or official rank – given our particular historical moment, the way in which we understand the credibility and believability of character seems due for a re-evaluation.

To begin to grapple with these questions, the conference opened with a session on ‘Performing Parodies’, before featuring sessions on ‘Situating the Satirical’ and ‘Curating Character’. First to present was Montana Davies-Shuck (University of Northumbria) whose paper addressed ‘Fops, Monkeys, and Caricature’. She discussed the ways English gentlemen ape French fashions, becoming foppish in their pretensions and mannerisms and paid particular attention to caricatures of Louis Bourbon as ‘Louis Baboon.’ Next was David Barrow (University of York), who explored the way King Alfred was appropriated in the eighteenth-century as a way to respond to negative perceptions of the house of Hanover.

Characters and Caricaturas – William Hogarth (1743)

Refreshed after morning coffee, Adam James Smith (York St. John University) took us into the world of Tory satire, considering ‘The Partisan Hailing of “The Satirist” in the work of Joseph Addison and Alexander Pope’. Smith addressed the ways in which, for those in power, partisan hailing became a mode of simultaneously punching upwards and downwards. Continuing our exploration of periodicals, Mary Chadwick (University of Huddersfield) introduced us to the fascinating world of manuscript magazines. Focussing on the Breakfast Courant, she explored the use of animals in periodicals, paying particular attention to Welsh goats, Russian bears, and Addison and Steele’s lion. Olivia Ferguson (University of Edinburgh) delved into Walter Scott’s extensive collection of caricatures, considering the way in which only the author can genuinely illustrate their own work.

Following lunch, Ben Jackson (QMUL) opened with his paper ‘The Thrill of the Chaise: Gendering the Phaeton in Literary Satirical Culture, 1770-1820’. Jackson addressed the way in which carriage ownership revealed a man’s character with phaeton’s being the sign of the man ready to marry, while the possession of a carriage indicates that he has settled down. Fiona Milne (University of York) considered the way character was used in the courtroom in her paper on character defence and allegory in William Hone’s trials of 1817. Concluding the session, Hannah Moss (University of Sheffield) entered the world of visual and verbal caricatures of female artistic endeavour, challenging traditional (and also Austen’s) definition of the attributes that were required for a woman to be characterised as truly accomplished.

The keynote session was delivered by Dr Elaine McGirr (University of Bristol). Titled ‘Uniquely Typical; Typically Unique: a meditation on the paradox of character’, McGirr’s paper explored characters from Robinson Crusoe to Boris Johnson, considered the penchant for modern panel shows and the blurring of the boundary between politicians and celebrities. Her paper offered an opportunity for a wider reflection on the ways in which understanding the history of character and the ensuing cult of personality is a concern that is rooted in the eighteenth century but which inflects our culture today.

The event was an opportunity to engage with a range of new approaches to thinking about character in the long eighteenth century, and to build upon the influential studies by Deidre Lynch, Lisa Freeman, Jane Moody, and Julie Park. We are very grateful to BARS for supporting this conference, and for the financial assistance that enabled us to offer bursaries to postgraduate and ECR speakers.

‘Character to Caricature’ conference Twitter.

Conference Report: ‘Blood, Sweat, and Tears: Bodily Fluids in the Long Nineteenth Century’

Dr Abigail Boucher (Lecturer in English Literature, Aston University) reports on her conference, which was partially funded by the BARS conference support award.

Anxious Forms 2018 Conference Funding Report: ‘Blood, Sweat, and Tears: Bodily Fluids in the Long Nineteenth Century’

It has oft been a stereotype that those living during the long nineteenth century were prudish to the point of self-disembodiment. Although more recent criticism has sought to undo this century-long cliché, ideas of the abject – in this instance, bodily fluids – still seem conspicuously absent from both primary texts of the long nineteenth century and in much of the academic work about that period. The conference ‘Blood, Sweat, and Tears: Bodily Fluids in the Long Nineteenth Century’ engaged with such perceived omissions.

The generous contribution from BARS to the conference budget went toward the travel and accommodation costs for the keynote and plenary speakers: Professor Talia Schaffer (CUNY) opened the conference with a paper entitled ‘Fluid Reading: Subjectivity, Sentimentality, and Sociality’, which interrogated emotion in nineteenth-century novels, focusing on ideas of tears, sentiment and sympathy in theories of care. Professor Schaffer also discussed the metaphorically ‘fluid’ ideas of community within these theories of care. Plenary speaker Dr Kate Lister (Leeds Trinity) gave a paper in the afternoon session entitled ‘Buzzkill: The Victorians and the Vibrator’, which discussed sexual fluids, hysteria, and the myths surrounding sexual repression, kink, and anxious illness in the long nineteenth century. Dr Lister also brought to the forefront many pertinent issues about modern scholars who deal with still-taboo subjects and the ways in which the academy deals with them.

