News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

Archive for August 2015

2015 Hazlitt Day School

Please see below for notice of this year’s Hazlitt Day School, which will take place in London on October 10th.  As usual, some excellent speakers.

William Hazlitt

The 2015 Annual Hazlitt Lecture and the 14th Hazlitt Day School will this year be dedicated to Hazlitt’s journalism, and will take place at University College London on Saturday 10 October 2015.

The Annual Lecture, entitled ‘Hazlitt’s Political Hatred’, will be given by Kevin Gilmartin of the California Institute of Technology from 4pm at the Gustave Tuck Theatre, UCL. Attendance is free of charge.

The Day School precedes the Annual Lecture from 9.30am and provides a rare opportunity for readers and scholars of Hazlitt to explore a whole range of topics relating to Hazlitt and Journalism, as well as to meet each other and exchange ideas. Ian Haywood will give the opening lecture, and shorter papers will be delivered by David Higgins, Lucasta Miller and Ruth Livesey. A small fee applies for the admission to the Day School (£20/£15) which includes morning coffee, lunch and afternoon tea.

After the Annual Lecture, the day will conclude at the Marlborough Arms, Torrington Place, in close proximity to University College, from 5.30pm. For more details, please see the attached flyer or visit

CfP: Haunted Europe, Leiden University, 9th-10th June 2016

Please see below for a Call for Papers for an exciting-looking conference on Europe and English-Language Gothic, which will take place in Leiden next June.

— — — — — —

Call for Papers

Haunted Europe:
Continental Connections in English-Language Gothic Writing, Film and New Media

9 – 10 June 2016
Leiden University, The Netherlands

Keynote speakers:
Professor Robert Miles (University of Victoria)
Professor Roger Luckhurst (Birkbeck – University of London)
Professor Tanya Krzywinska (Falmouth University)
Lesley Megahey (director of the BBC film Schalken, the Painter)

The Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society (LUCAS) invites proposals for papers that address continental connections in English-Language Gothic Writing, Film and New Media. The aim of the conference is to explore the representation and function of continental European cultures, peoples and nations in English-Language Gothic culture from the 1790s to the present. While the first wave of British and Irish Gothic fictions developed and solidified the idea of continental Europe as a fitting setting for Gothic Romance, little sustained research has been done so far on the ways in which the function and representation of the continent in English-language Gothic culture has developed and changed since the seminal first-wave fictions, and to what extent these developments and changes have had an impact on the formation of British and Irish but also Australian and American national, cultural and individual identities, for instance. The ongoing debate in British politics and society concerning the possibility of an EU referendum in 2017 seems to warrant a scholarly investigation concerning the reputation and representation of continental European culture in Gothic fiction. Such political realities underscore the topicality and relevance of the conference theme, and suggest that now is the right time to explore how, why and to what extent Gothic representations of continental Europe have played a part in the long, complex an often difficult (love/hate) relationship between Britain, Ireland and the European mainland, as well as the still often noted “special relationship” between Britain and the USA. Paper topics can include, but are not limited to:

  • Continental Europe as a socio-political ‘other’
  • Continental magic v. Anglo-American Enlightenment
  • Continental rationalism v. British and/or American Sensibility
  • The revolutionary continent in English-Language Gothic texts
  • The bohemian continent and the British artist
  • Haunting the continent: Gothic Tourism
  • Continental landscapes and the Gothic labyrinth
  • Language barriers in Gothic story-telling
  • Visualisations of and interactions with the Continent in British and American “New-Media” texts

Please send a 200-word abstract, including a working title and brief CV to

Deadline for submission of abstracts: 1 November 2015.
Notification of participation: 21 December 2015.

Two Hundred Years Ago Today: The Lakers celebrate victory at Waterloo (and Wordsworth almost messes it up)

(This is part of a new series of On This Day posts edited by Anna Mercer.  If you’re interested in contributing to the series, please contact her on


Skiddaw, engraved by William Miller after J.M.W. Turner (1833).

