News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

Archive for February 2014

Five Questions: Judith Hawley on Amateur Theatricals


Judith Hawley is Professor of English at Royal Holloway, University of London.  Her doctoral work at Oxford was on Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, which remains one of her major interests, but she has also published widely on science and literature, eighteenth-century women writers, and coteries, groups and sociability.  Her current projects include a group biography of the Scriblerus Club and a new edition of Tristram Shandy.  In this interview, though, we discuss her ongoing collaborative work on amateur theatricals: approaches and publications; the series of conferences organised under the ‘What Signifies A Theatre?’ rubric; and the new Research into Amateur Performance and Private Theatricals network, which she co-directs with Mary Isbell.

1) How did you first become interested in amateur performance and private theatricals?

My interest came initially from personal experience.  As a teenager and then as a student at Cambridge, I was very involved in amateur dramatics as a performer, director and producer.  As well as the opportunities to explore different selves, I loved the collaborative aspect of theatre making.  As an undergraduate writing an essay a week, I also enjoyed the rhythm of spending a whole term working towards a production.  When I became a lecturer, I had no time for recreational activities and the only opportunity I had to perform was showing off in lectures.  A conference held at the wonderful setting of Chawton House in 2008 enabled me to turn my former activities into an academic project and to reflect on the pleasures available to the amateur.  Prof Marian Wynne Davis organised a conference on women and drama called ‘Her Make is Perfect’.  The conference mingled performances and presentations and made use of the domestic spaces of Chawton House.  I realised that women had more scope for dramatic activities in the domestic sphere than in the public and professional sphere.  I researched two case histories: the respectable Elizabeth Yorke, Countess of Hardwicke, and the scandalous Elizabeth Craven, Margravine of Anspach.  As my research has progressed, I am discovering what an enormous range of types of non-professional performance has taken place and still takes place.

2) How did you go about putting together the network of scholars and practitioners you assembled for the ‘What Signifies A Theatre?’ project?

My first contact was my colleague, Dr Elaine McGirr, who alerted me to the CFP for ‘Her Make is Perfect’.  At this conference I made numerous useful contacts, including theatre practitioners such as Kate Napier and Liz Kuti.  Realising what a rich topic it was, Elaine and I organised a conference at Chawton House in 2010.  Our starting point was a question posed in Mansfield Park: ‘What signifies a theatre?’  We thought it appropriate on a number of levels: Chawton House is such an important centre for Austen studies and the failed theatricals in Mansfield Park are the main impression most people have of private theatricals.  Furthermore, we were interested in what happens when drama moves out of the designated performance space of a theatre.  This was the first of three conferences under this title.  With each call for papers, we made contact with a widening circle of academics at different stages of their careers including, for example David Coates who is working on a PhD on country house theatricals at the University of Warwick and the specialist on nineteenth-century theatre history, Professor Kate Newey (Exeter).  Another significant contact was made when I saw a CFP for a Northeast Modern Language Association panel on amateur performance in the long nineteenth century posted by Mary Isbell who was then completing a PhD at the University of Connecticut.  For a very brief moment I saw her research as a potential rival to my own.  But I quickly realised that the topic is so large that it is necessarily collaborative, not least because records of performance are patchy and scattered.  I alerted her to the first WSAT? conference, and we are now working together on a conference to be held in June 2014.  A further key collaborator is the director Abigail Anderson.  I first met Abigail through a totally different route and admired her inventive productions.  She worked at the lamentably underfunded but exquisite Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds where, with Colin Blumenau, she presented a restored Georgian repertoire.  I can’t list everyone I have had the pleasure to work with on this project, but I would also like to mention the architectural historian Jeremy Musson, whom I know through mutual friends and who has kindly put me in touch with people who work in historic houses.

As with many projects, the primary means of assembling a network are the internet and face-to-face encounters at conferences or cafes.  Wordpress sites have been our primary way to share details about these projects on the web: and, which Mary maintains.  These sites and distributing our CFPs through the usual channels have brought out numerous individuals who had previously thought that they were alone in their interest in the amateur and gradually, our network grew.  We were also fortunate enough to connect with other networks, including a wonderful group based at NTNU, Trondheim, Norway and researchers at the University of Southampton working on music in country houses.  At the third WSAT? Conference held at Royal Holloway, University of London in 2011, we decided that we would consciously organise a network and plan out next stage of activity.  RAPPT emerged. The name – Research into Amateur Performance and Private Theatricals – was devised by Viv Gardner.

A further stimulus has been grant applications.  Awards advertised by the AHRC and Leverhulme led me to form interdisciplinary teams to put together grant proposals.  Sadly, the applications were not successful, but the process of drawing up the proposals and planning the projects was almost as useful as it was depressing.  Discussing common interests with colleagues in Drama, Geography and Media Arts was a pleasure in itself.

3) What common themes emerged from the research and the amateur performances presented at the three WSAT? conferences?

One of my principal themes is the value of the amateur.  The value of artistic endeavor is usually measured by a range of incompatible calculators: aesthetic value; the potential for income generation; or the authority conferred by institutional recognition.  However, such judgments are not calibrated to register the value of most of the drama that is staged in Britain: it is non-professional, not for profit, or to use a term that makes most people cringe: ‘amateur’.  The history of the professional stage is well known; the West End and the subsidized theatres get plenty of coverage in the media.  But what about all those hundreds of am dram groups who meet in scout huts and community halls up and down the country?  At the last count (December 2010) more than two and a half thousand am dram groups were signed up to NODA, the National Association of Operatic and Dramatic Associations.  Why?  What do they get out of it?  Perhaps more to the point, what do their audiences get from watching a bunch of amateurs put on a show?  The little that is known about the history of amateur dramatics has been written by professionals: by journalists, theatre historians and practitioners with a stake in maintaining the prestige of the professional stage.  One question usually asked about am dram is: ‘Is it any good?’  Understandably, the assumption is that professional theatre is bound to be better.  But we can ask that question in different ways.  We can ask: ‘What is am dram good at?  What is it good for?  What kinds of pleasures and benefits does it bring to its participants and audience?’  Moreover, I want to find out whether we can we disrupt the current obsession with the professional and the profitable by revaluing the amateur.

