News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

Archive for May 2015

CfP: Marilyn Butler and the War of Ideas (Chawton House Library, 11-12 December 2015)

Please see below for a Call for Papers for a conference commemorating the life and work of Marilyn Butler, which Linda Bree and Gillian Dow are organising at Chawton House Library in December.

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Marilyn Butler and the War of Ideas: A Commemorative Conference at Chawton House Library

December 11-12, 2015

Keynote Speakers: Professor Jim Chandler (University of Chicago) and Professor Heather Glen (University of Cambridge)

Professor Marilyn Butler (1937-2014), leading scholar of English literature, and latterly Rector of Exeter College, University of Oxford, was the author of paradigm-shifting books and articles, and a patron of Chawton House Library, which will host this conference in her honour. Butler’s research set up new directions in literary criticism of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and her editions of women writers enabled subsequent generations of scholars to access these important texts in newly fruitful ways. Marilyn Butler’s important work on Maria Edgeworth – biographical, critical, editorial – seeded new scholarship in the field of Irish romanticism.

In this fortieth anniversary year of the first publication of Butler’s Jane Austen and the War of Ideas (1975), we invite papers that both commemorate her scholarship, and move discussion forward in the twenty-first century. We welcome papers on any aspect of work inspired by Professor Butler’s contribution, although participants may wish to concentrate on one of the three following topics:

The War of Ideas
Romanticism: Rebels and Reactionaries in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales
Beyond Recovery? Editing Women and Writing Lives

The conference is supported by the British Association for Romantic Studies and Cambridge University Press, and will see the launch of Mapping Mythologies: Countercurrents in Eighteenth-Century British Poetry and Cultural History, a book brought to completion by Heather Glen from a manuscript that Marilyn left in near-complete form, and published by CUP in 2015.

Confirmed speakers include: Isobel Armstrong, Ros Ballaster, Linda Bree, Stephen Bygrave, Emma Clery, Claire Connolly, Josie Dixon, Anne Janowitz, Cora Kaplan, Jacqueline Labbe, Nigel Leask, Susan Manly, Jo McDonagh, Jon Mee, Jane Moore, Mark Philp, Michael Rossington, Gillian Russell, Janet Todd.

Please send abstracts of 200-500 words to Sandy White: Proposals can be for 20-minute papers, or for entire panels of 3 speakers. The deadline for receipt of proposals is 1st August 2015.

Wordsworth, War, and Waterloo Day


If any readers can make it to Grasmere on June 6th, you might want to check out this exciting series of talks at the Wordsworth Trust on the legacies of Waterloo.

Wordsworth, War, and Waterloo Day

6 June 2015

Jerwood Centre, Grasmere

As we approach the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo (18th June), join us for a day to prepare for the international celebrations to come. Join us for five hours of talks, readings, music and refreshments, or just part of the afternoon as you like. Attendees of the event will have free entry to the Wordsworth, War & Waterloo exhibition.

The first part of the afternoon looks closely at the battle and its immediate aftermath, in particular, how news of it reached Britain and its people. Brian Cathcart, award winning author of The Case of Stephen Lawrence, Were You Still Up for Portillo? and The Fly in the Cathedral,  will describe how the most momentous news of the battle took three days to travel from the blood-soaked battlefield of Waterloo to the decorous dining rooms of Regency London. In his new book, The News from Waterloo, The Race to Tell Britain of Wellington’s Victory, Brian reveals how news was reported and disseminated in 1815. Please note our Wordsworth, War & Waterloo exhibition displays a magnificent copy of The Times  for 22 June 1815, that includes the Duke of Wellington’s despatch.

Dr David Higgins will focus on one of Romanticism’s most remarkable characters, Thomas De Quincey, who 34 years after the battle, describes in vivid detail how news of Waterloo reached different parts of the country through the fastest communication system of the time, the English mail-coach. De Quincey’s The English Mail-Coach essay presents a series of apocalyptic visions to which the Battle of Waterloo is central; De Quincey is aware that not all writers at the time shared his jubilation at Wellington’s victory.

The second part of the afternoon will focus on the reputations and image of Wellington and Napoleon. These were the figures that defined the ideas, writing and art of the Romantic period.