The research presented by other delegates covered a wide swathe of territory, with papers on nineteenth-century stigmata, breastmilk, tears, ectoplasm, blood and heredity, syphilitic incontinence, blood magic and anthropology, menopause, hormones, vomit, ‘night-soil’, and other effluvia. Conference delegates were especially successful in addressing why our current conception of the long nineteenth century is so skewed in terms of bodily function and excrescence. In part, the delegates debated how actual social, scientific, or moral anxieties played a role in muffling certain conversations. Others found that racial, class, and gender structures kept certain topics out of hegemonic – or at least the best recorded – discourses. Delegates also traced how various paradigm shifts over the long nineteenth century led to certain topics becoming more or less acceptable for public consumption. And, perhaps most significantly, several papers reported that certain bodily fluids were not considered as taboo as a modern audience would have them; authors instead recorded them in euphemistic or idiomatic language that has ceased to be fully recognised by the modern reader.

The conference was the third in the biennial Anxious Forms conference series which seeks, with every event, to interrogate a different point of anxiety – overt or implied, addressed or ignored, contemporaneous or a later construction – in the literature and culture of the long nineteenth century. The inaugural conference ‘Bodies in Crisis’ was held in 2014 and the second ‘Masculinities in Crisis’ was in 2016; both were held at the University of Glasgow, although this third entry was held at Aston University in Birmingham to commemorate the opening of the English Literature department (2017) and the History department (2018).

 

 

Report from ‘Romantic Novels 1818’ – Susan Ferrier’s Marriage

We present a report by Ruby Hawley-Sibbett from the latest ‘Romantic Novels 1818‘ seminar which took place in July 2018. This series is sponsored by BARS and seminars are held at the University of Greenwich. 

You can see details of upcoming seminars in the series here.

Seminar: Andy McInnes on ‘The Death of the Authoress in Susan Ferrier’s Marriage’ by Ruby Hawley-Sibbett

 

 

Andy McInnes delivered a thought-provoking seminar which focused on suspicion towards female literary authority in Ferrier’s first novel. McInnes began by considering how we read Marriage in 2018, including the minor revival of interest sparked by bicentenary events and the writer Val McDermid. McDermid’s observation that while Scott considered Ferrier his ‘sister shadow’, she is now overshadowed by him, was juxtaposed with Leah Price’s criticism of the use of Ferrier for national or gender balance in literary historical narratives. As well as Ferrier’s status as a shadow of Scott and of Austen, McInnes also discussed her work as sharing qualities with Edgeworth’s national tales.

McInnes highlighted that Marriage features many potential author figures, but also that Ferrier appears suspicious of the term authoress, leading him to argue that Ferrier begins to marginalise the woman writer, thus undoing the work of the Scottish national tale. McInnes compared Juliet Shields’ position in From Family Roots to the Routes of Empire: National Tales and the Domestication of the Scottish Highlands with that of Ian Duncan in Scott’s Shadow, but he challenged their reading of hybridisation in Ferrier as a potential way of reconciling the British nation, suggesting this view is too idealised.

Close reading of the passage relating to the authoress ‘Mrs Blanque’ in Bath, added by Ferrier to the 1841 text, led McInnes to argue that Ferrier was looking back at the situation of female authorship in 1818 and considering the vogue for anonymity, as an anonymous author herself. Alongside the ‘Mrs Bluemitts’ episode, this led McInnes to the conclusion that Ferrier was antagonistic to the public facing roles of authorship, applying Kowaleski-Wallace’s idea of the ‘scapegoating’ of women. Introducing Barthian ideas, McInnes considered whether Ferrier’s focus on reader relationships also demonstrates suspicion of authorship.

This led to an engaging group discussion which covered national hybridity and potentially Utopian Britishness, suspicion of authorial power in other Romantic novels, and the ways in which our impatience with anonymity remains evident in 2018.

Conference Report: ‘Romanticism Goes to University’, Edge Hill, May 2018

A detailed report from the BARS-sponsored conference that took place last month. Visit our website to find out how to apply for BARS conference support.