My starting point was that the private nature of amateur performance provided women with more opportunities than the professional stage.  It also emerges that performance in private spaces can transform and disrupt the home.  Family relations are tested through performance and through the unusually intimate relations between performers and audience.  Other discoveries include the temporal and social dimensions of the phenomenon.  According to the only published survey of private theatricals, Sybil Rosenfeld’s Temples of Thespis (1978), they were an elite craze that started around 1780 but went out of fashion in the 1820s.  However, in papers presented at our conferences, scholars demonstrated that not only did social elites continue to perform for pleasure rather than profit well into the twentieth century (think of the Bloomsbury set), but that all classes enjoyed amateur theatricals from the Spouters Clubs – artisans who met in taverns around the turn of the nineteenth century – to the Victorian parlour drama that was popular among the middle classes.  As well as crossing social boundaries, the phenomenon crossed and tested boundaries between professional and not-for-profit performers.  Professional performers – musicians, actors and dancers and some production staff – were employed by the upper classes for their private theatricals and the amateur stage increasingly became a route into the profession.  Some of our discoveries are presented in a collection of essays I co-edited with Mary Isbell: Amateur Theatre Studies, a Special Issue of Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film 38 (2011) and in my own forthcoming chapter: ‘Elizabeth and Keppel Craven and The Domestic Drama of Mother-Son Relations’, in Stage Mothers: Women, Work and the Theatre 1660-1830, eds Elaine McGirr and Laura Engell (Bucknell University Press, forthcoming).

Each of our WSAT? conferences has included a performance.  The first was a piece devised by Elaine with her students in the Drama Department at Royal Holloway.  It was designed as a recreation of a particular night at a private theatrical: a performance of Nourjad written by and starring Elizabeth Craven in 1803.  One of the aims was to transform the space and to provide conference delegates with a view of the function of private theatricals in the social life of the participants.  This was achieved by the students’ imaginative staging of a play within a play: their production took the audience behind the scenes to witness power struggles between the performers.  The second was a rehearsed reading of Frances Burney’s The Witlings, directed by Anna Kretschmer, significant not least because of Burney’s trying experiences in both private and professional spheres.  At the third WSAT? conference, we explored further the intimate relationship between the audience and the performers.  A professional group with extensive experience of performing in historic houses, Artifice directed by Kate Napier, staged Arthur Murphy’s popular farce, The Way to Keep Him.  The play was performed at the famous Richmond House theatricals in 1787.  One of the forceful arguments against the idea of recreations of historic performances is the fact that while the actors’ performances might be historically accurate, the audience is undeniably modern and brings contemporary expectations to the venue.  While that factor cannot be overcome, I wanted to create a historical dimension by give the delegates an insight into the frisson caused by the celebrity of both the original performers and audience.  So I provided actors and audience with accounts of the original cast (e.g. Lord Derby played Lovemore and Mrs Damer Mrs Lovemore) and assigned roles to the actual audience (including the Prince of Wales and Horace Walpole).  We need to develop methodologies to assess what we have learnt from these productions.

4) How are you and Mary Isbell hoping to build on this with the Research into Amateur Performance and Private Theatricals network (RAPPT)?

One of our most significant realisations was that we needed to extend our remit from theatricals to performance more generally.  Most theatrical performances in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries involved music and dance as well as acting.  Hence the adoption of the name RAPPT for the next phase of the project.  We encourage specialists in musical and other modes of performance to get involved.  In 2014 we are launching a research project and conference modelled on the Pic Nic Society, arguably the first amateur dramatic society in England.  This group, which performed in the Tottenham Street Theatre, London, only survived for a few years at the turn of the nineteenth century; it was motivated by a desire for cooperative endeavour, mutual pleasure – and a fair amount of elitism.  Of course, we want to imitate their spirit of collaboration, not their snobbery.  Although in British English a picnic is now usually an informal meal eaten out of doors, it used to mean something like a potluck supper in American English, that is, a meal to which everyone brings a dish.  The Pic Nic journal explained in 1803, ‘The title of Pic Nic, given to this Paper, is used in the sense applied to it by a neighbouring Nation, signifying a Repast supplied by Contribution; and to this Miscellany all persons of genius and talent are invited to contribute.’  It was ridiculed for a variety of reasons, as depicted in James Gillray’s famous etching, ‘Blowing up the Pic Nics’:

Gillray - Blowing Up the Pic Nics

The conference – entitled ‘Paying the Piper: Economies of Amateur Performance’ – will showcase the results of two RAPPT projects currently underway: 1) a collaboratively curated digital archive of the Pic Nic Society, which will serve as a digital dramaturgy site for 2) an amateur production of one of the plays that members of the society performed at the Tottenham Street Theatre. We are taking some risks here.  Abigail Anderson is going to direct a group of motely academics in a Pic Nic production.  As well as making fools of ourselves, we are hoping that this practice-based research will teach us something about the value of amateur performance and, borrowing from rehearsal studies, we will learn about the workings of the Georgian repertoire too.