Professor Simon Bainbridge, co-curator of the Wordsworth Trust’s special exhibition, Wordsworth, War & Waterloo, will bring to life three of the exhibition’s most stunning exhibits. For the first time, Benjamin Robert Haydon’s famous portraits of Wellington, Wordsworth and Napoleon can be seen side by side in the North of England (on loan from the National Portrait Gallery). Haydon was fascinated by the figures of Wellington and Napoleon, and Simon’s talk will show their influence on what is now regarded as one of the great portraits of Wordsworth.

Nigel Sale, local author of the newly published The Lie at the Heart of Waterloo, The Battle’s Hidden Last Half Hour, will question the reputation surrounding the victorious Duke of Wellington. His book is described as a ‘critical analysis of the carefully engineered misinformation that has often totally misled historians and students of military history for so long’ and also ‘brings to life the horrifying reality of battle for the soldiers in Napoleonic warfare’.

The final part of the day will be a performance of music by The Songs of Waterloo, a small group of musicians who will perform a range of songs about the epic confrontation between Napoleon and Wellington, and those who fought and died under their command.

Refreshments will be served in the afternoon and early evening; we hope to have a glass of ale prior to the musical performance. We hope this will be a stimulating and enjoyable afternoon, befitting of the events of 200 years ago.

Blake on the Twenty Pound Note?

by Thomas Phillips, oil on canvas, 1807

William Blake, by Thomas Phillips, oil on canvas, 1807.  National Portrait Gallery 212.  Kindly made available under a Creative Commons License.

The Bank of England has just launched a public consultation to help them decide which figure should appear on the next twenty pound note.  They’re looking to ‘celebrate Britain’s achievements in the visual arts’.  According to The Guardian, leading contenders include J.M.W. Turner and William Blake.  With the new Jane Austen tenner due out soon, there’s a possibility that quite a number of Romantic-period faces could be in circulation when the new note appears in 2020.  Nominations can be made here.


Announcement of the 2015 BARS First Book Prize Shortlist

(A statement from Professor Emma Clery, University of Southampton).

As chair of the panel judging the BARS First Book Prize, I am delighted to announce the following shortlist:


Jeremy Davies, Bodily Pain in Romantic Literature
(Routledge, 2014).

Mary Fairclough, The Romantic Crowd: Sympathy, Controversy and Print Culture
(Cambridge University Press, 2013).

Maureen McCue, British Romanticism and the Reception of Italian Old Master Art, 1793-1840
(Ashgate, 2014).

Orianne Smith, Romantic Women Writers, Revolution, and Prophecy Rebellious Daughters, 1786–1826
(Cambridge University Press, 2013).


There were 21 nominations received by the deadline of 31st January, and it has been a pleasure and a privilege for us to read and discuss the wealth of impressive work in the field. Aside from general excellence and originality, a crucial criterion for this prize has been an interdisciplinary approach. Interdisciplinarity has been a hallmark of BARS from its inception. All of the shortlisted books conduct interdisciplinary research in imaginative and rigorous ways, and excitingly redefine our understanding of ‘Romanticism’.

The winner of the 2015 prize will be announced at the BARS biennial conference ‘Romantic Imprints’ at Cardiff University, at the opening wine reception on Thursday, 16th July.

Congratulations to all the shortlisted authors!

Illustration Archive Launch

Thanks to Nicky Lloyd for the following notice about an exciting new resource:


We are pleased to announce the launch of the Illustration Archive:

The archive contains over a million book illustrations from the British Library’s collections, taken from around 68,000 works of literature, history, geography and philosophy.  The images span the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century, covering a variety of reproductive techniques (including etching, wood engraving, lithography and photography).

Users can search across the whole range of illustrations and can view and curate online exhibitions, as well as creating and sharing their own collections of images from the archive.

The archive contains a wealth of images from the nineteenth century and plenty of illustrations of Romantic texts (and their authors!) so we encourage BARS members to take a look at the site.

For more information, see our blog ( or follow us on Twitter @Lost_Visions.


