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Archive for October 2014

Five Questions: Rebecca Davies on Written Maternal Authority and Eighteenth-Century Education in Britain

Rebecca Davies - Written Material Authority and Eighteenth-Century Education in Britain

Rebecca Davies is currently a Teaching Fellow at the University of Edinburgh.  She completed her doctorate at Aberystwyth University in 2011, where she also held lectureships in eighteenth and nineteenth-century literature.  She spent 2012 teaching at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and has also taught at Birmingham City University and Loughborough University.  Her research focuses on areas including women’s writing, epistemology, the materiality of the text, writing for children and discourses of education, concerns which are united in her first monograph, Written Maternal Authority and Eighteenth-Century Education in Britain: Educating by the Book, which was recently published by Ashgate and which we discuss below.

1) How did you first become interested in the implications of ‘textual mothering’?

I began this project with the realisation that Samuel Richardson was unable to construct an archetype of maternity in his 1742 sequel to Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded (1740).  I expected to observe a continuation of exemplary female behaviour, transferring the faultlessness of her chastity to her mothering, in the sequel to his popular novel.  Instead, Pamela’s behaviour is conflicted and the guidance that readers could gain from her is consequently also uncertain.  The work’s critical failure seems to be located in this flawed non-representation of what constitutes exemplary maternity as it fails as a novel of conduct and instruction.  Richardson encounters what I term a ‘maternal contradiction’ in trying to present the otherwise exemplary Pamela attempting to perform the conflicting duties of wife and mother simultaneously.  His imperfect solution was to construct her as a woman who ‘writes’ rather than performs her paradigmatic maternity, a notion which forms the central theme of this book.

2) How did discourses of written maternal authority develop as the eighteenth century progressed?

The book maps the development of written maternal authority from the problematic inception as an imperfect response to barriers against physical mothering to implicit feminine authority in the covert didacticism of a woman writer.  Richardson’s Pamela wrote her mothering because of the conflicting demands on her body made by her husband and child.  At the end of the century Wollstonecraft also explored the necessity of writing as a maternal duty when the physical duties are denied in her unfinished novel Maria.  The book demonstrates the complete separation of the written construct of maternity from physical mothering by the end of the eighteenth century.  Ann Martin Taylor’s writing could be described as theoretical maternity as she ‘mothers’ the reader through her authorial voice and essentially is the mother become text when she draws the daughter/reader’s attention to the materiality of the book written by her physical hand.  The final writer examined briefly in this study, Jane Austen, indicates the manner in which the feminine authority of educational discourse examined in the rest of the book, can be seen to have imbued the distinctly feminine didactic narrator’s voice with implicit authority.

3) How did you choose your major case studies (Samuel Richardson, Sarah Fielding, Mary Wollstonecraft, Maria Edgeworth, Ann Martin Taylor and Jane Austen), and were there other figures or works which you considered but rejected?

There are many writers whose works I would have liked to explore in relation to the empowering nature of women’s written educative authority – Anna Letitia Barbauld, Barbara Hofland and Hannah More were all writers I considered – but the theory I put forward here of a distinct written discipline of maternal education that is intended to be an empowering rhetorical device for women writers is not limited to the writers I have examined in this project.  These texts were chosen to demonstrate the chronological development of the paradigm of the maternal educator from its problematic incarnation in the mid-eighteenth century to the understanding of ideal maternity as a written construct in the early nineteenth century, and to do so through examination of a variety of literary genres.  The construction of maternity in conduct literature and the novel differs for many of the writers, demonstrating the difficulty of absorbing the paradigm of authoritative maternity into the familial plot, Mary Wollstonecraft’s encounters with the contradictions of the empowering aspects of maternity and the limitations placed on women by gendered social roles are still being played out today.  Maria Edgeworth’s influence in this area was established by the ground-breaking work of Mitzi Myers in the 1980s and 90s, which made her presence indispensable, although I did not have space to include a discussion of her bildungsromans Belinda and Ormond as I had intended.  Ann Martin Taylor is not really read today, but her works, particularly Maternal Solicitude (1814), have been represented by Davidoff and Hall (1987) as typical of the sort of moral ‘maternal advice’ that had become popular by the end of the eighteenth century.  In addition, the way in which her authorial authority was channelled through her Dissenting faith, and the role of women in the Congregationalist Church, made her work an interesting case study.  Jane Austen’s authoritative narrative voice in her didactic novels illustrates the empowering alternative to the negative characterisation of female education within a heterosexual courtship that is made available by implicit didactic female authority.

