BARS Blog

BARS Blog

News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

Archive for March 2014

Five Questions: Jeremy Davies on Bodily Pain in Romantic Literature

 Jeremy Davies - Bodily Pain in Romantic Literature

Jeremy Davies is Lecturer in English at the University of Leeds; prior to taking up this post in 2011, he studied and taught at Cambridge, Glasgow and Queen Mary.  His research focuses principally on the intersections between Romantic poetry, medical thought, and ecology, and he has published essays and articles on Percy and Mary Shelley, Jeremy Bentham, and sustainability and nostalgia.  Below, we discuss his first monograph, Bodily Pain in Romantic Literature, recently published by Routledge.  The first thirty pages of this fascinating book can be viewed here.

1) How did you come to work on the history of bodily pain, and how did you select the four authors you concentrate on (Jeremy Bentham, the Marquis de Sade, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Percy Shelley)?

It probably goes back to the first time I opened Prometheus Unbound.  I remember being fascinated and a bit revolted by the monologue with which Shelley’s drama begins.  Prometheus describes in grisly detail the tortures to which he’s being subjected, and welcomes them as a glorious empire over which he has dominion.  I wasn’t sure what to make of that rhetoric of martyrdom, and that puzzlement stayed with me in a productive way: the book ends with a reading of Prometheus Unbound.

When I was struggling to come up with a topic for a PhD thesis, pain occurred to me as a way of thinking about languages of the body in Romanticism.  I soon realised that the Romantic period was the last one before the development of surgical anaesthesia, the most dramatic turn in the medical history of pain, and it all seemed to click into place.

Shelley was there from the start, then, but the rest of the quartet all made their way in through different doors.  Sade was a characteristically mind-expanding suggestion from my doctoral supervisor.  The discussion of Bentham was one of those things that starts off as a passing sentence, which requires another sentence of explanation, and then expands into a chapter.   The early years of my thesis were those of the debate sparked by the revelations of the US treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.  Bentham’s writings on torture were being invoked very seriously as supposed proof that ‘Enlightenment values’ were compatible with the strategic deployment of torture.  It seemed worthwhile to scrutinise what he’d had to say about inflicting bodily hurt more closely than others were doing.  Coleridge came last.  I’d known for a long time that I was going to write about him, but I decided not to confront him in my thesis, and I got down to work on him only after coming to Leeds.  In a funny way – but perhaps inevitably – the chapter centred on him became in some respects the one holding the book together.

2) Were there other writers you considered but ultimately left out or reduced to cameo roles?

Intriguingly (to me) I’ve just dug out a piece of paper on which, on 23 January 2006, I was scribbling disconnected ideas for possible PhD projects.  ‘Pain’ is underlined, and a bunch of ideas follow. Prometheus Unbound is there, but so too are Hyperion and Lamia.  Keats isn’t in the book; I suppose I was thinking of Hyperion in his palace, and Lamia’s metamorphosis.  Also on that first piece of paper are Thomas Lovell Beddoes and George Cannon, neither of whom got into the book in the end.

Of the writers who play cameo roles, Adam Smith stands out as one who could have taken up a lot more room: his attitude to pain in The Theory of Moral Sentiments is fascinatingly ambivalent.  Southey is another, and Harriet Martineau’s Life in the Sick-Room is a compelling text but a bit late for my purposes.  The book could have developed into a history of Romantic-period medical ideas about pain.  In that case I’d have said more about people like John Brown and Erasmus Darwin, and I might have been tempted back in time to deal with the extraordinary archive of consultation letters that passed between the Edinburgh physician William Cullen and his patients.  But I didn’t take that path.  I did write about the fierce mid-eighteenth-century debate among medical theorists as to whether freshly dissected organs were capable of feeling pain, and about the key role played by pain in David Hartley’s vibrationist theory of how the mind works.  In both those cases, though, I’m most interested in how the issues raised play out later on, in Romantic texts that have a less direct relationship with the history of medicine.