On the 22nd of August 1815, Robert Southey sent the following passage to his friend Grosvenor Bedford for insertion in the Courier:

On Monday the 21st of August, a bonfire was kindled on the summit of Skiddaw in honour of the Battle of Waterloo, the capture of Paris, & the surrender of Buonaparte. It is the first time that any public rejoicings had ever been held on so elevated a spot; & the effect was sublime to a degree which none can imagine but those who witnessed it. A great concourse of people were assembled; inhabitants of the country who had never performed the ascent before, going up on this occasion. {Large} Balls of tow & turpentine were set on fire & rolled down the steep {side of the} mountain. Rule Britannia, & God Save the King were sung in full chorus round the bonfire, accompanied by various wind instruments. The healths of the Prince Regent, the Duke of Wellington, & Prince Blucher were drank over a bowl of punch, each with three times three, & the healths were announced to the vale below by the discharge of cannon from the summit. The company partook of beef roasted & plum pudding boiled on the spot. Among the persons present were Lord & Lady Sunderlin, Miss Barker, Mr Southey & Mr Wordsworth with their families, Mr James Boswell,  Mr Ponsonby,  Mr Fryer  &c &c &c. They began to descend by torch light about ten o clock; & on reaching Keswick at midnight the festivities were concluded by a display of fireworks, & the ascent of a fire balloon on which were inscribed the names of Wellington & Waterloo.

It was intended to have made this commemoration on the birth day of the Prince Regent, but the state of the weather prevented; & early on the morning of the 13th some disorderly persons stole up & consumed the materials which with unprecedented labour had been collected there. No carts had ever before been carried to the summit.

Southey’s official account of the festivities balances the scrupulous reporting of the toasts drunk and the company present with accounts of a considerable number of instances of things being set on fire (the blazing balls, the summit-top cannons, the fireworks, the fire balloon).  This was a celebration which blended propriety, license and sublimity, as the personal part of the letter to Bedford which follows Southey’s report makes clear: ‘Oh that you had been with us! The night was very fine, & the track of fire which we left behind us from our streaming flambeaux, had a strange appearance at the town. The scene on the summit itself was one of the wildest imaginable, […] we formed a wide circle round the finest bonfire I ever saw, or probably ever shall see, & round us was a circle of utter darkness; – for our light fairly put out the rising moon.’  The victory at Waterloo was a cause for intellectual celebration for the more conservative inhabitants of the Lakes (there is no room in this account for people like William Hazlitt, who, on hearing that Napoleon had been defeated, turned temporarily to drink and despair).  However, the end of a war that had raged with only brief interruptions since 1792 also called for more visceral kinds of release, and even in Southey’s relatively restrained account for the Courier, the sense that the ascent was an excess which expressed both joy and relief comes through.

The poor weather on August the 13th and the theft of the supplies for that abortive ascent was not the only hitch which the Skiddaw celebrations faced.  In his letter to Bedford, Southey goes on to recount a mistake of Wordsworth’s which almost brought the festivities to a grinding halt.  Southey obviously enjoyed this story, as when he wrote the next day to his younger brother, Henry Herbert Southey, he expanded the account with a series of literary embellishments:

The only mishap which occurred will make a famous anecdote in the life of a great poet if James Boswell after the example of his father keepeth a Diary of the sayings of remarkable men. When we were craving for the punch, a cry went forth that the kettle had been kicked over with all the boiling water! Colonel [Mary] Barker as Bozzy named the Senhora from her having had the command on this occasion, immediately instituted a strict enquiry to discover the culprit, from a suspicion that it might have been done in mischief, – water as you know being a commodity not easily replaced on the summit of Skiddaw. The persons about the fire declared it was one of the Gentlemen, – they did not know his name, – but he had a red cloak on: & they pointed him out in the circle. The red cloak which (a maroon one of Ediths) ascertained him – Wordsworth had got hold if it, & was equipped like a Spanish Don, – by no means the worst figure in the company. He had committed the fatal faux pas, & thought to slink off undiscovered. But as soon as in my inquiries concerning the punch I learnt his guilt from the Senhora, I went round to all our party, & communicated the discovery, & getting them about him, I punished him by setting up singing a parody in which they all joined in – Twas you that kicked the kettle down! twas you Sir you!