Our goal with RAPPT this year is to promote conversations about the economies of non-professional performance across periods and locations.  In drafty church halls and lavish ballrooms, on board ships, in parlours and in purpose-built spaces, lovers of the performing arts have long collaborated creatively without the sanction of academic or professional recognition. Yet not-for-profit performance still has a cost.  The extravagance of the Earl of Barrymore’s theatricals at Wargrave practically bankrupted him and, as the Pic Nic controversy demonstrates, the fashion for private performance was, at the very least, perceived as a financial threat to London’s patent theatres.  The conference will address such themes as the cost and funding of amateur performance; the role of commercial publishers and theatrical suppliers in feeding the craze for amateur theatricals; the involvement of professional performers in amateur productions; rivalries and tensions between professionals and amateurs; amateur performance in the context of a funding crisis in the humanities.

Please submit proposals of 250-500 words electronically (doc or pdf) by March 7, 2014 to

5) How can interested researchers get involved?

You are welcome to email me ( and to visit the website:

Five Questions: On the Fashionable Diseases Project


In addition to talking to scholars who’ve recently completed monographs and editions, I thought that it’d be interesting to talk with teams of scholars who are currently working on large research projects, so I contacted the Fashionable Diseases team to find out what they’re currently up to.  Since the project team introduce themselves in the course of the interview, I’ll keep this introduction short and just thank Anita O’Connell for co-ordinating this and point out that the Call for Papers for the project’s international conference is still open; please see the last answer for further details.  If you’re interested in following the project, the websiteTwitter and Facebook have you covered.

1) What was the initial inspiration for the Fashionable Diseases project?

The seedling idea for this project first germinated when Clark Lawlor was researching for his volume, Sciences of Body and Mind, in the eight-volume anthology Literature and Science, 1660-1834 (Pickering & Chatto, 2003).  He included an essay from 1786 by James Makittrick Adair (1728–1801), a Bath society doctor, called ‘On fashionable disease’.  Clark was, and remains, fascinated by the issues raised by Adair, not least the problem of how a disease can possibly be fashionable: surely this is a paradox?  How are fashionable diseases defined, created, maintained and destroyed?  His subsequent work on representations of consumption/tuberculosis and melancholy – two fashionable diseases par excellence – kept the idea of fashionable disease to the fore in his critical thinking.

2) How did you go about putting together a team and securing support?          

Clark was lucky to be working with colleagues interested in similar issues: in his own institution (Northumbria University) we had completed a three-year Leverhulme Trust major project entitled Before Depression, 1660-1800: The Representation and Culture of the English Malady (see directed by Professor Allan Ingram.  Dr Leigh Wetherall Dickson had been the post-doctoral research fellow on that project, and now both she and Professor Ingram form the Northumbria directorial team, along with Clark.  Clark was also lucky that, across the road (literally) at Newcastle University, an experienced and distinguished historian of eighteenth-century medicine – Dr Jonathan Andrews – was interested in similar ideas.  After a series of fruitful chats, they arrived at the idea of bidding to the Leverhulme Trust for a project which would take up some of the ideas from Before Depression and other previous work by the members of the team.  There followed a long period of discussion and hard work between Jonathan and Clark as they co-wrote the body of the bid:  the most challenging part of which was broadening the definition of fashionable diseases beyond the initial concept of a fashionable disease as desirable to the individual affected or afflicted by a fashionable condition.  We wanted to add two post-doctoral research fellows, one at each institution, to take forward the agendas we felt the need to address, so these posts were built into the bid.  Fortunately for us, the Leverhulme Trust liked our theme, and have kindly given us the resources to pursue it properly.

3) What individual research projects are the team pursuing beneath the overall umbrella?

Professor Clark Lawlor, Professor of English Literature at Northumbria University, is writing a monograph which surveys the progress of fashionable disease as it is represented in creative literature across the long eighteenth century.  He has been working recently on Laurence Sterne’s self-fashioning of his consumption, linked as it is to nervous sensibility, for the promotion of his literary celebrity.  He is also writing on the notion of ‘authentic’ fashionable disease in Anne Finch’s poem on ‘the Spleen’ and Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

Dr Anita O’Connell, Leverhulme Research Fellow in English Literature at Northumbria University, is writing a monograph addressing literary representations of fashionable diseases.  She is looking specifically at the relationship between illness and insight in the works of Romantic poets including Mary Robinson and Felicia Hemans.  She is also interested in literary depictions of fashionable diseases in eighteenth-century British spa towns.

Dr Jonathan Andrews, Reader in the History of Psychiatry at Newcastle University, in close collaboration with James Kennaway (as project Research Associate), is concentrating on the patient experience of a range of fashionable diseases, in particular bilious and stomach complaints, headache, rheumatic and nervous disorders.  He is especially interested in how elite and middling class patients narrativised their illnesses, how such diseases impacted on identity and sociability, and in what ways modish tropes and models of disease trickled down the social scale.

Dr James Kennaway, Leverhulme Research Fellow in the History of Medicine at Newcastle University, is working on patient experiences of so-called fashionable diseases.  By looking at large amounts of patient testimony in contemporary diaries and letters, he aims to get a better sense of lay understandings of these conditions and the way they interacted with medical opinion.

Professor Allan Ingram, Professor of English Literature at Northumbria University, is working on illness and its representation in the work of Swift and Pope, including their relations with members of the medical profession and their own states of health.  More broadly, from across the period he is interested in attitudes towards and representations of diseases that were never likely to become fashionable.