3) What’s so interesting about pain in the Romantic period?

For me, that mostly depends on which individual writer you’re thinking about.  There are some general factors, though.  Surgical anaesthesia finally emerged in 1846, so the preceding couple of generations are the last ones on the far side of that transformative change.  By then, the technology required for anaesthesia had been in place for decades or more (Humphry Davy suggested the possibility of nitrous oxide anaesthesia in 1800, for instance), but nobody had joined the dots.  Historians of medicine have puzzled over the question of why that was so.  This ‘anaesthesia problem’ makes the Romantic period a loaded site for thinking about attitudes to pain.

Then there’s Foucault’s account of the development of clinical medicine after the French Revolution.  He suggests that an epistemic shift is captured by a change in doctors’ characteristic opening question to their patients: from asking them ‘What is the matter with you?’ (an invitation to narrative) to asking ‘Where does it hurt?’ (a decoding of internal signs).  That too gives Romantic-period pain a particular resonance.  Thirdly, you could look to Romantic aesthetics.  What’s the relationship between bodily pain and the culture of the sublime, especially given that many of the canonical Romantics were chronic pain sufferers?  I dwell on Coleridge and Shelley, but you might also think about Byron’s club foot, Dorothy Wordsworth’s migraines, and much else.

I’m most interested, though, in how bodily pain became intellectually productive for a series of individual writers.  As a starkly exceptional and extreme state of life, pain confronted certain thinkers with particular challenges for their idiosyncratic views of the world.  I look at how some writers’ characteristic agendas and preoccupations – which might not obviously have anything to do with physical hurt – ran up against problems raised by pain, and at how they struggled creatively with those problems.  Hence the kind of questions I concentrate on.  Does Bentham believe that sufficiently intense torture is bound to overcome its victim’s ability to resist interrogation, and what does his answer tell us about his psychological theory?  How do Sade’s depraved anti-heroes experience pain differently from the victims of their cruelty, and what does that mean for the relationship between Sade’s characters and their sensations?  Why did Coleridge suggest that he’d achieved an intellectual breakthrough by ‘metaphysicizing on Pain’, or – much later – argue that pain helps knit together the great chain of being by reinforcing a polarity between the subjective and the objective?  What’s with that first act of Prometheus Unbound? And so on.

4) How have modern medical discourses helped you to reconsider earlier modes of representing pain?

In recent decades there’s been a lot of great work investigating the nature and significance of pain.  Scholars have reinterpreted pain not as the product of impulses flowing along specific pain pathways in the nervous system, but instead as an embodied experience that’s necessarily constituted partly by ideas, emotions, and cultural entanglements.  That’s helped to undermine the clinically disastrous opposition between ‘authentic’ and ‘psychogenic’ pain, and to bring about more thoughtful and efficacious – because more holistic – methods of treatment for the enormous number of people who suffer from chronic pain.  Within medical institutions, that humanist project still has much more ground to win.

For all that, I think that on a still more basic level the cultural study of bodily pain has run into a bit of an impasse.  I argue in the book that we can divide recent pain studies in the humanities into two broad schools.  There’s a currently dominant tradition arising from the medical humanities, concerned with pain experience as acculturated and meaning-laden.  There’s also a relatively subordinated one, best represented by Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain, that discerns an inescapable negativity or resistance to language within the feeling of pain.  The two traditions have been at cross purposes lately.  Though Scarry’s work continues to generate much discussion, it’s often read rather selectively by medical humanists, and without attention to some important precursors (Frederik Buytendjk, David Bakan).  I argue that Scarry’s analysis still has more to offer than has fully been recognised.  Part of the problem, I think, has been some very imprecise use of the word ‘pain’ by historians of culture.