Conference Report: Edge Hill Symposium ‘Romanticism Goes to University’, 19-20 May 2018

by Juliette Misset

‘Romanticism Goes to University,’ the third installment in a series of three annual symposiums held at Edge Hill University, took place over a warm and sunny weekend this past May. Following ‘Edgy Romanticism/Romanticism on the Edge’ in 2016 and ‘Romanticism Takes to the Hills‘ in 2017, ‘Romanticism Goes to University’ offered participants the chance to consider the Romantic period both as researchers and as teachers, complete with keynote presentations, panels, and workshops, and even live-tweeting.

The first day started off with a panel entitled ‘The Romantic University and Romantic Poetry,’ where Matthew Sangster’s opening paper discussed a number of Romantic poets’ diverging takes on the university experience in their verse, highlighting the conflicting views of higher education at the time. Catherine Ross gave us the institutional perspective in the paper that followed, detailing the organisation of academic curricula in Oxford and Cambridge in the period, along with how students would typically spend their time outside of class, arguing for the importance of the whole of the university experience for emerging poets.

The second panel saw us venturing beyond the borders of Great Britain and into universities on the European continent. Maximiliaan van Woudenberg first explored the intellectual exchanges at the University of Göttingen, where a number of British intellectuals found an alternative to the traditional curricula offered to them in Britain, and the ways in which the German university and particularly its library has become significant for Romantic thought. Fittingly, Michael Bradshaw then turned to a specific British student of the University of Göttingen, considering the theatrical and performative element of Thomas Lovell Beddoes’ experience there. Moving farther east on the continent, Daiva Milinkevičiūtė studied the relationships between university teachers and students who belonged to the Philomaths and Philaretes organisations at Vilnius University. In the final paper of the panel, José Manuel Correoso-Rodenas presented an ongoing research and development project taking place at Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha in Spain, which aims at digitising all the existing illustrated editions of Edgar Allan Poe’s works.

The last panel of the day gave us rich and complementary insights into education in the Godwin-Wollstonecraft circle, extended to Mary Hays and her niece Matilda. John-Erik Hansson first looked at the ways in which William Godwin reworked the fable for innovative pedagogical purposes that move away from didactic moralising in order to focus on opening the mind of the child-reader to a myriad of subjects. Colette Davies moved on to  how Mary Wollstonecraft instructed other female writers through her professional reviews in the Analytical Reviews and in her private correspondence, and persuasively argued that Wollstonecraft was far from maternally supportive of all literary efforts by women. Finally, Susan Civale reconsidered Mary Hays’ image as a revolutionary turned isolated conservative by looking at the textual and personal ways that she mentored her niece Matilda.

After an afternoon tea that allowed for conversations to continue beyond the panel, Katie Garner gave the first keynote of the weekend. Taking advantage of the records kept by the University of St Andrews library, Katie reconsidered the assumption that universities were exclusively male spaces in the Romantic period. Her research on the borrowing records of the period showed that women who were connected to academia through a male family member, such as professors’ wives, had access to the library collections, and that there was no clear boundary between reading material borrowed for academic purposes or for pleasure among library card holders.

Katie then led the workshop on teaching Romanticism, which ended the day in the beautiful rooftop garden of the Business School building. This first workshop devoted to experiences of teaching the Romantic period in university today allowed for everyone to engage in a conversation that helped to bridge the gap between teaching and research, in an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere where early-career teachers and researchers felt comfortable sharing their experiences and thoughts with their more experienced colleagues. We discussed expanding the Romantic canon and trying different ways of teaching and assessing students. A wonderful end to a rich and stimulating first day, where dialogue continued all the way through to the conference dinner.

Sunday began with the second keynote and workshop of the event, given and led by Judith Pascoe. Judith presented various examples of the use of digital methods both in research and teaching, at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, keeping in mind the challenges such methods represent. One of the examples that most stood out was probably the recording of part of an ongoing doctoral project in the form of a podcast as opposed to the traditional thesis, which was a wonderful example of combining creative and critical work. The teaching workshop was embedded in the keynote as participants were asked to think of syllabus design including assessment during the presentation before discussing our picks during the workshop.