Dr Leigh Wetherall Dickson, Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Northumbria University, is interested in bringing together two previously separate strands of research for this project.  Having written on the fashionable politics and spectacular of the Whig party and on the experience of illness, she is now interested in the spectacle of illness in relation to the celebrity body.

4) What themes, issues and commonalities have emerged from the work and workshops you’ve conducted so far?

Since the Fashionable Diseases project began less than a year ago, we have hosted workshops on ‘Hypochondria and the Refashioning of Medical Uncertainty’; ‘The Practical and Not-so-Practical Art of Fashionable Melancholia: From Black Bile to Hamlet’; ‘“Making Up People” Reconsidered’, which focused on autism; ‘Fashionable Suicides of the Romantic Era’; ‘Disability and Fashionable Diseases in Literature and Culture’; and ‘Fashion and Illness in Georgian Bath.’  We have been discussing the ways in which literature and culture, both in the eighteenth century as well as now, sometimes popularize or add a touch of glamour to what were often debilitating diseases.  We have examined representations of eighteenth-century maladies such as hypochondria, melancholy and gout, along with the glamorization of suicide and the fashionability of visiting spas like Bath and Bristol for one’s health.  We have also started to think about trends in medicine today, about changes in the ways we represent and think about disability, and about the effects of medical labelling of people such as those with autism.

Recordings of all of the workshops are available as free podcasts on our website:

5) What’s coming up for the project, and how can people follow its progress and get involved?

We are organizing a major international conference jointly hosted by Newcastle and Northumbria Universities, which will be held 3-5th July 2014.  Our confirmed plenary speakers are Professor Helen Deutsch (UCLA), author of Resemblance and Disgrace: Alexander Pope and the Deformation of Culture, who will be speaking on ‘Diseases of Writing,’ and Professor David Shuttleton (Glasgow), author of Smallpox and the Literary Imagination, who will be speaking on ‘The Fashioning of Fashionable Diseases in the Eighteenth Century.’  The conference aims to examine the role of culture and literature in creating, framing and spreading conceptions of fashionable diseases.  Our themes include but are not limited to culture and fashionable diseases, patient experiences, the medical marketplace, spa culture, imaginary diseases and unfashionable diseases.

We are currently inviting abstracts for papers, which can be emailed to by 28th February 2014.  More information on the conference is available on our website:

Periodisation: Pleasures and Pitfalls – CfP Extended and Registration Open

Registration for Periodisation: Pleasures and Pitfalls, which takes place on June 3rd this year at All Souls College Oxford, is now open (and also free!).  The deadline for abstracts has also been extended to March 1st.  For more information, please visit the conference website.

Five Questions: Mary Fairclough on the Romantic Crowd

The Romantic Crowd - Mary Fairclough

Mary Fairclough is a Lecturer in English Literature in the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies and the Department of English and Related Literature at the University of York, where she also completed her PhD; before rejoining York in 2012, she taught for four years at the University of Huddersfield.  Her research explores the intersections between literary, political and scientific developments in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, focusing particularly on the ways that different disciplinary discourses employ, inform and complicate each other.  In the interview below, we discuss her first monograph, The Romantic Crowd: Sympathy, Controversy and Print Culturewhich was published by Cambridge University Press in January last year.

1) What brought you to realise that the crowd was a topic you wanted to consider at length?

I have Thomas De Quincey to blame for my interests in crowds – in the first term of my PhD research I was reading as much De Quincey as I could, and remember being struck by the peculiar way in which he described crowd behaviour: ‘Many a man has been drawn, by the contagion of sympathy with his own class acting as a mob, into outrages of destruction of spoliation, such as he could never have contemplated with toleration in his solitary hours.’  I kept returning to that quotation, and it eventually became the epigraph for my book.  What interested me was De Quincey’s use of the term ‘sympathy’ as a means of accounting for collective behaviour.  I had never encountered that use of sympathy before, and I wondered whether other writers of the period also used it when discussing crowds.  As I read more widely in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century literary and political writings I realised that other writers did indeed describe collective behaviour in terms of sympathy.  And as I explored theories of collective behaviour I soon found that though no-one would still resort to a language of sympathy to account for the behaviour of crowds, commentators today have by no means come to a consensus about why, as De Quincey put it, people do things when in a crowd that they ‘could never have contemplated with toleration in [their] solitary hours.’  Romantic period writers’ use of a language of sympathy thus seemed a fascinating response to issues that we are still trying to come to terms with.

2) How did you approach the process of transforming your doctoral thesis into a monograph?

To be honest, my finished thesis felt to me like it was on the way to being a book, and my examiners encouraged me not to make drastic revisions before sending it to a publisher.  So, slightly hubristically, I wrote up a proposal and sent off a very lightly revised manuscript, updated to take into account the most recent criticism, but with the same structure and focus as the thesis.  The publisher’s anonymous readers made it clear I would need to rework my introduction and opening chapter, which I did, and then thankfully the book was accepted.

3) What do you see as being the defining characteristics of the Romantic crowd, as opposed to those figured in the earlier eighteenth century or the later nineteenth?

I argue in the book that it was only in the Romantic period that writers could use a language of sympathy to account for crowd behaviour, as a result of the coming together of a particular way of thinking about crowds and a particular way of thinking about sympathy.  Earlier in the eighteenth century, commentators, particularly medical writers like Robert Whytt in Edinburgh, had diagnosed a ‘remarkable’ form of sympathy through which physical symptoms could be communicated from one person to another.  But mid-century accounts of crowd action don’t use a language of contagious sympathy to describe collective behaviour.  However, this understanding of contagious or collective sympathy survives until the end of the eighteenth and into the nineteenth century, and it’s after the French Revolution that commentators begin to use it to account for the actions of ‘mobs’, both in France and Britain.  By the end of the Romantic period, though, this particular use of sympathy seems to die away – De Quincey is one of the last to use it.  I argue that this can be accounted for by developments in physiology which meant that physical communication, whether individual or collective, was explained through theories of reflexes and nerves rather than this older, quasi-occult language of sympathy.  So later nineteenth-century accounts of crowds, like that of Gustave Le Bon, use a medicalised language, but any reference to physiological sympathy has gone.