I try to develop a new account of pain that draws on both recent traditions, and to argue that physical pain is indeed intrinsically mediated by culture, and yet not identifiable with any positive meaning that it carries.  I think that the most economical and most serviceable way to characterise bodily pain is as a demand to pay attention to the otherwise diffuse, background sense of sensing the world that arises simply from the fact of embodied existence.  Pain is a more or less intense compulsion to notice what Daniel Heller-Roazen calls the ‘inner touch’: the sense of one’s own body that normally hovers on the edge of perception.  Characterising physical hurt in this way – as an experience that summons up the feeling of having feelings, in a nutshell – makes it a distinctively reflexive and ironic phenomenon.  It neither belongs to language nor is merely opposed to it.  That ironic dividedness, I argue, is at the root of its importance for the Romantic-period writers I discuss.

5) What’s next for you?

I’m currently working on a short book called The Birth of the Anthropocene.  It begins from the fact that talking about the present environmental crisis often involves references to extremely long-ago times: ‘CO2 levels are at their highest for at least three million years,’ or whatever.  That doesn’t really happen in other kinds of political discussion.  It seems that ecological politics needs to be able to tell a story about the deep past in order to explain its concerns and its aims – but it’s not very good at telling stories like that at the moment.  I think that we might find such a story, a kind of origin myth for green politics, in the idea of the Anthropocene epoch.  Over the last decade, many Earth scientists have concluded that the Earth is entering a new geological epoch, one in which human activities are a principal influence on the planet’s geology.  That is, after nearly 12,000 years of the Holocene epoch, we’re witnessing the birth of the Anthropocene.

All this might sound a bit remote from Romantic literature.  But geology itself emerged as a science in the Romantic era, and the most widely accepted start date for the Anthropocene is precisely our period: the ‘base’ of the Anthropocene is most often associated with industrialisation in late eighteenth-century Britain.

I think the Anthropocene gives us a vantage-point from which to think our way back into deep time, geological time.  Recognising industrial civilization as a geologic force allows us to see it in a fresh light, as the source of a new epoch within a series of epochs that stretches back many millions of years.  If the idea of the Anthropocene helps us to narrate the long historical context of the present crisis, it might serve – I hope – to nourish and revivify the ecological movement.  As the poet Don McKay puts it, the Anthropocene can enable us to recognise human beings as ‘members of deep time, along with trilobites and Ediacaran organisms … one expression of the ever-evolving planet.’

Anna Fleming on Romantic Locations and after

dalehead

In the second of our pieces following on from Romantic Locations, Anna Fleming, of the University of Leeds, reflects on the conference and its aftermath.

– – – – – – –

Over three days, thoughts on the Romantic conception of place were explored from within perhaps the most Romantic of locations: Dove Cottage, in the heart of the Lake District.  Papers addressed the relationship between different authors and particular locations.  From the Wordsworths’ process of making Grasmere a home, to continental tours, literary tourism, and the history of mountaineering, the papers were wide-ranging and probing.  Alongside the stimulating discussions, the place itself provided the opportunity to directly experience a location in which Romantic ideas and poems were composed.  (A candlelit drinks reception in the cottage itself certainly added to my sense of how the Wordsworths inhabited that space!)  Jeff Cowton, curator of the Wordsworth Trust, treated us to a glimpse of some physical treasures from the archive, including manuscripts by Dorothy Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  I then found many of the ideas raised in the conference were played out in the wider ‘Romantic location’ when I left the conference to explore another part of the Lake District with some mountaineering friends.

The walks we did on Saturday and Sunday elaborated upon the difference between the sublime and picturesque which emerged as a debate during the conference.  On Saturday, icy winds brought frequent batterings of snow and hail as we headed to the summit of Dale Head.  This was far from a picturesque experience.  Visibility was reduced to a few metres in the cold damp clouds, and one was guarded, watching each step whilst cautiously navigating and guzzling snatches of flapjack for sustenance.  Yet during this onslaught there were stunning moments – times when the cloud shifted, sunshine appeared and you became aware of neighbouring mountains, suggesting the immense region you were part of even whilst all was obscured within the clouds’ embrace.

dalehead2

There were also weirdly disorienting experiences.  As a blizzard blew across the ridge, I looked ahead and saw two black birds, perhaps crows or ravens, hopping along side by side.  I thought how strange it was for birds to move like that, together, but perhaps the severity of the conditions had caught them.  I then realised they were not birds nearby, but humans far away.  The authority of vision was suddenly subverted, giving me an appreciation of the way in which knowledge is based on perception – and that it can be entirely misled.  This felt like a version of the threshold experience, outlined in a conference paper on Keats’ poetry, as I crossed into a new suspicion of the things I assumed I know.