4) How effective was the discourse of maternal educational authority as a tool for allowing women effectively to intervene in political and philosophical debates?

While discussions about education allowed women to intervene in politically-infused debates regarding cognitive development and epistemology, particularly around the French Revolution of 1789, it was usually covertly achieved.  For example, I suggest that Maria Edgeworth employs a Burkean lexis in her discussion of natural ability in children, in order to signal her concerns regarding broader cultural epistemological breaks.  In spite of the acknowledged empowering effects of female control of educational writing, the authority gained by individual women through a maternal role is limited to the literary realm.  Mothering is a social function and therefore a self-negating process, defined in terms of what mothers can do for other actors in society.  A ‘good’ mother could create both great future statesmen and ideal future mothers, but she will not receive public acknowledgement of the performance of her role, even if her publicly admired son is the product of her excellent parenting.  Motherhood also becomes homogenised in its paradigmatic form, and therefore does not imbue individual women with unquestionable authority.  On the contrary, individual mothers are the subject of critical public expectations and appraisals in relation to their performance of this duty.  Whereas female authority in public discourse is heightened through symbolic maternity, individual mothers are increasingly examined and constrained in their conduct by the imposition of yet more restrictive written rules that can be applied to female behaviour.

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

I am currently looking at representations of ‘genius’ in educational writing of the long eighteenth century.  This project aims to explore how those writing about education negotiated a conception of genius, both natural and learned, in relation to cognitive development in children and working-class adults.

The objectives of the project are threefold: to re-assess the development of a modern concept of genius in the light of neglected eighteenth-century educational writing by women; to overturn the truism that eighteenth-century epistemology acknowledged genius only as it related to masculine creative originality; and to expand our cultural understanding of how childhood was constructed in this period.  The study will reassess the gendered nature of the debate surrounding the nature of genius, which is traditionally associated with the Romantic poets’ concern with masculine imagination.

Five Questions: Carol Baraniuk on James Orr

James Orr, Poet and Irish Radical

Carol Baraniuk is currently a full-time Research Associate on the Ulster-Scots Education Project at the University of Ulster, where she has also lectured on the Ulster-Scots literary tradition.  She completed her doctorate on Ulster poetry in the Scottish tradition at the University of Glasgow, where she is an honorary Research Associate of the Centre for Robert Burns Studies.  Her new book, James Orr, Poet and Irish Radical, which we discuss below, was published earlier this month by Pickering & Chatto and draws on her thesis and on her extensive previous research on Ulster-Scots literature.

1) How did you first encounter James Orr, and how did you come to realise that you wanted to write a book about him?

I first read the poetry of James Orr (1770-1816) when I was appointed to a research position at Stranmillis University College, Belfast.  I was working on a project investigating Irish and Scottish connections in literature, language and history.  Orr was one of a group of poets who lived in Ulster, were descended from Scots migrants and whose language was Scots.  They were contemporaries of Robert Burns, and like him, employed vernacular Scots and the stanza forms associated with the Scottish poetic tradition in their work.  I realised very quickly that Orr’s work was exceptional in quality and, more than that, he was a genuine cultural transformer, whose poetry embedded the Scottish poetic tradition within Irish literature.  I felt that his genius and originality merited a book length discussion.

2) Your title describes Orr as ‘Poet and Irish Radical’. How closely were Orr’s Irishness and his radicalism bound up with his poetical activities?

Orr’s heritage was Scots, but he always regarded himself as an Irishman – his community had been settled in Ireland for almost two hundred years by the time of his birth in 1770.  He identified with Irish concerns: as Presbyterians his people had suffered marginalisation during the period of the Irish Penal Laws, and were still subject to the tithe, a tax paid to the Anglican church, throughout his lifetime.  His work shows that he had a burning desire for social justice.  He himself worked as a handloom weaver, but he was deeply moved by the plight of the poorest classes.  He also deplored inequality and supported Irish Catholics who wanted emancipation.  Orr was attracted by the aims of the Society of United Irishmen, who were influenced by the radicalism of Tom Paine, as expressed in The Rights of Man, and who sought a more independent, democratic Ireland – an Ireland for Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter.  He became closely linked to Henry Joy McCracken and James Hope, leaders of the United Irishmen in the north of Ireland, and he led a troop of men from his home village of Ballycarry, Co Antrim in support of McCracken’s attack on Antrim town on 7 June, 1798.  Some of his best poetry deals with his experiences as an activist, covering his involvement in the United Irish Rebellion, his time on the run, his brief exile to the United States, and how he came to terms with Ireland in the era of the Act of Union of 1801.