4) You contend in your introduction that in the Romantic period sympathy was generally ‘understood as a disruptive social phenomenon which functioned to spread disorder and unrest’, but detail in several of your chapters attempts by writers to reconfigure collective sympathy into a more positive formulation.  What were the stakes in these writers’ interventions, and to what extent, in your view, did they succeed?

I argue in the book that the stakes were high in the effort to rehabilitate a language of collective sympathy in the Romantic period, which is demonstrated by the number of commentators in different fields who take on the challenge.  I see these commentators as split along broadly ideological lines.  Conservative writers generally have little interest in suggesting that collective action can be wholesome or beneficial, but radicals who are publicly committed to democratic reform need to find a way of describing collective action in positive terms.  What I found fascinating is how few radical writers are able to ascribe a positive function to collective sympathy.  Both William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, for example, are unnerved by the apparently instinctive qualities of collective sympathy, or as Godwin terms it ‘brute and unintelligent sympathy’, which seems to bypass rational control.  John Thelwall, in contrast, makes broadly positive (though not totally untroubled) claims for the wholesome basis of collective sympathy.  I argue that he’s able to do so because his early medical training gives him an understanding of the way sympathy is said to regulate the functions of the body, and he applies that model by extension to collective bodies.  But the only other writer in the book to make a straightforwardly positive claim for the value of collective sympathy is the moral philosopher Dugald Stewart.  Like Thelwall, Stewart is well informed about the physiological operations of sympathy, but in addition he appears to take David Hume’s much older account of ethically sound sympathetic communication between individuals, and to make the case that this model can also be applied to crowds.  But the fact that so few writers are able to rehabilitate collective sympathy shows, I think, the difficulty of the task.

5) What projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on a new book about the science of electricity in the long eighteenth century, focusing on the ways in which electricity, which was a totally new science at the period, seemed to elude attempts to theorise and categorise it.  I argue that as a result, electricity was a highly mobile signifier, and extremely useful term for writers, who used metaphors of electricity to account for a whole range of unexplained and unprecedented cultural and social phenomena.  I’m particularly interested in the ways in which metaphors involving electricity are evoked to describe acts of communication, either in person or in print.  So I’ve moved some way from the concerns of my first book, but there is clearly also some important overlap, and I see the second project as informed by the first.

British Society for Literature and Science Conference 2014: Registration Open

Gregory Tate writes with more details of this year’s BSLS conference, including information about speakers, trips and how to register:
Registration is now open for the ninth annual conference of the British Society for Literature and Science, which will take place at the University of Surrey, Guildford, on 10-12 April 2014. Keynote talks will be given by Professor Jim Al-Khalili (University of Surrey), Professor Bernard Lightman (York University, Toronto), and Professor Mary Orr (University of Southampton). The conference will finish with an opportunity to visit Down House, the home of Charles Darwin, on the afternoon of Saturday 12 April.
Accommodation: please note that those attending the conference will need to make their own arrangements for accommodation. Information on local hotels is available on the conference website.
Membership: conference delegates will need to register as members of the BSLS (annual membership: £25 waged / £10 unwaged). It will be possible to join the BSLS when registering for the conference.
To register for the conference please visit the University of Surrey online store at The deadline for registration is 27 March 2014.
Information about how to get to the University of Surrey is available here:
For further information and updates about the conference, please contact Gregory Tate ( or visit the conference website at

Romantic Locations Programme

The basic text of the programme for Romantic Locations is reproduced below for your perusal.  The full version, in all its carefully-formatted glory, can be downloaded from the BARS website.

– – – – – – –

The Early Careers and Postgraduate Conference for The British Association for Romantic Studies


At Dove Cottage and the Jerwood Centre, Grasmere


Wednesday 19th March

1200: Those who have requested transfers will be picked up from Windermere Station.

1300 – 1345: Tea and Registration (at the Jerwood Centre)

1345 – 1400: Welcome

1400 – 1630: Afternoon Sessions

Panel One: ‘That’s the Spot?’

  • Kate Ingle (Lancaster) – Personal Place-names and Dorothy Wordsworth’s Writing of Grasmere
  • Helen-Frances Pilkington (Birkbeck) – ‘Plead for thy peace, thou beautiful romance / of nature’: Wordsworth’s opposition to the Kendal and Windermere Railway
  • Polly Atkin (Lancaster) – ‘Most Constant and Most Fickle Place!’: rethinking Wordsworth’s local poetry

Panel Two: ‘Complicating Romantic Space’

  • Daniel Eltringham (Birkbeck) – The Cumbrian Exception: upland enclosure, ‘Michael’ and anti-pastoral’
  • Lucy Johnson (Chester) – ‘Vexed Perspectives: Troubling the Aesthetics of Space in History of a Six Weeks’ Tour
  • Anna P.H. Geurts (Sheffield) – Un-Romantic Locations: the common view

1630  – 1700: Tea

1700 – 1815: Early Evening Session

Panel Three ‘Getting out of Britain’

  • Alexis Wolf (Birkbeck) – Taking Root Abroad: The Life Writing of Katherine Wilmot and her Contemporaries
  • Honor Rieley (Oxford) – Unromantic Location?: Representing Emigration to Canada in the Early Nineteenth Century
  • George Stringer (Keele) – A Place in the Sun: relocating the Self in eighteenth-century representations of India

1815 – 1915: Plenary Lecture

Professor Simon Bainbridge (Lancaster) – The Summit of British Romanticism

1915: Drinks Reception (Dove Cottage Museum)

2000: Walk to Thorney How, for dinner at 2030.