Sunday, on the other hand, was a beautiful day of blue skies and sunshine, untroubled by bewildering experiences.  The cold air and snow on higher fells made distant peaks stand out in a panorama of clear scenery.  This was certainly closer to the picturesque version of the Lakes, yet the prevailing wind and the patches of deep, wet, cold bog on our route once again impeded a purely luxurious pleasure in the surroundings.  These bogs gave rise to a more performative use of mountain space, demanding some bold leaps to avoid a foot drenching before the long journey back to the city.

newlands valley

Underlying many different reflections at the conference on the Romantic engagement with place was the role of a guide: a person or a text that introduces you to unknown surroundings and helps you to find your way in that physical or intellectual terrain.  In my explorations this weekend, I found myself indebted to the maps I was carrying, one from the Ordnance Survey and others in the process of being charted by a new generation of Romantic scholars.

Nicola Watson on Marilyn Butler

All members of BARS will have been very sad to hear of the death of Professor Marilyn Butler on 11 March 2014 after a long illness.  There will be a memorial service held on Thursday April 24th at 3.30 pm in Exeter College Chapel, Oxford.

Those of us who were lucky enough to be taught by her at Oxford, Cambridge and elsewhere will remember her with great affection, but her influence in the field was far more widely felt.  Her scholarly work was always remarkable for its originality and sweep, from her early biographical work on Maria Edgeworth (which reinvigorated the idea of looking at women novelists of the period other than Austen), and her ground-breaking and controversial account of Jane Austen as a politically-engaged writer in Jane Austen and the War of Idea (1975), to her remarkable monograph on Thomas Love Peacock, Peacock Displayed (1979).  Her survey of the literature of the period, Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries (1981) remains a standard work even today.  She was a key figure in the resurgence of left-wing historicist criticism in the period, not least because she replaced Bloomian ideas of romantic genealogies with a practice of intensive contextualisation of canonical romantic texts with the non-canonical, illuminating thereby the political and formal choices being made.  To her is largely attributable current interest in the once-celebrated – Southey, Campbell and Moore, amongst others.

– – – – – – –

If you’d like to leave your own tribute to Professor Butler, please feel free to use the Comments field here – we’d be very grateful for any memories you’d like to share.

Thomas Tyrrell on Romantic Locations

BARS Locations - Thomas Tyrell

Thomas Tyrrell, of Cardiff University (pictured above), has very kindly written up his impressions of the Romantic Locations conference for the blog (below).  Enjoy reliving the conference if you were there; get a flavour of what you missed if not!

– – – – – – –

I had not even started my PhD when I first saw the call for papers for the BARS early career and postgraduate conference on Romantic Locations, but I had come away from an internal postgraduate conference at York brimful of misplaced confidence, and that very week I was hitch-hiking into Keswick for a few nights free board at the youth hostel where my friend worked.  I took a copy of Wordsworth’s Guide to the District of the Lakes with me, and in the meditative moments between the rambles and the wild swims, an idea took root.  It grew slowly – I sent my final abstract from a public library in Christchurch, New Zealand, in the three month interregnum, and I received my invitation to present a paper just before I moved into Cardiff for my PhD.

As the conference approached, I was filled with nervousness.  I was after all a PhD of only three months seniority, and my research area wasn’t even properly in Romantic Studies.  Would the others sniff me out as a romantic imposter: the Dr. Polidori amidst the Byrons, Clairmonts and Shelleys around me?