3) In your introduction, you argue that Orr ‘is too often evaluated in relation to Robert Burns’. In what ways do you see the case of Burns as being an unhelpful lens for considering Orr’s life, works and reception?

There’s no doubt that Orr greatly admired Burns, but he and other original and innovative Ulster Scots writers have been assumed to be Burns imitators, when the best of them are nothing of the kind.  There’s a great difference between writing within a tradition, and writing to copy or imitate.  Orr employs the language and stanza forms of the Scottish tradition with great sophistication and dynamism.  He was fully conversant with Burns’s work, but also with the works of Allan Ramsay and Robert Fergusson, whose work influenced Burns himself.  We don’t, however, refer to Burns as a Fergusson imitator!  Orr does dialogue with Burns, and challenge him in several works, most notably ‘The Irish Cottier’s Death and Burial’ which presents a much more bleak picture of rural labouring class life than Burns’s ‘The Cotter’s Saturday Night’, with which it is often compared.  It’s helpful to be aware of the Burns poem, but Orr moves the tradition forward significantly, dealing with community life and focusing on the condition of the poor in Ireland.  He’s also much less sentimental, more pessimistic than Burns.  There’s a far greater sense of alienation in his work that makes it compelling in its own right.

4) Which particular works by Orr would you recommend to readers who haven’t encountered him before, and which would you select for introducing him to undergraduate and postgraduate students?

‘The Irish Cottier’s Death and Burial’ is a must, also Orr’s series on the 1798 Rebellion and the Union.  These are masterpieces of Scots verse which engage with an iconic period in Irish history, while conveying a unique, northern Dissenter perspective on events.  However, Orr’s writing in standard English has been unfairly neglected, too often assumed to be uniformly awkward and stiff.  I’d want to make both undergraduates and post graduates aware that he produced many fine pieces in the standard register.  ‘The Assizes’, an exploration of the contemporary legal system, is a remarkable narrative poem in heroic couplets, which demonstrates his excellence as a poetic craftsman.  It really deserves to be anthologised alongside the works of Pope, Crabbe and others.  Orr produced two volumes of verse, one in 1804 and a second, posthumous volume in 1817, so he was a contemporary of Wordsworth and Coleridge.  Several texts demonstrate that he was aware of the development of Romanticism, and was actively engaging with it – wrestling with the concept of himself as a poet and creative artist, dealing with Romantic themes and adopting a Wordsworthian approach to his subjects.  He should be approached and investigated as an important Irish Romantic poet.

5) What new topics are you currently researching?

Currently I’m continuing to scrutinise Ulster-Scotland connections, from the Union of 1801 to Partition in 1921.  My particular focus is on literary developments which reflect the changing political climate within the British archipelago.  I’m also fascinated by the concept of renaissance in Scottish and Ulster-Scots literature and am beginning to explore how it recurs and changes in both Scotland and Ireland from the period of the Scottish vernacular revival of the eighteenth century to the late twentieth century Ulster-Scots revival.  I don’t regard Ulster-Scots writing as something isolated from major literary and historical developments – it should be understood as a northern branch of Irish literature, and investigated within the context of archipelagic literary, political and historical relationships as these have developed over the past four hundred years.

Five Questions: Kate Horgan on the Politics of Songs

Kate Horgan - Politics of Songs

Kate Horgan currently works as a Hansard editor at the Parliament of Australia in Canberra.  In 2012, she completed her PhD at the Australian National University, submitting a thesis on the politics and song in the eighteenth century.  Her doctoral work forms the basis for her first monograph, The Politics of Songs in Eighteenth-Century Britain, 1723–1795, which was published in May by Pickering & Chatto and which we discuss below.

1) How did you first encounter eighteenth-century songs?

It occurred to me that my first encounter with eighteenth-century songs probably began without me realising it.  Like most Australian children, in addition to the Australian national anthem ‘Advance Australia Fair’, our continued connection with Britain and the monarchy has meant that ‘God Save the Queen’ has also a been part of my song consciousness; a song with a long history, but which really originated as we know it in the mid-eighteenth century.  I lined up on the street of my home town of Ballarat, Victoria with thousands of other primary school children when Charles and Diana visited Australia in 1983, and no doubt it featured heavily at this time, so this may well have been my first encounter!

