News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

Archive for December 2014

Call for Copley Bursary Applications

Postgraduates working in the area of Romantic Studies are invited to apply for a Stephen Copley Postgraduate Research Award.  The BARS Executive Committee has established the awards in order to support postgraduate research.  They are intended to help fund expenses incurred through travel to libraries and archives necessary to the student’s research, up to a maximum of £300.  Applications for the awards are competitive, and cannot be made retrospectively.  Applicants must be members of BARS (to join please visit our website:

The names of recipients will be announced on the BARS website, and successful applicants will be asked to submit a short report to the BARS Executive Committee and to acknowledge BARS in their doctoral thesis and/or any publication arising from the research trip.  Previous winners or applicants are more than welcome to apply.

Please send the following information in support of your application (2-3 pages of A4 in word.doc format):

1. Your full name and institutional affiliation.
2. The working title and a short abstract or summary of your PhD project.
3. Details of the research to be undertaken for which you need support, and its relation to your PhD project.
4. Detailed costing of proposed research trip.
5. Details of current or recent funding (AHRC award, &c), if applicable.
6. Details of any other financial support for which you have
applied/will apply in support of the trip.
7. Name of one supervisor/referee (with email address) to whom
application can be made for a supporting reference on your behalf.
8. Name and contact details of whomever updates your departmental
website or social media, if known.
9. Your Twitter handle, if applicable.

Applications and questions should be directed to the bursaries officer, Dr Daniel Cook (, University of Dundee.

The deadline for applications is 1 May 2015.

Five Questions: Richard De Ritter on Imagining Women Readers

Richard de Ritter - Imagining Women Readers

Richard De Ritter is a Lecturer in the Long Eighteenth Century at the University of Leeds.  He has a particular interest in women’s writing, having published articles on Maria Edgeworth and domesticity; Elizabeth Hamilton and education; and Jane West, patriotism and sensibility.  He has also written on James Boswell and William Hazlitt and worked extensively on the writings of Priscilla Wakefield.  He co-ordinates (with Jeremy Davies) the Leeds Eighteenth-Century and Romantic Literature research seminar and last year organised a two-day conference on ‘Home and Nation: Reimagining the Domestic, 1750-1850’.  His first monograph, Imagining Women Readers, 1789-1820: Well-Regulated Minds, which we discuss below, was published earlier this year by Manchester University Press.

1) How did you first become interested in the ways that female readers were imagined in the Romantic period?

Initially I was curious about the way that Romantic authors like Keats, Clare and Hazlitt seemed so dismissive – even fearful – of the prospect of women reading their work.  In that respect, the project was more focused on the anxieties of male authorial identity.  These writers were drawing upon stereotypes familiar from the period’s anti-novel discourse, which depicted women readers as superficial, leisured and unproductive.  But when I turned to the way women readers were addressed and instructed in conduct and educational literature, a powerful counter-narrative became apparent.  The key moment was reading Hannah More’s Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education, in which some forms of reading are described as an ‘invigorating’ form of ‘wholesome labour’.  Here was a way of imagining women readers as active, self-regulating individuals, whose practices were informed by an ethic of exertion rather than leisured indolence.  Suddenly, the stereotypical fears evoked by women readers became a secondary interest.

2) How did Imagining Women Readers develop and change as you transformed it from your PhD thesis into a monograph?

The biggest challenges went hand in hand: I needed to cut down the amount of material I had and to identify a clearer narrative.  In the thesis, I had allowed myself to explore some interesting but perhaps unnecessary tangents.  As a result, the argument was sometimes in danger of becoming obscured.  The book is more streamlined.  I also had to think more clearly about the date range I was working with.  The book stops at the end of the 1810s – a decade which is book-ended by the publication of the first and second editions of Anna Letitia Barbauld’s The British Novelists (in 1810 and 1820, respectively).  The intervening years also saw the publication of Jane Austen’s major novels.  For the book, I needed to think more clearly about how these works brought increasing respectability not only to novels, but to the women who enjoyed reading them.  I also wanted to demonstrate how this change in status was made possible by the earlier work of writers such as Hannah More, Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Hays.  It lent the book a coherence that the thesis was perhaps lacking.