Such was the gloomy tenor of my thoughts, but as the train left Oxenholme and began to rumble towards Windermere, I found myself uplifted by the sublimity of the scenes around me.  Arriving in Grasmere, I followed the hum of mighty workings into the Jerwood Centre, and over a reviving cup of tea I was reassured to discover that more than a few of my peers had cudgeled their brains, ransacked their notes and creatively re-interpreted their research plans in order to attend a conference in so splendid a location as Wordsworth’s own Grasmere; furthermore, I was the only one who would be talking about Romanticism and cartography, and would have a wide field in which to range.  Feeling much more confident, I sat down to the first panel.

Highlights of the first day included Kate Ingle’s paper on ‘Personal Place-names and Dorothy Wordsworth’s Writing of Grasmere’, which immediately made me want to run out and find all the places mentioned; Daniel Eltringham’s on upland enclosure and Wordsworth’s ‘Michael’, which read more critical theory into the practice of sheep-farming than I thought it ever could hold; and the final panel of the day, where Alexis Wolf, Honor Rieley and George Stringer introduced us to the impact of Romanticism in places as diverse as France, Canada and India.  The concluding plenary lecture was given by Professor Simon Bainbridge of Lancaster, whose paper on Romanticism and the history of mountaineering made every postgraduate with a pair of muddy boots in their luggage wish they had thought of the idea first.  The wine reception, held by candlelight in Dove Cottage, was an experience I am sure that none of us will forget.

Next morning dawned bright and early, and in despite of having drunk an inadvisable amount of wine the night before, the fresh air and change of location wrought wonders.  This was a good thing too, as my paper on ‘The map, the territory, and the small cloud between Scafell and Great Gavel’ opened the first panel of the day, at 9:30 in the morning.  Other highlights included Philip Aherne’s ‘Incomplete Communion: The Reception of the Conversation Poem’ and Leanne Stokoe, whose paper on Jeremy Bentham, Adam Smith and Shelley’s prose I had secretly been dreading, but which turned out to be absolutely fascinating.  The day was varied by a talk from Jeff Cowton, curator of the Wordsworth Trust’s collection (pictured below), who passed around plenty of original manuscripts for us to coo over and sent us home with our very own love letters – from Mary to William – and a seminar with Jeremy Davies on Percy Shelley’s time in Tremadoc, North Wales.

BARS Locations - Jeff Cowton

After the last panel of the day, we adjourned to the Traveller’s Rest for dinner.  Last orders was called at eleven o’clock, but by a combination of special pleading and skilful flirting, we kept the drinks coming until well after midnight, and it was a little after two in the morning before this bleary postgraduate scrambled into his bunk.  Nonetheless, Shoshannah Bryn Jones Square, Hannah Britton and Joanna Taylor had clearly eaten their Shreddies the next morning, and their panel on Romantic Borderlands was one of the best of the conference.  It left me eager not only to discover Mary Shelley’s Matilda, but to reread The Eve of St Agnes and the poems of Hartley Coleridge with the benefit of their insights.

Interesting papers on Byron’s closet dramas, Mary Tighe’s sonnets and the layout of Hardwick Park followed, alongside a film by MA students from Newcastle University, who took on the challenge of presenting Wordsworth to a new audience with fortitude and invention.  Sadly, after two nights of wine and revelry, not even the combined brilliance of Craig Lamont, Tristan Burke and Mary Shannon could keep my head from nodding a little during the final panel.  I was, however, much refreshed by the second plenary lecture, where Professor Nicola Watson, president of BARS (below), entertained us all with her tales of fell walking with Jonathan Bate and Duncan Wu, and the wizard-like way in which she transformed a block of wood from a thing, to an object, to a literary artifact before our very eyes.

BARS Locations - Nicky Watson

With that, the conference concluded.  Some were whisked off by minibus to Windermere to begin their journey home, while others (myself among them) remained for a weekend of walking the fells and communing with nature. As Wordsworth said,

Enough of science and of art;

Close up these barren leaves;

Come forth, and bring with you a heart

That watches and receives.