When I began my PhD studies at the Australian National University, I was very fortunate to have Professor Gillian Russell as my supervisor (who is now at the University of Melbourne).  Gillian introduced me to the world of the ephemeral press and the popular songs and balladry in the theatre and politics of the 1790s, when the playing of ‘God Save the King’ at the end of a performance, or its conspicuous absence, was a deeply political act.  I also encountered the amazing Dibdin family early in my research and remember feeling quite overwhelmed by their incredible output of songs and music.  A political song from the 1790s that I examine in detail in the final case study of the book was set to a tune written by Charles Dibdin the elder, which is testament to his ubiquity in the culture and music of this time.

2) Why did you choose the period between 1723 and 1795 as the focus for your study?

These years are the bookends of my study, with 1723 being the year in which volumes one and two of A Collection of Old Ballads was published, a very significant text in eighteenth-century song history.  Volume three of the Collection was published in 1725.  This expensive, calf-bound text was seminal in bringing together popular songs and ballads—material usually found in ephemeral collections of garlands and miscellanies, and distributed as broadsheets—and framing them for an imagined audience of gentlemen collectors.  Its publication marks an important moment in the conception of ‘old ballads’ as the objects of literary contemplation.  The identity of the anonymous compiler of the collection is still a subject of scholarly conjecture.  Thomas Percy would later draw heavily from the Collection in his 1765 anthology of the Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, a text which had a major influence upon the Romantic poets and the development of English Literature.

I examine the transmission of a particular song, ‘The Princely Song of Richard Coeur De Lion’ into the Collection, and beyond.  The related legend of Richard the Lionheart and the singing of his faithful minstrel Blondel, which eventually led to the King’s identification and freedom from imprisonment, also becomes significant as a royalist anthem in the context of the French Revolution and it grabbed my imagination as a way of understanding the power of songs at this time.

The study concludes by examining political songs in the revolutionary context in Britain, with a particular focus on Sheffield.  In 1795, James Montgomery, printer of the Sheffield newspaper the Iris and an aspiring poet, was imprisoned for printing a political song that originated in Ireland and expressed support for the French revolution.  Leading up to this, were the trials of the ‘Scottish martyrs’ and the 1794 London treason trials, which were part of a crackdown by the government against those groups advocating for the reform of the political system through universal male enfranchisement and annual parliaments—groups such as the Sheffield Society for Constitutional Information and the London Corresponding Society.  My study looks at the role of songs as evidence in these trials as a precursor to Montgomery’s fate.

3) In what ways did politicised ballads and hymns help to shape British culture during this period?

Songs were an incredibly important media of the eighteenth century, shaping culture through their ability to spread information such as news, opinion, gossip, smut and political ideas.  During the 1790s, songs were a particularly potent form of political expression because through singing, ideas and slogans could be disseminated to all sections of society.  The ‘lower orders’ could be exposed to perceived dangerous ideas very easily through singing, which was not dependent upon literacy or a large amount of capital (necessary for the purchase of books).  The power of songs also lay in the malleability of tunes and the setting of political lyrics to well-known tunes.  This is evident through the political songs that emerged following Thomas Paine’s publication of The Rights of Man, some of which are highlighted in my book.  In Sheffield, for example, local songwriter Joseph Mather sang ‘God Save Great Thomas Paine’ to the tune of ‘God Save the King’, while in London, the printer Robert Hawes produced songs titled ‘Rights of Man’ to the tune of ‘Hearts of Oak’ from his Constitutional Liberty Press and sold ‘six a penny’.  My study also examines the politicised use of the hundredth psalm, known as the ‘old hundredth’, a song which had the status of a national anthem in the eighteenth-century alongside ‘God Save the King’.  James Montgomery wrote an anti-war song to the tune of the hundredth psalm in 1794, which was a deeply subversive act.  Songs and tunes such as these were put to constant use in defining and contesting the ideas of the nation during the eighteenth century.  This has been overshadowed, however, by romantic conceptions of balladry which emphasise their timeless and apolitical qualities.

4) How did you come to select the case studies you focus on in your four chapters?