Five Questions: David Sigler on Sexual Enjoyment in British Romanticism

David Sigler - Sexual Enjoyment in British Romanticism

David Sigler is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Calgary.  After completing his doctorate at the University of Virginia in 2008, he taught at the University of Idaho between 2008 and 2014.  His principal fields of study are British Romanticism and cultural and psychoanalytic theory, but in the course of his research thus far he has produced a wide-ranging series of publications focusing on works by figures including William Wordsworth, Georges Bataille, Charlotte Caroline Richardson, Helen Maria Williams, Madonna, Jacques Lacan, Snoop Dogg, Gilles Deleuze, Joanna Southcott and Mary Robinson.  His first monograph, Sexual Enjoyment in British Romanticism: Gender and Psychoanalysis, 1753-1835, which we discuss below, was published in February by McGill-Queen’s University Press.

1) How did you come to decide that you wanted to produce a monograph examining sexual enjoyment in British Romanticism? 

Sexual enjoyment and British Romanticism are probably the things I think most about anyway, so it only made sense that I would become interested in the combination.  I had written a doctoral dissertation on gender in British Romanticism.  As I developed the project further, I needed to start reading the wider set of Romantic-era cultural debates about gender, so I could see if and how literary texts were critically responding to those debates.  I was surprised at the extent to which the period’s debates about gender were really debates about sexual enjoyment.  I had already been studying Freud and Lacan, and so was intrigued to find that sexual enjoyment was as important to the Romantics as it was to twentieth-century psychoanalysis.  Yet the concept of sexual enjoyment as it was developed in these gender debates was also a bit different than the way that modern psychoanalysis thinks about jouissance.  I began to wonder why the Romantic-era gender debates so often revolved around sexual enjoyment, and when this might have began, and if perhaps it reflected a changing ideology of gender in the period.

2) In your introduction, you describe part of the book’s project as an attempt ‘to read Romantic-era psychoanalysis as a form of psychoanalytic thought in its own right’.  What do you see as the principal tenets or common reference points of this predisciplinary psychoanalytic discourse?

Romantic-era psychoanalysis was somewhat wider ranging and more ambivalent than psychoanalysis is today.  It hadn’t yet arrived into a clinical context, so it didn’t have any impulse to cure anyone or categorize them; it hadn’t yet received its lexicon, so it had to find new and often metaphorical ways to describe what it was encountering.  What it was encountering was the unconscious.  The tenets of Romantic-era psychoanalysis were really strikingly Freudian: indeed, they are the very things one would point to if called upon to explain why Freud was so destabilizing in the early twentieth century.  The Romantics, for instance, theorized a gap in the psyche and in discourse, which was supposedly determinative for the subject; they saw maleness and femaleness as strategies for deflecting sexual enjoyment; they internalized an unremitting demand to forfeit sexual enjoyment; they saw children as sexual creatures; they saw that dreams, when considered as clusters of images, fulfill repressed wishes, as happens, for instance, in Charlotte Dacre’s Zofloya.  These assumptions were taken as matters of course during the Romantic-era gender debates in Britain, and in the literary texts that responded to those debates; yet such ideas were so obviously controversial in the twentieth century that Freud’s tone was often one of transgression and defiance.  I became fascinated with the way that what was normal in the early nineteenth century could be outrageous in the twentieth, and how a wider range of applications for these concepts made experimental forms of gender identity thinkable and publishable.

3) What events do the dates in your chronological range (1753-1835) denote, and why did you choose this expansive chronological lens?

I don’t at all mean to assert that the discourse of sexual enjoyment, or of Romanticism, was created one day in 1753.  The book mostly focuses on the early nineteenth century, but I am trying to indicate where some of this ideology was coming from, and much of it seems to have been carried over from the mid-eighteenth century. 1753 is the year of the Marriage Act, which sought to bring conjugal sexuality into official state ledgers.  The regulation of sexual enjoyment also came to be at issue in mid-eighteenth century literary texts such as Richardson’s Clarissa, which would be foundational, a half-century later, for writers like Wollstonecraft and Austen.  Edmund Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry of 1757 determined so much of the aesthetic and political discussion of the 1790s and was incorporated and challenged by writers like Wollstonecraft, Helen Maria Williams, and Ann Radcliffe.  William Kenrick wrote a conduct book in 1753 called The Whole Duty of Woman, which was influential into the early nineteenth century; in it, you can see all of the characteristically Romantic-era assumptions about desire and the unconscious already at work.  The Romantic-era gender ideologies were germinating in literary, legislative, aesthetic, and moral touchstones like these.