CfP: Making, Breaking and Transgressing Boundaries: Europe in Romantic Writing, 1775-1830

Please see below for the CfP for Making, Breaking and Transgressing Boundaries: Europe in Romantic Writing, 1775-1830, which will take place later this year.  As well as responses to the CfP, the organisers are also keen to hear from students who would be interested in contributing to the conference’s discussion blog – please email romanticboundaries@gmail.com.  You can find the conference on Twitter @RBoundaries.

– – – – – – –

Making, Breaking and Transgressing Boundaries: Europe in Romantic Writing, 1775-1830
 
Postgraduate and Early Career Researchers Interdisciplinary Conference
Newcastle University – 15 July 2014
 

From William Blake to Germaine de Staël, Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Thomas Robert Malthus, the Romantic period is fraught with attempts to define and redefine concepts of European boundaries. This one-day conference invites papers which consider the making, breaking and transgression of boundaries in response to revolution and national struggle across Europe between 1775 and 1830. As the borders of political territories move, expand and collapse, how is this then translated into political, philosophical and literary discourse? What does it mean for a writer in this period to cross boundaries as an exile and travel in a way distinct from the Grand Tour? How are the boundaries of Europe represented as national borders or poetical spaces?

Topics may discuss but are not limited to:

  • Topographical and political boundary formation/breaking in radical literature
  • National identities; marginalisation
  • Romantic exile and exilic behaviour; movement across borders
  • Circulation of texts; censorship and suppression of movement
  • Responses to revolution and reformation
  • The literary in the political text; the political text as ‘literature’
  • Women’s writing; the limitations of liberté, egalité, fraternité
  • Literary, political, and philosophical concepts of Europe, nationhood, and citizenship

Abstracts for 20 minute papers should be 250 words in length followed by a 50 word biography. We invite proposals for poster presentations, film presentations, and interactive pieces that explore the theme of Romantic boundaries in exciting new ways. Please address proposals to Rosie Bailey and Katie Stamps at romanticboundaries@gmail.com.

The deadline for submission is 25 April 2014.

Our blog has a dedicated discussion page, which we will update regularly with interactive videos and questions prior to the conference. We hope to break down the boundaries of distance between interdisciplinary researchers in the humanities, and invite you to join the conversation.

 

Five Questions: Ian Haywood on Romanticism and Caricature

Romanticism and Caricature - Ian Haywood

Ian Haywood is Professor of English at the University of Roehampton and co-directs Roehampton’s Centre for Research in Romanticism.  He has published widely on literature, history and politics from the late eighteenth to the mid nineteenth century, focussing particularly on radicalism, revolution, popular literature and visual culture.  He is currently serving as Vice-President of BARS and previously co-organised the association’s eleventh International Conference, Romantic Circulations.  In this interview, we discuss his latest book, Romanticism and Caricature, which was published by Cambridge University Press last October.

1) How did you come to decide that this was the next book you wanted to write?

In my last two books, The Revolution in Popular Literature (2004) and Bloody Romanticism (2006) I had gravitated towards using popular visual images as a primary rather than a secondary source.  I began to appreciate some very obvious points about popular prints: they were the nearest thing to a visual record of Romantic history and politics in the pre-photography era; they often made a greater immediate impact than the ‘slow burn’ of verbal texts; and, above all, they were more complex – both aesthetically and ideologically, than I’d realized.  I was both attracted and wary: anyone who works in the period is attracted to caricature’s vivacity, wit, inventiveness and sheer rudeness, but taking on the whole field is daunting (the British Museum collection alone runs to many thousands), and that may be one reason – rather than artistic disdain – why serious scholarship in this area has been quite limited.  I also faced an apparent political obstacle: before the amazing success of Hone and Cruikshank’s cheap woodcut satires in the Peterloo period, most caricaturists seemed to fall into the anti-Jacobin camp, critical of government policies but also rarely presenting the opposition positively.  I got round this hurdle by deciding to approach caricature dialectically, as an exploration of abuses of power and as an artistic site where ideological forces collide in all kinds of interesting ways.  Caricature has many implied spectators and soaks up the spirit of the age; it transforms trigger events into fantasias of visual excess.