3) The book focuses principally on three types of works: ‘conduct books, educational treatises and novels’. Did these different genres of literary work construct women readers in drastically different ways, or were there considerable crossovers between the three?

A lot of the writers I’m interested in worked across these different genres; Maria Edgeworth, May Hays, Hannah More, Elizabeth Hamilton, Jane West, and Mary Wollstonecraft all published novels alongside their non-fictional work.  Often, the novels seem to enact the content of the more obviously didactic works, giving writers the chance to show theory operating in practice.  Nevertheless, fiction frequently offers a testing ground for exploring ideas about reading. Mary Hays’s Memoirs of Emma Courtney, for instance, is informed by the proto-feminist conviction that reading helps to cultivate one’s reason – but this is tempered by the lingering presence of older, regressive stereotypes about the pernicious effects of fiction.  Hays’s novel seeks to navigate a path between these extremes.  As this suggests, novels can offer a more expansive setting for negotiating debates about women’s reading; but at the same time, I didn’t want to lose sight of the richness of ‘non-literary’ texts.  I ended up spending a lot of time thinking about the rhetorical strategies they employ when discussing the virtues of reading.  In conduct books, for instance, reading is frequently depicted as an act of work, or an investment, or as involving a form of economic management.  In that respect, it contributes to the construction of a more complex and outward-looking model of domestic femininity than we might expect from putatively ‘didactic’ writing.

4) What do you think were the main social and cultural issues at stake when authors sought to imagine and define the ways in which women read?

As critics like Jacqueline Pearson and Kate Flint have shown, the figure of the woman reader is often a conduit for expressing a range of social and cultural anxieties.  This is aided by those negative stereotypes of women as flawed, impressionable readers.  Consequently, discussions of women’s reading are often situated in relation to a range of other contexts: the fear of Revolutionary France; the debilitating effects of commerce and luxury; excessive sensibility; and the regulation of female sexuality, to name just a few.  But rather than focusing on how reading exacerbated these anxieties, I wanted to explore how it offered the means of combatting them.  I focused on how a variety of writers urged women to become discriminating – even resistant – readers, who cultivated their independent judgement and reason.  From this perspective, what’s really at stake is the way in which leisure, domesticity and work are defined in relation to reading.  As I mentioned above, reading becomes a form of virtuous, domestic labour that enables women to improve themselves and, by extension, the nation.  Similarly, in the book I write about how the concept of female leisure is redefined: rather than an unproductive state of indolence, it accommodates acts of reading that confer disinterested moral authority upon women.

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

I am working on a book about eighteenth- and nineteenth-century children’s literature, provisionally entitled Domesticating Wonder: Women Writing for Children, 1750-1830.  There are two key strands that I’m exploring.  The first is the evolving status of ‘wonder’ in writing for children.  I’m interested in how it is reconfigured from denoting that which is marvellous and fantastical to that which is produced by children’s informed, rational observation of the world in which they live.  Isolating this shift complicates the idea that ‘rationalist’ modes of education of the late eighteenth century expelled wonder from children’s literature.  It also leads to the second strand of the project, which re-evaluates the nature of domesticity in writing for children.  I’m interested in how rationalised, domesticated forms of wonder allow children to perceive the ways in which their daily lives are implicated within a range of economic, environmental, and ethical networks.  I want to suggest that this produces a kind of cosmopolitan global consciousness that originates in the home.  Pursuing this argument has led me to critical approaches that I’ve not really used before: I’ve found it helpful to draw upon theories of globalisation and eco-critical approaches to literature.  The latter has also led me to develop an increasing interest in animal studies.  I’m enjoying broadening my horizons and have managed to incorporate elements of this project into my teaching, in the form of a module on animals in children’s literature from the eighteenth century to the present.