In terms of the final and largest case study which deals with radical Sheffield and the trial of James Montgomery, at times I felt like it selected me.  That sounds romanticised, but it captures the feeling I had, at times, of being utterly immersed and captivated by the archival material.  Early on in my research I came across the manuscript ‘Reminiscences’ of Winifred Gales’, in which she gives an account of her family’s time in Sheffield before they were forced to flee to America to escape prosecution for their political views.  Her husband, Joseph Gales, was the proprietor and printer of the Sheffield Register, an innovative newspaper open in its support for the ideas of Thomas Paine.  Gales was also busy printing cheap copies of Paine’s Rights of Man and other politically inflammatory publications.  He came to employ a protégé in the young James Montgomery, who remained in Sheffield following the Gales’s departure and continued to run the newspaper which he renamed the Iris.  Montgomery was targeted by the authorities and punished for his political views and those of his predecessor.  His trial for printing a political song is discussed in the final case study.  It became a bit of an obsession to try and piece together the personal relationships and network around the Gales family in Sheffield and the political songs that enveloped them.  After laboriously transcribing Winifred Gales’s memoir, which was only available on microfilm at that time (it has subsequently been digitised), and spending hours in the Sheffield archives immersed in the correspondence of Gales and Montgomery, I began to feel close to these people.  It was a privilege, and a very humbling experience, to be privy to their courage, fears and suffering for the kinds of political rights which are taken for granted in democracies today.

The other case studies emerged gradually over time, but they were all born of a desire to create a narrative of interconnections that would flow through the study.  I was led to the examination of the old hundredth psalm, for example, through Montgomery’s use of its tune in his anti-war hymn.  I wanted to give a sense of the resonances and complex meanings of the songs across the different contexts in which I found them so that the study would cohere as a whole.

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

I am working to develop a project that examines songs in mid-nineteenth century Australia, with a particular emphasis upon Irish songs.  In exploring the trial of James Montgomery, I traced the song for which he was imprisoned to the United Irishmen, so the transmission of Irish political songs has emerged as a focus of interest for me following publication of The Politics of Songs.  In the middle of this year I spent some time exploring the Irish Studies Collection at the St Mary’s College and Newman Academic Centre at the University of Melbourne.  I’m particularly interested in the figure of Charles Gavan Duffy who immigrated to Australia in 1855 after being heavily involved in the movement for repeal of the union.  Duffy was a songwriter and ballad editor who, like the United Irishmen before him, deliberately harnessed the power of songs to build cultural nationalism in the pages of the newspaper he edited and co-founded, The Nation.  In Australia he rose to become the Premier of the state of Victoria.

I also have an interest in the history of parliamentary reporting and Hansard.  During the research for the book I really enjoyed delving into the parliamentary debates and William Cobbett’s Political Register.  I am currently working as a Hansard editor at the Parliament of Australia and am looking forward to future academic research into the history and print culture of Hansard.

CfP: Voices and Books 1500-1800

Please see below for a Call for Papers for Voices and Books 1500-1800, a multidisciplinary conference taking place in Newcastle next July.

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VOICES AND BOOKS 1500-1800

July 16th-18th 2015
Newcastle University and City Library, Newcastle
Organiser: Jennifer Richards, Newcastle University, with Helen Stark, Newcastle University

Voices and Books

Keynote Speakers
Heidi Brayman Hackel (University of California, Riverside)
Anne Karpf (London Metropolitan University)
Christopher Marsh (Queen’s University, Belfast) with The Carnival Band
Perry Mills, Director of Edward’s Boys (King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon)

Although it is often acknowledged that early modern books were routinely read aloud we know relatively little about this. Oral reading is not embedded as an assumption in existing scholarship. On the contrary, over the last two decades it is the studious and usually silent reader, pen in hand, who has been placed centre stage. This conference invites contributions that explore the kind of evidence and research methods that might help us to recover this lost history; that think about how reading / singing aloud relates to other kinds of orality; that recover the civic and / or social life of the performed book in early modern culture; and reflect on how the performance of the scripted word might inform our reading of early modern writing today. We also welcome papers that think through what it might mean to make ‘voice’ central to our textual practice.

We invite proposals (in English) that address the relationship between orality and literacy in any genre in print or manuscript in any European language. The genres might be literary, religious, musical, medical, scientific, or educational. We encourage proposals that recover diverse communities and readers/hearers. We also welcome papers that consider problems of evidence: e.g. manuscript marginalia; print paratexts; visual representations; as well as non-material evidence (voice; gesture). We will be particularly pleased to receive suggestions for presentations that include practical illustrations, performances or demonstrations.