Thursday 20th March:

0930 – 1045: Morning Session

Panel Four: ‘Imagination and Reality’

  • Thomas Tyrrell (York) – The map, the territory, and the small cloud between Scafell and Great Gavel
  • Serena Trowbridge (Birmingham City) – ‘Each in his narrow cell’: Graveyard locations and the Poetry of Mortality
  • Lawrence Yoneta (Bristol) – Shelley’s Grecian Inspiration from Italian Experience

1045 – 1115: Tea

1115 – 1230: Morning Session

Panel Five: ‘Selves and Others’

  • Enit K. Steiner (Université de Lausanne) – Jane Austen’s Persuasion: Moving well in the drawing-room, moving well in the city
  • Leanne Stokoe (Newcastle) – ‘The Misguided Imaginations of Men’: Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham and the Principle of Self in Shelley’s Speculations on Morals and Metaphysics
  • Philip Aherne (King’s College London) – Incomplete Communion: The Reception of the Conversation Poem

1230 – 1330: Manuscripts Presentation

Jeff Cowton – The Potential of the Wordsworth Trust’s Collections

Jeff will outline the vast array of resources available for researchers at Dove Cottage and the Jerwood Centre, and show us a rare glimpse of some of Wordsworth’s original manuscripts.

1330 – 1415: Lunch

1415 – 1530: Seminars

Jeremy Davies (Leeds) – A Winter in Utopia: Shelley at Tremadoc

Helen Stark (Newcastle) – Locating the Nation in William Godwin’s Essay on Sepulchres

Christopher Donaldson (Lancaster) – Romantic Borderlands: Scott and the Solway Coast

1530 – 1645: Afternoon Session

Panel Six: ‘Nations’

  • Katherine Fender (Oxford) – Wordsworth, Wanderings and the Welsh Sublime
  • Julia Coole (Keele) – Scott and the Production of Scotland
  • Li-hsin Hsu (National Chengchi University, Taiwan) – Wordsworth and the American lakes

1645 – 1715: Tea

1715 – 1830: Early Evening Session

Panel Seven: ‘Literary and Institutional Networks’

  • Emma Curran (Surrey) – Placing Ann Batten Cristall in the Johnson Circle
  • Gordon Bottomley (Lancaster) – Locating Joanna: William Wordsworth and the youngest Hutchinson sister
  • Helen Williams (Northumbria) – Writers’ Houses and Romantic Literary Tourism

2000: Dinner at Traveller’s Rest Pub, for those who have booked in advance


Friday 21st March

0930 – 1045: Morning Session

Panel Eight: ‘Borderlands’

  • Shoshannah Bryn Jones Square (Oxford) – The ‘Lulling Medicine’ of the Natural World: The Blessing of Place in Mary Shelley’s Matilda
  • Hannah Britton (University of St Andrews) – ‘Beside the Portal Doors’: Between Place and Space in the Poetry of John Keats
  • Joanna Taylor (Keele) – Drawing the boundaries round the ‘co-existent multitude’: the Coleridges’ poetics of space

1045 – 1115: Tea

1115 – 1230: Morning Session

Panel Nine: ‘Splendid Prospects’

  • Rebecca Ladds (Nottingham) – Shattered Castles to Mountain Sides: The Boundless Space of Byron’s Closet Dramas
  • Colleen English (University College Dublin) – Romanticism and Irish Topography: Mary Tighe’s Killarney Sonnets
  • Carolyn Dougherty (York) – Text and materiality at Hardwick Park, County Durham

1230 – 1300: Presentation

Newcastle University students will present work they have done at the Jerwood Centre, demonstrating the kinds of opportunities available to research students.

1300 – 1345: Lunch

1345 – 1500: Afternoon Session

Panel Ten: ‘Representing the Romantic City’

  • Craig Lamont (Glasgow) – The Course of the Clyde: Reading Change in Georgian Glasgow Poetry
  • Tristan Burke (Manchester) – Byron’s Don Juan, London by Lamplight and the Textual City
  • Mary Shannon (Roehampton) – London’s Romantic Strand and the Business of Amusing the Public

1500 – 1600: Plenary Lecture

Professor Nicola Watson (Open University) – Dorothy Wordsworth’s shoes and other rituals of romantic location

1615: Pick-up time for those taking the conference transport to Windermere Station.

Thelwall Conference: CfP Extension, Details and Fee Announcement

If you were wavering about whether to put in an abstract for the Thelwall conference this July, you might well be persuaded by the revised announcement below, which includes details of a series of exciting additions to the conference and an announcement regarding the fees.  If you’re swayed, you now have until February 28th to submit.

Further details can be found on the John Thelwall Society website.

John Thelwall at 250: Medicine, Literature, and Reform in London, ca. 1764-1834

The inaugural John Thelwall Society conference

July 25-27, 2014
University of Notre Dame London Centre
1 Suffolk Street, London, England

Keynote speakers: Sharon Ruston (Professor of English, Lancaster University), Penelope J. Corfield (Emeritus Professor of History, Royal Holloway, University of London), and Sir Geoffrey Bindman, QC.