One can imagine that Wordsworth was none too pleased about the singing.  Fortunately, the company found a solution to the water problem which preserved the bonds of social privilege:

The consequences were that we took all the cold water upon the summit to supply our loss. Our Myrmidons  & Messrs Rag & Co had therefore none for their grog: they necessarily drank the rum pure, & you who are Physician to the Middlesex Hospital are doubtless acquainted with the manner in which alcohol acts upon the nervous system. All our torches were lit at once by this mad company, & our way down the hill was marked by a track of fire from flambeaux dropping their pitch, tarred ropes &c. One fellow was so drunk that his companions placed him upon a horse with his face to the tail, – to bring him down, – themselves being just sober enough to guide & hold him on. Down however we all got safely by midnight, & nobody from the old Lord of 77 to my son Lunus is the worse for the toil of the day, – tho we had were eight hours from the time we set out till we reached home.

Archives Spotlight: Papers of Anna Eliza Bray (1790-1883)

We’re very happy to be able to publish a piece by Holly Wright of the West Sussex Record Office exploring their recently-catalogued archive of materials relating to Anna Eliza Bray, which promises to be a really great resource for Romanticists.

— — — — —

Papers of Anna Eliza Bray (1790-1883)

The papers of 19th Century author Anna Eliza Bray have recently been catalogued at West Sussex Record Office and are now available for researchers to access. The catalogue can be viewed via our Search Online facility at

BRAY 3-2 stitched together c

Frontispiece of Anna Eliza Bray’s book The White Hoods (Bray 3/2).

Anna Eliza Bray (formerly Stothard, neé Kempe) was born on 25th December 1790 in Newington, Surrey and died on 21st January 1883 in London. She was originally destined for a career in the theatre; however, this endeavour was cut short as she fell ill days before a much anticipated performance at Bath’s Theatre Royal in May 1815, and subsequently lost the opportunity to appear on the stage again. The archive contains letters from this period between her mother, her brother Alfred John Kempe (the antiquarian) and theatre directors from Bath and Cheltenham.

In February 1818, she married Charles Alfred Stothard (eldest son of the Royal Academy artist Thomas Stothard) and her first book was published in 1820 entitled Letters written during a tour through Normandy, Britanny and other parts of France in 1818. This publication would establish her as a writer and advance her into the literary circles of her day, acquainting her with such notable figures as Sir Walter Scott, Amelia Opie, Letitia Elizabeth Landon, John Murray and the most influential character in her career, the Poet Laureate Robert Southey. Her husband died shortly afterwards in a tragic accident on 28th May 1821, when he fell from a ladder in Bere Ferrers Church in Devon while drawing the stained glass window. In 1822, she married Reverend Edward Atkyns Bray and moved to Tavistock Vicarage in Devon; shortly thereafter her next book Memoirs of Charles Alfred Stothard was published in 1823. The West Country became a significant influence on her writing and it was during her life in Tavistock when most of her literary output was accomplished, including her most well-known work A Description of the part of Devonshire bordering on the Tamar and the Tavy, published by John Murray in 1836. This was a 3-volume descriptive account of the history, customs and folklore of West Devon, the idea for which was first suggested to Mrs Bray by Southey in 1831 and later published as a series of letters she had written to him on the subject. It proved very popular and was reprinted in 1879 in a two-volume edition. Other works included a well-received 10-volume set of historical novels, another travel book entitled Mountains and Lakes of Switzerland, biographies of Thomas Stothard and the composer George Frederick Handel and a children’s book entitled A Peep at the Pixies. After her husband’s death in 1857, she moved back to London and continued to write well into the 1870s, editing and publishing her late husband’s sermons and writing further books on French history and Devon folklore.

BRAY 1-1-7

Letter to Anna Eliza Bray from Letitia Elizabeth Landon (Bray 1/1/7).

This archive will, no doubt, be of great interest to Romantic scholars as it contains over 100 letters from Caroline Southey, the second wife of Robert Southey, with whom Mrs Bray was first acquainted in 1840. This correspondence continued over a period of 14 years, which is even more remarkable when considering the fact that they never ended up meeting one another. Not only did Caroline Southey write frequently of her husband and his children, but some of the earlier letters also refer to other Romantic-era figures including William Wordsworth and members of the Coleridge family.

Letter to Anna Eliza Bray from Caroline Southey written after Robert Southey’s death (Bray 1/3/26).

Letter to Anna Eliza Bray from Caroline Southey written after Robert Southey’s death (Bray 1/3/26).