CfP: 23rd Annual Meeting of the British Women Writers Conference

BARS Members might be interested in submitting papers for the coming year’s British Women Writers Conference on the theme of Relations.  The deadline’s coming up fast (January 5th), so if you’re keen, better get writing…

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23rd Annual Meeting of the British Women Writers Conference

June 25th-27th, 2015

Hosted by The Graduate Center of the City University of New York
at The Heyman Center, Columbia University


The British Women Writers Conference will engage the theme of “Relations” for its 23rd annual meeting to be held in New York City. The inspiration for this theme comes from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, who taught at the Graduate Center from 1998-2009, and whose investment in relations continues to inspire new ways of looking at the richness and variance of (dis)connection. One of her last courses, “Reading Relations,” explored literary constructions and alternative understandings of relationality (the syllabus for the course can be seen at Sedgwick’s interdisciplinary approach informs our conference’s investments. In this spirit, we invite papers—as well as panel proposals—that focus on possible interpretations of and approaches to relationality across a broad spectrum of topics, methods, and disciplines. We would welcome investigations of interaction, exchange, correlation, or conjunction. Alternately, treatments might focus on relationality as a political, historical, global, social, personal, critical or textual phenomenon.

For paper proposals, please send a 300-word abstract and a short bio (in a single attachment) to by January 5th, 2015. For full panel proposals, please compile all proposals, along with a brief rationale for the panel, into a single document. Papers and panels must address the theme and its application to British women’s writing of the long 18th- or 19th-centuries.

For more details, please visit the conference website.

Five Questions: David Higgins on Romantic Englishness

David Higgins - Romantic Englishness

David Higgins is an Associate Professor in English Literature at the University of Leeds; he currently serves on the BARS Executive and was until recently the Editor of the BARS Bulletin & Review.  His doctoral research focused on the constructions of literary genius in late Romantic periodicals; this project formed the basis of his first monograph, Romantic Genius and the Literary Magazine: Biography, Celebrity, Politics (London and New York: Routledge, 2005).  More recently, he has worked on diverse subjects including Romantic China, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, ecocriticism and creativity (working as part of Leeds’ ongoing Creativity Project and acting as Principal Investigator on the AHRC-funded ‘Creative Communities, 1750-1830’ network).  His major research project over the past few years has been an examination of the ways in which narratives of localised selfhood in English Romantic writing developed in relation to larger national and imperial formations.  This work has recently resulted in his latest monograph, Romantic Englishness: Local, National and Global Selves, 1780-1850, which was published by Palgrave Macmillan in September and which we discuss below.

1) In your acknowledgements, you write that Romantic Englishness had its genesis in MA work you conducted in 1997.  How much of your thinking from this time survives in the book, and what major realisations have transformed your thinking about the topic in the intervening period?

I suppose that what survives is an interest in how micro-narratives of individual selfhood intersect with macro-narratives of nation and empire.  What I didn’t necessarily have in 1997 were the intellectual tools or knowledge of the period to make sense of this complex area.  I ended up working on a topic in which I was less interested for my doctoral thesis and first book, which may have saved me from making a total hash of this one…  I think that the main changes in my thinking have been a partial move away from psychobiography, which (unless done very carefully) always has the danger of reducing a complex text to an imagined intention or neurosis, and the development of an ecological concern with writing and place: particularly ideas of ‘the local’ and their implication in larger national and imperial formations.  This shift has been enabled, in part, by the more sophisticated ecocriticism that has emerged in the last decade or so.  My interest in the topic has also been given greater force and direction by recent political and cultural debates about the nature and value of ‘Englishness’.

2) What led you to make your primary focus ‘Romantic-period autobiography written within and about England’?