To mark the 250th anniversary of the birth in London of the reformer and polymath John Thelwall (1764-1832), we invite papers and panel proposals on any aspect of his diverse career, or on the medical, literary, or political life of London in his time. We are particularly interested in generating further attention to the interrelations among medical science, literature, and political culture — a nexus to which Thelwall greatly contributed. An outspoken advocate of democratic reform and prolific poet, novelist, dramatist, journalist, and elocutionist, Thelwall was also a natural philosopher who, a generation before John Keats, attended medical lectures and operations at the London hospitals and presented innovative papers on vitality and cognition.

Contributions are welcome from all disciplines and need not focus expressly on Thelwall. Topics might include (but are not limited to):

  • London culture, from the theatres to the debating societies to the taverns;
  • Radicalism and/or Westminster politics;
  • Medical culture, including the medico-political circles of Guy’s and St. Thomas’s hospitals, and the Royal Humane Society;
  • Debates over quackery, the health of the poor, the politics of scientific “performance,” and the dissection of criminal corpses;
  • Theories of life; the “vitality debates” of the 1790s and 1810s; emergent sciences of the mind and brain;
  • Thelwall’s early London connections and activities (in the law, theatre, debating, journalism, medicine, poetry, politics);
  • Thelwall’s life and career in London (including his political activism, imprisonment and treason trial, literature, journalism, elocutionary theory and practice).

The conference will also celebrate the formation of the John Thelwall Society and the acquisition by the University of Notre Dame of eight rediscovered letters from Thelwall to fellow reformer Thomas Hardy. Other highlights will include:

  • A visit to the Old Operating Theatre at Guy’s Hospital, with reception;
  • A 250th birthday banquet at the Royal College of Surgeons, with a reception in the Hunterian Museum;
  • A pre-conference visit to the site of Thelwall’s elocutionary institute in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the site proposed for an English Heritage “Blue Plaque” in his honour;
  • A pre-conference excursion in the footsteps of Thelwall’s Peripatetic, led by Judith Thompson (Professor of English, Dalhousie University).

Please submit titles and abstracts of 250-300 words to by February 28, 2014. Proposers can expect to hear whether their abstract has been accepted by early March 2014 and registration will open soon afterwards. Postgraduate/graduate students are invited to apply for (limited) fee-waiver and travel bursaries by including a brief explanation (250-500 words) of how their research relates to the conference themes.

Registration fees (including all proceedings, lunches, and refreshments, and Friday reception): before June 30: $100 (approx. £60) regular / $75 (approx. £45) postgraduate/graduate students after June 30: $125 (approx. £75) regular / $100 (approx. £60) postgraduate/graduate students. There will be an additional charge for the Saturday banquet.

Questions may be directed to the organizers, Yasmin Solomonescu (University of Notre Dame) at and Gordon Bottomley (Lancaster University) at .

The conference is made possible through the generosity of the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, College of Arts and Letters, Henkels Lecture Series; Nanovic Institute for European Studies; Department of English; John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values; and History and Philosophy of Science Graduate Program; as well as the British Association for Romantic Studies and the North American Society for Studies in Romanticism.

Five Questions: Anthony Mandal on Self-Control

Brunton Self-Control

Dr Anthony Mandal, Reader in English at Cardiff University, has published widely on Romantic and Victorian fiction and culture, focusing particularly on Jane Austen, book trade history and the Gothic novel.  Among many other things, he is the developer of British Fiction 1800-1829: A Database of Production, Circulation & Reception,  the author of Jane Austen and the Popular Novel: The Determined Author (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007), the editor of the open-access online journal Romantic Textualities and one of the General Editors of The New Edinburgh Edition of the Works of Robert Louis Stevenson.  He is also co-organising (with Dr Jane Moore) the 14th BARS International Conference, Romantic Imprints, which will take place in Cardiff in 2015.  Below, we discuss the process of preparing his new edition of Mary Brunton’s Self-Control, which was published last year by Pickering & Chatto.

1) How did you first come across Self-Control?

My first encounter with Self-Control, and Mary Brunton, was while undertaking research for my PhD in the late 1990s.  I was looking at the intersections between Jane Austen and her contemporaries’ fiction, and my fourth chapter (which was actually the first I wrote) read Mansfield Park against the emergence of evangelical fiction during the late 1800s.  As one of the key novels of the genre, Self-Control formed a key focus of the print cultural analysis and comparative textual readings that I made use of.

2) Which aspects of the book and its history made you want to produce your edition?

When it appeared in 1811, Self-Control was an unexpected bestseller by a first-time novelist, completely overshadowing the publication of another 1811 début—Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.  My starting point was Austen’s rather tart comments about the novel, which seemed to dismiss the aesthetic achievement of Self-Control while simultaneously acknowledging its overwhelming popularity: ‘my opinion is confirmed of its’ being an elegantly-meant, elegantly-written Work, without anything of Nature or Probability in it.’  The more I looked into its publication, the more compelled I was by the narrative that unfolded.  Begun as a pastime, Brunton was clearly unprepared for the novel’s success, avowing ‘I would sooner exhibit as a rope-dancer’, than be recognised as a novelist.  And it is this ambivalence—between commercial success and religious rectitude, between popularity and propriety—that offers a suggestive lens through which to examine women’s writing during the Regency.