The following panel considered alternative approaches to education, with two papers that explored Romantic poetry in terms of vitality and mourning respectively, in a fitting duality. Shiwa Mun looked specifically at Percy Shelley’s ‘The Sensitive-Plant’ and its manifestation of ‘vegetal vitality’ where the poem becomes a textual garden, while Emily J. Dolive demonstrated how Mary Robinson and Jane Alice Sargant used the printed page as a physical space to guide Romantic readers through grief in the war-torn period.

The final panel explored ways of engaging with the Romantics beyond the classroom, digitally and otherwise. Lindsey Seatter traced the evolution of a digital editing project that originated as a classroom assignment and developed into a scholarly portfolio, delineating the challenges and constraints of such undertakings, while highlighting the exciting avenues for editing and research these represent. Val Derbyshire closed the panel with the presentation of a project involving a public re-enactment of Revolutionary addresses at The Old Bell pub in Derby, that historians believe to have taken place in the same pub in 1792. Val related how the performance eventually turned into a social protest event anchored in contemporary times, movingly showing just how relevant studying the Romantic period remains to this day.

This rich and diverse symposium closed with a final keynote and workshop by Alice Jenkins, highlighting once again the relevance of the Romantic period today through a comparative overview of some of the dilemmas facing universities then and now. While universities have changed to a great extent since the Romantic institutions of Oxford and Cambridge, fundamental questions such as whether and how to teach so-called ‘useful’ subjects—subjects that are understood to constitute a direct path to employment—within the university still very much apply today.

Overall, the weekend proved an extremely stimulating as well as welcoming event, where the single-track format allowed everyone to appreciate the careful constitution and progression of the panels, workshops, and keynotes. As a first-time attendee of an academic conference of this kind, I very much look forward to many more.

Report from ‘Romantic Novels 1818’: Owenson’s Florence Maccarthy

Here’s an insightful report by Ruby Tuke for those that missed the most recent Romantic Novels 1818 seminar, held at the University of Greenwich.  This seminar series is sponsored by BARS.

Postgraduate/ECR bursaries are available for future seminar meetings. Details here.

 

(Click to zoom and see future meetings)

 

A Discussion of Sydney Owenson’s Florence Macarthy (1818) with Dr Sonja Lawrenson

Romantic Novels 1818 Seminar March 2018

Dr Sonja Lawrenson delivered an illuminating talk on Sydney Owenson’s mighty four-volume novel Florence Macarthy: An Irish Tale (1818), which generated much lively discussion afterwards. Lawrenson argued that Florence Macarthy, less known and less studied than Owenson’s earlier novel The Wild Irish Girl (1806), deserves greater critical attention. Her paper teased out unusual links between the politically ambiguous later novel and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein­ (1818). She drew a convincing parallel between Frankenstein’s monster, and the multifarious identities of Florence Macarthy. The rejected monster is first constructed out of various different materials and narratives, and Macarthy is forced to spin yarns literally, as well as figuratively, for money. Thus Lawrenson intriguingly suggested that the challenges of female authorship in 1818 are necessarily woven into the form as well as the content of both novels.

Lawrenson’s paper also considered the role of private theatricals and public performances in Florence Macarthy in relation to the political status of Ireland in 1818. She argued that in this later work Owenson reveals her dismay that private theatricals have replaced the public performative arena of actual political representation. Lawrenson argued that Owenson has replaced the ‘national marriage plot’ of a happy union, which was earlier present in The Wild Irish Girl and is an extension of the supposedly happy union between England and Ireland, with less certain political allegiances. This does not just have implications for an interpretation of the novel, Lawrenson argued, but complicates our understanding of the “national tale”, as well.

Lawrenson’s reading of Florence Macarthy presented the text as an intricate response to ideas surrounding nationalism, nationhood and female authorship, which do not neatly align into a clear vision of the future of Ireland. Lawrenson explained that the author had an increasingly globalised outlook in her later novels, but that understanding the social status of the characters in their domestic settings remains something of a challenge.

Especially interesting to me was Lawrenson’s assertion that Owenson presents a distinctly un-Romantic vision of poverty at the same time as she also supports a version of ‘benevolent paternalism’. Lawrenson noted in the discussion after her talk that this uncertainty raises further questions surrounding the representation of class politics in the novel. She ended the discussion by suggesting that Owenson’s text might even be viewed as part of the same literary genealogy that later promotes the gothicisation of Irish famine victims – an intriguing, if disturbing, line of further inquiry.