I’ve been interested in literary and philosophical constructions of selfhood since I was an undergraduate, and this interest was consolidated by an MA module that I took on ‘Romantic Autobiography’ (taught by Greg Dart).  When I came to think about a large project on national identity a few years later, I had already published articles that emerged from my postgraduate work and addressed this topic in autobiographical texts by William Hazlitt and Benjamin Robert Haydon.  Therefore, it seemed natural enough to use ‘autobiography’ as a limiting term that would make the project viable and consonant with my intellectual interests.  The focus on England emerged somewhat later, for two reasons.  First, I was well aware that a lot of important work had already been done on ‘external’ cultural encounter in Romantic travel writing and I wasn’t sure that I could add much to this.  In contrast, ‘internal’ cultural encounter seemed to me an important and under-explored area.  Secondly, I began to become particularly interested in specifically English representations as a response to the emergence of ‘Four Nations’ Romanticism and my sense that, as well as giving much-needed attention to Scottish, Welsh, and Irish Romanticism, this should also cause us to rethink our understanding of a specifically English Romanticism.

3) You contend in your introduction that ‘Englishness was a heterogeneous and unstable category in the Romantic period, and always inflected by alterity’ and point out that this has been occluded by the dominance of narratives which conflate English and British identities. What do you believe are the major perspectives we can gain by recovering a set of a specifically English Romantic-period identities?

I think that there are three answers to this.  Two relate to our understanding of the period, and the other relates to present-day concerns.  To begin with the contemporary situation, it’s clear that debates about the nature and value of Englishness have been given new impetus in recent years due to devolution, immigration, and so on.  Given the ever-present danger of taking a ‘purist’ and exclusionary attitude to Englishness, I think that it’s useful to consider its history, and particularly ways in which English identities have always been porous, complex, displaced, and overdetermined.  My first period-specific answer relates to my reply to Question 2.  Interest in ‘Four Nations Romanticism’ provides an opportunity to consider a specifically English Romantic tradition that might usefully be abstracted from a potentially statist and imperialistic notion of ‘English Literature’ that emerged in subsequent years.  Finally, I think that reflecting on the complex relationship between Englishness and place allows me to complicate the localism that has been so important to the idea of Romantic ecology.

4) Your book examines canonical Romantic poets (Wordsworth, Coleridge, Clare) and essayists (Hazlitt, Lamb and De Quincey), but also pays extensive attention to William Cowper, Samuel Bamford, Thomas Bewick and William Cobbett. How did you select this cast of writers as your principal subjects, and were there other authors you considered including?

The most obvious thing about that list of authors, of course, is that they are all white and male, although not all middle-class.  I had originally intended to write about a much larger and diverse range of texts, including slave narratives and poetry and memoirs by women.  At that stage, the study was conceived as a more general and far too ambitious account of autobiography and place in the period.  A lot of rich texts were lost when I decided to exclude foreign travel writing, including works by Byron, Letitia Landon, Helen Maria Williams, and Mary Wollstonecraft.  As my argument developed about the autobiographical construction of Englishness through representations of ‘the local’ within an imperial context, this further limited my selection of texts (although I still cover quite a lot of ground).  It’s not that female or black autobiography within England during the period is uninterested in national identity per se, but I did not generally find that these texts connected Englishness and the local.  It’s quite possible, of course, that I have missed some texts that would have worked.  In the end, I just had to go with my instincts about what was viable.  The person I most regret not including is Charlotte Smith, whom I decided to leave out quite late in the day.  Her poetry moves interestingly between local, national, and sometimes global geographies; however, I wasn’t confident enough that she was specifically concerned with Englishness rather than Britishness, or that I had room for another chapter.  Partly to assuage my anxiety about this decision, I intend to write about nation and catastrophe in her poetry as part of my next project.

5) What new projects do you plan to turn your attention to now that this one is complete?

I have a few other things to finish off, but my main focus is on developing a major project on representations of environmental catastrophe in Romantic and post-Romantic writing.  I imagine that this will keep me going for quite a few years.  The first step will be a short book entitled 1816: Empire, Climate Change, and British Romanticism, timed (I hope) to coincide with the bicentenary of the ‘Year Without A Summer’ in 2016.