The date 1835 marks the publication of the anonymous book-length essay Woman: As She Is and As She Should Be, which takes a kind of retrospective look at the changes in gender ideology since the mid-eighteenth century, especially as they were expressed in literature.  By concluding the book with a discussion of that text, I try to take stock of the transitions, cultural and sexual and literary, that had occurred since sexual enjoyment became a determinative factor for gender.

4) Your chapters which focus principally on particular figures take Jane Austen, Joanna Southcott, Mary Robinson, Charlotte Dacre and Percy Shelley as their subjects.  How did you select this cast, and were there other figures who you’d have liked to have examined in more depth if space had allowed?

I tried to strike a balance between studies of particular texts and a broader survey of the cultural discourse of sexual enjoyment.  The first 50 pages of the book survey the scene broadly, because I think that close readings of individual texts make more sense if they are discussed as part of the broader trajectory of the overall ideological transformation.  For the individual case studies, I was seeking authors who were influential in thinking about gender in the period (Burke, Austen, Wollstonecraft, Radcliffe, Robinson); authors who were controversial for their excessive or inadequate sexual enjoyment (Robinson, Shelley, Southcott); and authors who have become central to recent scholarly discussions of gender and Romanticism (Dacre, Robinson, Blake).  The most glaring absence here is Byron, who gets discussed only in passing: a book like this really should have a chapter on Byron, but page limits and time constraints did not allow for it, to my sorrow.

5) What new projects are you currently working on? 

I’m excited to be starting a new project about Romantic-era woman writers and their tendency to write about politics as if they were visitors from the future.  Specifically, I am thinking of writers like Catherine Macaulay, Charlotte Smith, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Hays, Helen Maria Williams, Hannah Cowley, Anna Letitia Barbauld, Charlotte Caroline Richardson, Mary Shelley, Felicia Hemans, and Charlotte Bronte.  The future, in this tradition of writing, is an impossible but necessary perspective on politics, and so the project is finding its footing in deconstructive, rather than psychoanalytic, logics: I am suddenly and happily immersed in theorists like Derrida, Spivak, Johnson, and Bloch.  Freud and Lacan will make cameos as needed, though, so never to fear.  I’ve also been writing about poetry—I’ve recently written an essay on William Wordsworth for Romantic Circles Pedagogy Commons and another on Charlotte Caroline Richardson for Women’s Writing—which has enabled me to do some of the close reading work that I really enjoy.  I’ve also, in my hubris, been trying to write about film for the first time, specifically John Huston’s biopic of Freud, which has been a valuable challenge for me.  I’m in the early stages of a new article about Lacan, too.  I’m excited for all of these next steps, just as I’ve been so pleased with the publication of the Sexual Enjoyment book.  McGill-Queen’s University Press has been really wonderful to work with at every stage of the process.

Wordsworth Trust Catalyst Fund Appeal

Wordsworth Trust

Most BARS members will be well aware of the amazing work which the Wordsworth Trust does to promote interest in and knowledge of Romantic literature and will need no convincing as to its ongoing value.  The Trust is currently trying to take advantage of a government scheme which will allow it to raise up to a million pounds if it can secure matching donations: this appeal is detailed on its website and in this leaflet.  The deadline for unlocking this funding is July 31st.  Donations made to the Trust during this time will make really substantial contributions to allowing the Trust to sustain its operations, to Romantic studies and to the ongoing profile of the authors we all value.  Please spread this message far and wide – time is ticking.

CfP: The Darwins Reconsidered (Roehampton, 4th September 2015)

Please see below for a Call for Papers for The Darwins Reconsidered, a one-day colloquium which will take place at Roehampton University in September.