2) Each chapter of your book focuses on close readings of one or two particular caricatures.  What led you to select this approach?

There are probably two factors.  The basic methodology was a logical outcome of the discovery that caricatures repaid detailed analysis of both their content and visual form; fortunately, M. Dorothy George’s British Museum Catalogue of satires (now online with supplementary curatorial comments) is a terrific starting point for historical analysis that allows you to hit the ground running.  It identifies all the historical players and the incidents that triggered the caricature; even better, it lists other prints on the same theme – this allows you to build up networks of inter-visual connections and by doing this I realised how much caricaturists borrowed from each other as well as deploying idioms and motifs from both high and popular artistic traditions.  Once the image is embedded within both its verbal and visual contexts, it is not difficult to build up a sophisticated pattern of correspondences and interpretations.  Having tried this approach out on a couple of prints, I became convinced that we could treat caricatures with the same respect as paintings; in fact the former has the edge over the latter in illuminating political controversies.  So the second factor was to make the new book reflect this higher status by presenting a sufficient number of case studies; hopefully the reader will be convinced, though I’ve yet to see any reviews!  There was no need to offer a survey of the period as this has already been done in excellent books by Vic Gatrell and Diana Donald among others.

3) How did you choose the subjects for your close readings, and were there other caricatures you initially considered that you had regretfully to omit?

As you can imagine this required a lot of browsing but in the end I decided to let the prints find me – I mean that I waited until particularly memorable prints jumped out at me, usually due to striking visual features.  For example, Rowlandson’s ‘Two Kings of Terror’ is a remarkable image that shows Napoleon and the skeletal figure of Death seated opposite each other in melancholic poses while the battle of Leipzig rages around them. It was this contrast between the carnage (bloody Romanticism if you will) and the still centre that I found so arresting and simply demanding of analysis.  Similarly, Gillray’s version of the well-known Milton allegory Satan, Sin and Death is memorable for its mock-heroic jouissance and its appropriation of one of Romanticism’s most sublime tableaux for popular culture.  But there were other triggers, sometimes in the title – for example, Gillray’s ‘Exhibition of a Democratic Transparency’ is bursting with self-referential codes, as is ‘Matchless Eloqunce’, a Reform Bill print that attacks radical oratory.  As I began to assemble a sufficient number of chapters, I then realised that it would be best to choose images that represented major political controversies, so I began to dig around in these tipping points and this generated iconic prints such as Gillray’s ‘Midas’ (a satire on paper money) and Hone and Cruikshank’s ‘Damnable Association’, a defence of the free press.  One of the prints I had to let go was Gillray’s very first major design, ‘The Liberty of the Subject’, another intriguingly entitled image which attacks press-ganging – however, I have written an article on this.  Basically, the methodology of the book encourages scholars to start from the print and work outwards.

4) Your book is arranged chronologically, beginning with Gillray’s monstrous Miltonics from the 1790s and concluding with responses to the Reform Bill in 1832.  In your view, are there narratives of development in the art of caricature that run through these years, or is the situation more complex and confused?

There are so many caricatures in the Romantic period that any narrative of development is going to be a simplification, but I do trace some pathways and patterns.  To begin with, there is no doubting that the monstrous iconography of the revolutionary 1790s re-emerges in the 1810s, firstly directed at Napoleon then at British reformers, though it can always be appropriated by radicals – one of my main claims is that the visual language of caricature is highly mobile.  This re-emergence also reflects the apostolic succession of Gillray to Cruikshank.  I also trace sub-genres within this grotesque trajectory; one of these I call the ‘English Dance of Death’, a revival of the late medieval allegory that is both apocalyptic and comedic at the same time – in fact I assert that the spry figure of Death is almost like a signature of the caricaturist’s lethal art: terrifying, catastrophizing, entertaining, guying, menacing.  The motif and related diabolical symbols such as mouth of Hell are still being recycled in Reform Bill satires.