CfP: Robert Southey and the Bristol Poets

Another exciting conference announcement, this one timed to run the day before Romantic Imprints in Cardiff, so you can conveniently combine the two.  Note that the deadline for this event is quite soon (1st of January).

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Robert Southey and the Bristol Poets: a One Day Conference

MShed, Bristol, 15 July 2015

We welcome 20 minute papers on any aspect of Southey and the Bristol school – e.g. Coleridge, Yearsley, Chatterton, Robinson, Beddoes, Davy, Cottle, Gilbert, Henderson, More, Lamb, Lloyd, Estlin, King, Prichard, Wordsworth. Topics might include the Romantic coterie, slavery and abolitionism, Bristol science and medicine, Bristol anthologies and journals, literary and religious networks, poetry and politics, publishers and printers. Readings of individual texts are also most welcome.

‘Southey and the Bristol Poets’ will take place at the state of the art conference centre MShed, in the old Bristol docks. It will feature a launch of the latest Southey-related publications, after which we shall visit local pubs and restaurants for an evening of Romantic sociability. Bristol has an abundance of bed and breakfast accommodation at reasonable prices within walking distance of the venue. For a 10% discount at the Bristol Hotel, Prince St (5 minute walk) call 0117 923 0333 and quote ‘MShed’.

‘Southey and the Bristol Poets’ is timed to run the day before the Cardiff BARS conference (BARS begins on the afternoon of 16 July a short train ride from Bristol).

Further information and a registration form will be available in the Conferences section of the Friends of Coleridge website in the coming weeks:

The conference fee will be somewhere between £60 and £100 (exact amount to be announced in January)

Conference organisers: Dr Carol Bolton (Loughborough); Professor Tim Fulford (De Montfort).

Please send abstracts (200 words max.) to: Tim Fulford ( by 1 January 2015. Decisions by 31 January 2015 (stipulate if an earlier decision is needed for funding application purposes).

The conference is organised in association with the Friends of Coleridge; De Montfort University English; Loughborough University; and the Midlands Romantic Seminar.

CfP: Community and its Limits, 1745­–1832

Please see below for a Call for Papers for a really interesting-sounding conference on Community and its Limits, which will be held at the University of Leeds in September next year.

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Community and its Limits, 1745­–1832

Friday 4 – Sunday 6 September 2015
University of Leeds

Plenary speakers: Professor Murray Pittock & Dr Felicity James

Please send 250-word proposals for 20-minute papers to by Tuesday 31 March 2015.

A community needs limits: someone has to be in, and someone has to be out. What defined the limits of cultural communities—communities of writers and radicals, of artists and improvers, of faith and taste—in the long Romantic period? The theme of community has recently been powerfully invigorating for studies of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century literature and culture. What limits are there to that approach?

The School of English at the University of Leeds hosts this three-day conference on the discursive, affective, and conceptual limits of community. We welcome papers that reconstruct the making, preservation, and breaking of group identities in Enlightenment and Romantic Britain, and papers investigating communities’ temporal and spatial boundaries. Equally, delegates might reflect on critical methods for the study of community. Are ‘communities’ different from coteries, factions, or circles, for instance? We are especially interested in the prickly side of community: in papers that examine how creative and political communities could succeed or fail in negotiating discord.

Topics might include (but are not limited to):
· Metropolitan, provincial, and rural sociability
· Literary and artistic schools and cliques
· National and local communities
· Gendered communities
· Corresponding societies; literary and philosophical societies
· Improvement; radicalism; utopianism
· Religious communities and Dissenting academies
· Libraries, reading practices, and book history
· Periodical ‘wars’ and magazine culture
· Patronage and benevolent societies
· Scapegoats; conspiracies; underground sects and criminal gangs
· Leisure and consumption; assembly rooms; fashion
· Community with non-humans; community and the sublime
· Theoretical approaches to the ethics or politics of community