Topics might include, but are not restricted to:
• The sound of print
• The physiology of voicing
• Singing and speaking
• Rhetoric: voice and gesture
• Performance and emotions
• Communities of hearers
• Acoustic reconstructions
• Children’s reading / reading to children

200-word abstracts for 20-minute papers from individuals and panels (3 speakers) to be sent to voicesandbooks15001800@gmail.com. The DEADLINE for abstracts is: Friday 16th January 2015.

There will be a small number of travel bursaries for postgraduate and early career researchers. If you are interested in applying for support please contact Helen.Stark@ncl.ac.uk. Deadline: May 1st 2015.

For more information on the AHRC Network Voices and Books 1500-1800, co-led by Professor Jennifer Richards (Newcastle) and Professor Richard Wistreich (RCM London), please visit our website: https://research.ncl.ac.uk/voicesandbooks/.

The Voices & Books Network is supported by the AHRC, Newcastle University, the Royal College of Music, London and NEMA, the National Early Music Association.

Godwin Letters Colloquium and Launch

BARS members are warmly invited to celebrate the publication of The Letters of William Godwin, Volume II: 1798-1805, edited by Pamela Clemit (Oxford University Press), on Tuesday, 18 November 2014, at Wolfson College, Oxford, 4.30-6.30 p.m.  Colloquium, followed by drinks.  Chair: Nicholas Halmi (Oxford).  Speakers: Mark Philp (Warwick), Jenny McAuley (Oxford), Jon Mee (York), Pamela Clemit (Durham).  No booking required.  ALL WELCOME.

Five Questions: Simon J. White on Romanticism and the Rural Community

Simon J White - Romanticism and the Rural Community

Simon J. White is currently a Reader in Romantic and Nineteenth-Century Literature at Oxford Brookes University.  He has published numerous articles and book chapters on working-class and labouring-class writers in the Romantic period, focusing most extensively on Robert Bloomfield, the subject of his first monograph and his 2006 co-edited collection (with John Goodridge and Bridget Keegan) Robert Bloomfield: Lyric, Class and the Romantic Canon.  His most recent monograph, Romanticism and the Rural Community, was published by Palgrave in August 2013.  Below, we discuss this book along with his wide-ranging public engagement activities and his new work on representations of magic and witchcraft.

1) How did you come to realise that you wanted to write Romanticism and the Rural Community?

I did my PhD on the poetry of Robert Bloomfield at the University of York.  The project didn’t start out as a study of Bloomfield’s representation of community, but by the end this was the dominant subject of my thesis.  A substantially revised version entitled Robert Bloomfield, Romanticism and the Poetry of Community was published by Ashgate in 2007.  While working on this book, I realised that the proper organisation of rural communities was central to political and social debates at the turn of the eighteenth century, and featured strongly in 1790s political polemic.  It was even a major factor in deliberations about the future direction of Britain’s imperial project in the Indian subcontinent.  The British were concerned that demographic changes were destabilizing small rural communities, and that this in turn was having a detrimental impact upon trade.  The more I read, the more it became apparent that the idea of what rural communities could or should be was central to the vision of many literary (as well as polemical) writers in the period.  As a result I made the decision to produce a more wide-ranging study.  I secured a one-year AHRC Early-Career Fellowship which enabled me to complete my research and write Romanticism and the Rural Community.

2) How did the project develop over the course of the book’s composition?  Were there other aspects to the project beyond the monograph?

During the course of my research it became apparent that for many Romantic-period writers, the social disintegration of small rural communities was not only, or even principally, about class.  Small rural communities displayed a strong sense of mutuality and common identity when made up of different social groups – dependent labouring people, semi-independent cottagers, farmers and landowners – if all believed that they shared a common purpose.  When large numbers of people within rural communities no longer shared a commitment to ‘agri[culture]’ and husbandry, divisions and competing priorities began to emerge.  This breakdown is presaged in the poetry of Bloomfield, George Crabbe and John Clare, but it is most vividly represented in Ebenezer Elliott’s poetry.  For Elliott, writing in the late 1820s, the main source of community breakdown in small rural villages is the rise and sprawl of the middle classes.  The middle classes wanted their villages to be neat and pretty.  As we move into the twentieth century, the demands of the judges in best-kept village competitions would become more important than the demands of farmers and farm labourers.  Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s buddy-cop spoof Hot Fuzz (2007) is about the lengths to which villagers will go in order to secure victory in a best-kept village competition.