– Ruby Tuke

Report from the North West Long Nineteenth Century Seminar

The North West Long Nineteenth Century Seminar, sponsored by BARS, takes place 3 times a year at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). It brings together the work of postgraduates, early career researchers and established academics, and is organised by Emma Liggins and Sonja Lawrenson.

A report by Holly Hirst, 2nd year PhD student at MMU

Today’s seminar took place to a back drop of suitably Gothic weather for this unusually Gothicky seminar set. The dull depression of what was supposedly a spring sky was not reflected in the talks given. A running connection to the Gothic appeared throughout the papers presented, and there was a particular emphasis on the latter half of the eighteenth century. Peter Lindfield (MMU) opened with a paper on the Gothically ‘genuine fake ancestral castle’ of Horace Walpole. Deborah Russell (York) followed with a talk on theatrical adaptations of Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest and Godwin’s Caleb Williams. Emilee Morrallis (Liverpool Hope) made a nod to the Gothic in her discussion of Charlotte Smith’s Old Manor House. The day ended with a discussion by Caroline Ikin (MMU) on John Ruskin’s decidedly (and refreshingly after a day of gloom!) unGothic Proserpina.

Lindfield’s paper ‘Building a genuine fake ancestral castle: Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill’ demonstrated the way in which Walpole’s Gothic architectural project was part of a desire to create for his family an ancestral seat, one of the key markers of family status in the Georgian period. Lindfield paid particular attention to the planned (but never executed) columbarium which was to be stocked with the (supposed) funerary urns of the Walpole family. Lindfield noted here the irony of Walpole’s mixing of the Gothic and the classical, which he had constantly execrated in his writings and correspondence, if not in appearance then in ethos. Russell’s paper followed and likewise covered a relatively undernourished area of Gothic scholarship – in this case the Gothic drama. Her paper was entitled ‘Staging Silence: Gothic Theatrical Adaptations.’ Her paper investigated the use of silence as a form of ‘obscurity’ and thus, in the Burkean sense, sublimity and the way it points to the unspeakable as well as the unknowable. Her paper moved from a brief analysis of the possibilities of silence in the novel to its translation on the stage. She noted the changed emphasis of silence and suspense on the stage, pointing to the key issue of focalisation. Within the Radcliffian Gothic novel, she argues, the reader’s perceptions are focalised through the heroine’s point of view, and the reader participates in the experience of the mystery attached to the ultimately explained supernatural. In contrast, stage versions allow the ‘supernatural’ or the trick to be seen – that which remained obscure in the novel is either made absent or explicit upon the stage.

After a short break for tea, coffee, biscuits and clarification of mind, Emilee Morrallis opened with her paper ‘Domesticity, liminality and social transition.’ Using Celestina and The Old Manor House as her key texts she discussed the ways in which the novels focus on the liminal period of adolescence and specifically female adolescence. Morrallis argued that there was no specific social space for adolescence and that this liminal period becomes occupied with liminal spaces. Her comparison of Celestina and The Old Manor House and their differently aged protagonists focused on the differences between these two differently adolescent figures’ experiences of the domestic space and liminal spaces within/around it. The world outside stands as both a threat and a space that is necessary to navigate and confront in order to attain access to the differently domestic life of the wife and mother. Concentrating on garden spaces, windows, and doors, Morrallis mapped these heroines’ negotiations of these liminal spaces in terms of physical space, adolescence, and femininity. Ikin’s paper on ‘John Ruskin’s Proserpina: Botany or Biography’ traced the ways in which Ruskin’s text engages with a very different form of botany to the materialist science which he rejected. Composed of meticulous observations of his own garden, creative responses, poetry and even exercises, the text, Ikin asserted, was aimed in part to rectify some of the deficiencies Ruskin perceived in the education of the young. He sought to restore wonder to the study of the natural world rather than the narrow focus of materialist science. Ikin also investigated the way in which this book of botany could and should be read biographically with reference to Ruskin’s own life and particularly his doomed relationship with Rose la Touche – to whom references were made throughout the text. Most fascinatingly, she investigated the title page of the volumes with particular attention to the flower symbolism of the blue rose – the sign of doomed love. All the papers were met with lively questions and discussion continued over dinner for those speakers and attendees who didn’t have a train to catch!

The whole day was an opportunity to expand knowledge and engage with new approaches in relation to Gothic writers, female Romantic authors and the intersection of elements of aesthetic theory with landscape design, architecture and their fictional and factual representations in the long nineteenth century.

– Holly Hirst

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