5) What’s next for you?

I’m involved in setting up a couple of new networks, one on ‘Romantic Illustration’ and the other on ‘Romantic Spain’; both are being launched this summer.  I’m also continuing to work with caricatures as I do find them such a provocative and fertile source.  I’ve just written a paper on Gillray’s last original composition, ‘The Life of William Cobbett’ – again, these images are well-known, but have not been interrogated.  One-off essays will undoubtedly continue to emerge, but the bigger project I promise at the end of Romanticism and Caricature is a ‘sequel’ of sorts that will continue the story into the Victorian period.  This is ambitious both in scope and methodology – as there is as yet no comprehensive study of this period, I will need to provide an overview in addition to case studies.  The next book (provisionally and not very imaginatively entitled Victorian Caricature) will to some extent challenge the widely held orthodoxy that caricature declined in quality after the Romantic period as a result of moral reforms and the demise of the single print format.  I’ll probably begin with the fountainhead – Queen Victoria herself.  After the appalling monarchist sycophancy in the media over the last few years, I relish the opportunity to debunk the royal gaze.

The Royal Literary Fund and the Perils of Authorship

Please see below for details of a symposium and evening event exploring the history of authorship using the archive of the Royal Literary Fund; these will be held at the British Library on Friday 9th May.  I feel that I should declare an interest here (I’m one of the organisers and the most junior of the speakers), but I’m pretty excited by the line-up and think that it should be a really interesting day.

–  –  –

The Royal Literary Fund and the Perils of Authorship

The British Library Conference Centre

Friday 9th May

10:30-17:45 (followed by a wine reception, then an evening event from 18:30-19:30)

David Williams

The dissenting minister, philosopher and educationalist David Williams (above) founded the Royal Literary Fund in 1790 in order ‘to withdraw those apprehensions of extreme poverty, and those desponding views of futurity, which lead Genius and Talent from the path of Virtue’, which in practice meant providing confidential financial aid to struggling writers. More than three thousand six hundred writers applied to the Fund prior to 1939, including luminaries such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Clare, Leigh Hunt, Joseph Conrad, Bram Stoker, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence and Dorothy Richardson, but also hundreds of less familiar figures. Their stories of their difficulties, as preserved in the Fund’s archive, stand testament to the enduring difficulties of making a living by the pen in the period between the French Revolution and the end of the First World War.

At this symposium, four noted scholars will each bring their particular expertise to bear on the Fund’s records, exploring the perils of authorship in the long nineteenth century from a range of perspectives:

Professor Jon Mee (University of York) – ‘General science, Political Disquisitions, and the Belle Lettres’: The First Decade of the Literary Fund

Dr Jennie Batchelor (University of Kent) – UnRomantic Authorship: The Case of Women in the Royal Literary Fund Archive (1790-1830)

Professor Josephine McDonagh (King’s College London) – Forms and Rituals of Giving and Receiving at the Royal Literary Fund

Professor Max Saunders (King’s College London) – Fund of Stories: Modernism, Life Writing and the RLF

The symposium will also feature an introduction to the Royal Literary Fund Archive by Dr Matthew Sangster (British Library) and a roundtable discussion to close the proceedings.

To register, please visit the British Library’s ticketing website. The fee is £15 (or £10 for concessions) and includes tea breaks, lunch, a wine reception after the conference, and entry to the subsequent evening event, ‘The Royal Literary Fund and the Struggling Author’, hosted by the Fund’s President, Sir Ronald Harwood; this will take place between 18:30 and 19:30.

This symposium is a collaboration between the British Library, the Royal Literary Fund, and the Centre for Eighteenth-Century Studies, University of York and is generously supported by the Royal Literary Fund.