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The Darwins Reconsidered:
Evolution, Writing & Inheritance in the works of Erasmus and Charles Darwin

A One-Day Colloquium
Friday September 4, 2015
University of Roehampton

Keynote Speakers:
Professor David Amigoni (Keele University)
Professor Tim Fulford (De Montfort University)

Plenary Speaker:
Dr John Holmes (Reading University)

When the 28-year-old Charles Darwin first opened his ‘evolutionary’ notebook in 1837, he deployed the title of his grandfather Erasmus Darwin’s medical treatise, Zoonomia (1794-6). By then, Erasmus — poet, doctor, inventor, leading light of the Birmingham Lunar Society — had drifted into comparative obscurity; best remembered as the eccentric genius whose work The Loves of the Plants (1789) had been notoriously parodied as The Loves of the Triangles.

Erasmus was never forgotten by his more famous grandson, however, and throughout Charles’s career, Erasmus’s writing and thinking acted as both catalyst and antagonist to Charles’s burgeoning evolutionary ideas, on such subjects as heredity, variation and sexual selection. Forty-two years later, Erasmus was also the subject of Charles’s own venture into non-scientific writing – a biography of his illustrious grandfather.

In the first academic conference to formally consider the imaginative and scientific relationship between these two remarkable speculative thinkers, we ask, in what ways did Erasmus’s life and works facilitate and anticipate Charles’s ideas, and how did Charles mobilise the stated and unstated affinities with Erasmus to enrich his own thinking?

We invite papers of 20 minutes that consider the two writers in the following broad subject areas:

• Poetry, aesthetics, and writing style
• scientific families & heredity
• evolution
• styles of observation
• humour and excess
• pleasure
• biography
• the relation between arts and sciences
• the natural world
• variation and diversification
• geology
• family life
• experimentation
• scientific method
• public and private sphere

Please send an abstract of no more than 300 words, accompanied by a short biography, to the conference organisers, Professor. Martin Priestman ( & Dr Louise Lee ( by 1 June, 2015.

CfP: Burney and Popular Entertainments

Please see below for the Call for Papers for the Burney Society’s 2016 conference, which will take place in Durham in July next year and will be focused on Burney and Popular Entertainments.

Conference of the Burney Society

St Chad’s College, Durham University, 4-6 July 2016

Burney and Popular Entertainments: the business of pleasure in Late Georgian Britain

Proposals are invited for 20 minute papers on the subject of ‘Burney and Popular Entertainments: the business of pleasure in Late Georgian Britain’

Frances Burney grew up at the centre of a vibrant metropolitan cultural scene, and was part of a network of musicians, writers, actors and artists whose careers depended on a culture of consumption, both imaginative and material. This was the world she evoked in her novels, plays and journals and this conference builds on the movement in Burney scholarship toward greater contextualisation of her work. The conference centres around entertainment, with the conference programme itself featuring a range of entertainments, including an excursion to a site of local interest, and the world premiere of Burney’s play Love and Fashion, which will be performed by Durham Student Theatre. The conference’s keynote address will be given by Harriet Guest, Professor Emerita of Eighteenth-Century Literature at the University of York.

Papers should address the work of Burney and/or members of her circle, with potential topics including (but not limited to):

  • Burney and the Theatre
  • Public Spaces (such as parks, gardens, assembly rooms, the seaside)
  • Private Entertainments
  • Commercial Entertainments
  • Shopping/Consumer Culture/Fashion
  • Tourism
  • The Promenade
  • Curiosity/Spectacle

Abstracts of no more than 250 words should be sent as an email attachment in MS Word document format to Francesca Saggini ( and You should also include a 250-word biographical statement. Please use your surname as the document title. The abstract should be sent in the following format: (1) Title (2) Presenter(s) (3) Institutional affiliation (4) Email (5) Abstract (6) Biographical Statement.

The deadline for receipt of all proposals is January 31, 2016. We will attempt to notify all correspondents before February 28 regarding the status of their submission.

A small number of travel bursaries will be available for postgraduate students presenting at the conference. Applications are invited from research students registered on a programme of postgraduate study on the date of the conference. Please indicate at time of submission if you wish to be considered for one of these, stating your affiliation and level of study, and include a brief statement of how attendance at the conference would be of benefit to your research project.