I began to make connections between a perceived crisis in rural communities during the Romantic period and the state of rural community life today.  Many of us sense that there is something wrong with modern dormitory villages; few of us would describe them as communities in the old sense of the word.  The middle classes have moved into rural villages in search of the community feeling that they could not find in modern cities, only to recreate the organised and neat segregation of suburbia in the countryside.  In order to investigate these connections, and in partnership with Oxfordshire Rural Community Council, I organised a series of Oxfordshire-focused workshops entitled Rural Community: The Past Shaping the Present Shaping the Future.  The idea was to engage interested stakeholders (representatives of the third sector and local government, and academics from a range of disciplines) in my research, and to stimulate new ways of thinking about rural communities.  The central theme of the workshops was the question – do ideas about what rural communities used to be like still shape policy and practice today, and is this a problem?

3) Your introduction argues against seeing Romantic-period country localities as parts of a ‘homogeneous rural context’ and your chapters pay close attention to the differing social infrastructures of rural communities.  How does the fine-grained appreciation of the complexities and specificities of rural life which your book develops alter our understanding of Romantic-period literature?

My book questions various, still common, assumptions in Romantic studies: that Romantic writers had access to, and celebrated an originary nature (as distinct from a cultivated landscape); that agrarian improvement always had negative consequences for labouring people in the countryside; and that those Romantic writers who demand to be read in relation to the specifics of place are limited.  In fact, by about the first millennium AD, particularly in England, very little of the landscape was untouched by the human hand.  The Romantic distinction between wild and cultivated nature was a myth.  Enclosure had a significant impact in some places (Clare’s Northamptonshire), but not others (William Wordsworth’s Cumberland).  It resulted in improved living conditions for labouring people in some places (Burns’s lowland Scotland), and worse living conditions in others (Bloomfield and Crabbe’s Suffolk).  If we move a hundred miles or so in space or a decade or so in time the physical and social environment can be very different, resulting in a different community dynamic.  Romanticism and the Rural Community reveals that this more nuanced reading of agrarian and social change is displayed in the writing of the period.  My book contends that all Romantic writing about the countryside is rooted in a knowledge and experience of specific places.  It goes on to demonstrate that specifics of time and place in turn influence the representation of community.

4) Your chapters consider both canonical writers (William Wordsworth, Jane Austen, Robert Burns, John Clare) and oft-neglected figures (George Crabbe, Robert Bloomfield, Ebenezer Elliott). How did you settle on these particular writers as the subjects for your arguments about the centrality of rural communities to thought in the period?

I chose these writers because in important works they focus implicitly and sometimes explicitly on questions of community identity and how small rural communities are, or should be structured; politically, socially and economically.  I could have chosen many other writers of the Romantic period who feature rural life or nature more generally in their work, but my project focuses explicitly on the representation of rural community.  I wanted to engage with the complexity of different types of communities, and national and regional investments in community experience and community identity.  My choice of writers and their work enabled me to situate some unjustly neglected writers at the heart of what I argue was one of the major preoccupations of the period, and to produce some revisionary readings of well-known writers.  I believed that I could add substantially to the body of research on Wordsworth in two distinct ways.  Firstly, through my examination of Wordsworth’s response to 1790s political polemic focusing on the rural community in general and the cottager in particular.  Secondly, through my exploration of the way Wordsworth’s ideas about rural community, and how it should be represented in poetry, change from the early 1790s through to The Excursion in 1814.  I was also aware of the long established work on Jane Austen in relation to social change and the landed estate.  But I believed that re-evaluation of this long established research was necessary, particularly in the light of more recent revisionary work on rural history, and my own work on the rural community in 1790s political polemic.

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

I am currently writing a book entitled Witchcraft, Magic and Regionality in Fiction, 1818-1926 (Palgrave, forthcoming 2017).  I am also developing ‘Mapping Stories of Witchcraft and Magic’, a digital resource linked to the book project, but pan-historical in orientation.  This study will explore the role of witchcraft and magic in the construction of distinctive regional identity in fiction during the nineteenth and early-twentieth century.  A considerable amount of work has been done on the representation of witchcraft and magic in early-modern England and Scotland, in particular the witch trials of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  But until recently little work has been done on witchcraft and magic after 1736, when the legislation that had made many magical practices capital offences in England and Scotland was repealed.  But since the millennium, and led by the ground-breaking research of Owen Davies, historians have begun to explore this striking gap in our understanding of the mind-set of ordinary people, and the social-dynamics of local communities throughout Britain during much of the last three hundred years.  It was not until very recently that historians began to study regional variations in magical beliefs and practices during the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.  This new area of research is the starting point for Witchcraft, Magic and Regionality in Fiction, 1818-1926, which will be informed by the growing body of work on regional variations, and by the new (historical) discoveries made during the course of my own research.