The publishing context itself was fascinating too: the novel was published by the Edinburgh publishers Manners & Miller, who shared a personal connection with the Bruntons.  Manners & Miller partnered up with the London-based Longmans, who were among the most eminent Romantic businesses of the period.  The novel quickly gained popularity, with the first edition virtually selling out within a month, so much so that Longmans in effect took over the management of the edition, instructing Manners & Miller to produce a second, enlarged edition.  This, again, sold rapidly, and the novel had gone into its fourth edition by the time the year was up.  The reception of the novel was by no means unilaterally positive, and critics were divided over its religious content and depiction of sexual violence, with Mary Russell Mitford observing that she’d heard that the book ‘had occasioned [a dispute] between two gentlemen, one of whom said it ought to be burnt by the common hangman, and the other that it ought to be written in letters of gold.’

Given the popularity of Self-Control during the nineteenth century (it remained in print until the 1880s), I was disappointed by the poor attention it received during the twentieth: a facsimile reprint had appeared by Garland in the 1970s, followed by a reset edition which appeared as part of Pandora Classics’ ‘Mothers of the Novel’ series.  While laudable in its intentions, this latter edition was riddled with typos and carried no annotations, giving little sense of the novel’s allusiveness and richness beyond its relationship to Austen.

3) What were the major challenges you faced in selecting and preparing the text?

Given that the novel went into four lifetime editions within one year (Brunton died in 1818), the main challenge was getting access to these texts.  Luckily, I was able to secure most of the source material electronically from various sources, such as the Internet Archive, the Hathi Trust and the Corvey collection.  Although it wasn’t going to form a key authority when undertaking any emendations, I also wanted to collate the Standard Novels edition that Colburn & Bentley published in 1832, as this formed the basis of the remaining editions that appeared over the next sixty years.  Then came the arduous process of converting these pages into editable text, and carefully proofreading each edition in preparation for the collations.  Luckily, the collation process was assisted by my use of the JUXTA application (, which enabled me to compare the variants digitally.  This was good news indeed, as the collations yielded around 6000 separate variants between the five editions!  Of course, I still had to read through each one and decide which ones to implement and which ones to disregard, ultimately having to apply around 200 substantive emendations, which was no small task.

Another key challenge lay in my choice of copy text.  I decided to return to the first edition, as the rest of the nineteenth-century editions were derived from the second.  Owing to various criticisms and suggestions that Brunton had received, she made a number of significant alterations to the text, toning down various controversial elements.  For instance, the villain of the novel is presented as much more calculating and sexually violent in his predations on the heroine in the first edition; whereas from the second onwards, he is presented as much more under the instinctual sway of his desires.  I wanted to return to the more unsettling aspects of the first edition, which I felt would offer the modern reader a more compelling and complex text.  Structurally, Self-Control originally appeared in two volumes, which broke at a very dramatic moment in the narrative; whereas the second to fourth editions were divided into three, which I felt diminished that compelling sense of urgency.

That said, what struck me about the first edition was how poorly the paragraphs had been set for a published work.  This was borne out by anecdotal comments which stated that the first edition had been typeset directly from Brunton’s first manuscript (rather than a fair copy), as well as an examination of the printer’s press-marks in the volumes themselves, which showed that the job had been spread out among multiple personnel.  As a result, paragraphs in the first edition sometimes run for pages in length, while passages of dialogue are squashed together, distorting some of the textual richness of the first edition.  After much agonising, I elected to follow the paragraphing of the second edition, which seemed to open up the text much more fluidly and lucidly.  All the while, the textual purist on my shoulder was berating me for such a decision.  However, I reasoned that rapid preparation of the first edition afforded Brunton little opportunity to make the interventions that she did a few months later when revising the second edition text.

4) In your introduction, you make a strong case for the novel as a ‘messy, rich and rewarding text’.  Now that the new edition has made it more generally available, what sorts of research projects and taught courses do you think might profitably employ it?

I would say that Self-Control is richly rewarding on a number of levels.  Firstly, research into and teaching of the Romantic book trade will find it a very interesting case study for the production, dissemination and reception of fiction.  This, coupled with Brunton’s anxieties about fame and recognition, offers some suggestive material about the role of the woman writer during this crucial period in the history of the novel.  More generally, the fortunes of Self-Control provide some interesting opportunities for the study of canon-formation and literary legacies, especially when read against more readily recognisable writers such as Austen and Scott.  But the content of the novel itself offers some very interesting dynamics to students of the nineteenth-century novel, as it presents a strong and independent heroine who resists her marginal status in quite powerful ways, while attempting to evince a religious agenda.  Brunton is able to draw together melodramatic incident, literary satire and psychological sensitivity throughout the novel, in ways that can be read backwards to Richardson and forwards to Victorian realism.  I’ve taught the novel for a number of years on an MA module entitled ‘The Popular Novel in the Age of Austen’, and students were very responsive to it, which was another spur to prepare the edition.  My hope is that scholars who study the novel will find that, while it may not have the sustained elegance of Austenian prose, Self-Control nevertheless provides a compelling and at times moving account of the limitations and pressures faced by women at the turn of the nineteenth century.

5) What’s next for you?

As usual, too much!  During 2014, I’ll be co-authoring with Franz Potter and Colin Marlaire, The Palgrave Guide to Gothic Publishing: The Business of Gothic Fiction, 1764–1835.  This is a 230,000-word reference guide that examines the authors, publishers, printers, circulating-library proprietors and magazines that played a formative role in ensuring the success of first-wave gothic fiction.  I’ll be balancing this project with a number of articles on medical writing and nineteenth-century periodical gothic, as well as my role as a General Editor of the New Edinburgh Edition of the Works of Robert Louis Stevenson—our first half-dozen volumes will be appearing over the coming year.

Oh, and there’s the little matter of co-organising BARS 2015, of course…