The BARS Review

We’re very glad to announce that the BARS Bulletin & Review has now morphed into a freely-available online journal: The BARS Review.  Please see below for a copy of the notification sent to BARS members by the editorial team.

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Dear BARS members,

You may be wondering why you still haven’t received the next number of the BARS Bulletin & Review; the reason for the delay is that we’ve been busy at work behind the scenes preparing for the Bulletin’s re-launch as The BARS Review, which you can now access via this link: http://www.bars.ac.uk/review/.

The BARS Review will, like its predecessor, provide timely and comprehensive coverage of new monographs, essay collections, editions and other works dealing with the literature, history and culture of the Romantic period, broadly conceived. It will be published twice-yearly, in Spring and Autumn numbers.

Unlike the Bulletin, however, The BARS Review will be available online as an open-access journal. This will make the publication accessible to a wider readership and will allow the contents to be indexed, configured, filtered and searched both through the site’s built-in functions and using search engines. Individual reviews can be read and downloaded in html or pdf formats. A pdf compilation of all the reviews in each number can be downloaded for printing or for reading on electronic devices.

Currently, No. 44, the inaugural number of The BARS Review (http://www.bars.ac.uk/review/index.php/barsreview/issue/view/2) and No. 43 of the Bulletin (http://www.bars.ac.uk/review/index.php/barsreview/issue/view/1) are available in full through The BARS Review website. Some older issues of the Bulletin will be added to the archive in the course of time; at present, however, these remain available for download through the main BARS website: http://www.bars.ac.uk/bulletinreview/barsbulletinreview.php.

The BARS Review will focus exclusively on reviews, but we look forward to keeping members updated on conferences and other events via our mailing list, website, the BARS Blog (http://www.bars.ac.uk/blog/), our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/192798244079736/) and our Twitter account (@BARS_official), which we hope you’ll continue to follow with interest.

New reviewers and recommendations for reviews are always welcome, so please send any expressions of interest to the Editor, Susan Valladares (susan.valladares@ell.ox.ac.uk). We’d also be very grateful for any feedback and suggestions regarding the new format.

We hope that you enjoy reading The BARS Review.

With very best wishes from the editorial team:

Susan Valladares (Editor)
Ian Haywood and Susan Oliver (General Editors)
Matthew Sangster (Technical Editor)

CfP: Military Masculinities in the Long Nineteenth Century

Please see below for a new Call for Papers on Military Masculinities in the Long Nineteenth Century, for a conference to be held next May at the University of Hull.

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Call for Papers

Military Masculinities in the Long Nineteenth Century
University of Hull, 20th-21st May 2015
Keynotes: Doctor Holly Furneaux and Professor Joanne Bailey

To commemorate the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo and the lasting impact of the Napoleonic Wars upon the history of militarism, submissions are welcomed for ‘Military Masculinities in the Long Nineteenth Century’, an interdisciplinary conference held at the University of Hull on the 20th and 21st May 2015. We welcome papers from scholars across the humanities on the topic of nineteenth-century ‘military’ manliness. The conference will encompass a range of themes relating to notions of gender, war and empire, exploring the ways in which nineteenth-century society responded and reacted to ideas of militarism and mobilised manhood.

Hat Hussar

(Image used with kind permission of the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection,
Brown University Library)

Topics might include (but are certainly not limited to):
• The Napoleonic Wars.
• Victorian war and empire.
• Hero worship.
• Military fashion.
• Returning soldiers.
• Soldiers and families (military fathers, husbands and sons).
• Military hierarchies.
• Men and nursing.
• The revival of chivalry and past manly archetypes.
• Military masculinity in art and music.
• Artistic masculinity during wartime.
• Violent, criminal masculinity.
• Emotion, trauma and the nervous body.
• Physicality and sport.
• Homosociality.

Please send an abstract of 250-300 words for a paper of 20 minutes to either Anna Maria Barry or Emma Butcher[anna_maria_barry@hotmail.com/erbutcher@gmail.com] by 5 January 2015.

We anticipate that the registration fee will be £35, with a discounted price of £20 for postgraduate students. This will include lunch and refreshments on both days.

For further information (programme, registration) please keep checking the conference webpage: http://www2.hull.ac.uk/fass/english/news-and-events/military-masculinities.aspx.
In association with Hull University’s Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies and Waterloo 200.