There is also ‘Mrs Southey’s Narrative’, a biographical piece written by Caroline Southey in 1840 regarding her courtship and marriage to Robert Southey, copied by Mrs Bray’s niece from the original manuscript. Other correspondence includes letters from the poet Letitia Elizabeth Landon, Charles Cuthbert Southey and Edith May Warter (nee Southey), son and daughter respectively of Robert Southey and his first wife Edith Fricker. The most unusual and unique items in the collection are undoubtedly three locks of hair belonging to Robert and Caroline Southey, given to Mrs Bray in 1854.

The archive also contains a wealth of correspondence, travel journals, a scrapbook of drawings and watercolours, printed books and numerous draft manuscripts including the 3 volume manuscript of her autobiography, published posthumously in 1884. This work includes an account of the visit made by Robert Southey and his son Charles to Tavistock Vicarage in December 1836 as well as transcriptions of his letters to Mrs Bray. There is also a handwritten poetry book dating from the early 1820s which belonged to Mary Maria Colling, a maidservant and amateur poet from Tavistock. Mrs Bray bestowed her patronage upon Mary and privately published a selection of her poetry in 1831 entitled Fables and Other Pieces in Verse. This publication also included letters written by Mrs Bray to Robert Southey who assisted in gathering together many notable subscribers for the book, including John Murray and William Wordsworth.


Two of Anna Eliza Bray’s travel journals of Cornwall and North Devon (Bray 2/3 and Bray 2/11).

I will be presenting a talk on the Bray archive at West Sussex Record Office in Chichester entitled ‘A Peep at the Pixies’: exploring the life and literary archive of Anna Eliza Bray (1790-1883) on Tuesday 24th November 2015 at 7pm. Tickets cost £7.50 including refreshments, and a selection of documents from the archive will be out on display. If you would like to book a place, please contact our reception on 01243 753602.

For any enquiries regarding the collection, catalogue or the November talk please contact West Sussex Record Office on

Holly Wright
Searchroom Assistant, West Sussex Record Office

All images are reproduced with the permission of West Sussex Record Office.

Review of ‘By Our Selves’: Film Screening at BARS 2015

We continue our Romantic Imprints retrospective with a review of the special screening of By Our Selves held at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff during the conference. Many thanks to Erin Lafford of the University of Oxford for these thoughts on the film!

‘John Clare was a minor nature poet who went mad’. This statement, uttered in a crisp RP accent, is one of the most memorable soundbites from By Our Selves, a recent film release by Andrew Kötting and Iain Sinclair that re-traces the steps of John Clare’s escape from High Beech asylum in Epping Forest in 1841, back to his home in Northborough. An 80 mile walk reduced to ten words, which in one sense sum up the story that Kötting and Sinclair are trying to tell as much as they only begin to scratch the surface of the film’s affective and revisionary power. They become a refrain that recurs throughout the film, its frosty enunciation emerging starkly from a sonic patchwork of birdsong, muttered snatches of Clare’s poetry, letters, and journal entries, folk music, the haunting strains of Mary Joyce (played eerily by performance artist and poet MacGillivray), traffic noise, the whir of wind farms, telephone conversations, ominous murmurs of ‘doctors’, and the rustle of a dancing straw bear.

It is the soundscape, mixed and edited by Philippe Ciompi with music provided by Jem Finer (of The Pogues fame) and David Aylward, which is most immediately arresting in By Our Selves. With the skeleton of Clare’s journey from Essex there as a loose structure for each scene, sound becomes one of the most prominent tools for capturing the disorientation and delusion suffered by the poet and subsequently offered out to the audience. One scene close to the opening of the film shows Clare, played here by Toby Jones, in a clearing within Epping Forest. He stumbles across the forest floor and gazes about him as snippets of sound fade in and out – voices, snatches of music, the crackle and fuzz of reverb, some fleeting lines from ‘I Am’, are all blended into each other with the effect that poetry, language and meaning become a messy background noise at the same time as every snap and twang calls out for attention. Kötting seems to want to retrain our ears in these opening scenes, overturning the precise diction of ‘John Clare was a minor nature poet who went mad’ with a more anarchic wash of noise that resists such a neat narrative and therefore tests the boundaries of what this madness might have been, and how we might receive it now.



Ever since Harold Bloom dubbed Clare the ‘Wordsworthian Shadow’ in The Visionary Company (1962), there has sometimes been a critical tendency to hold the two poets up as each other’s antithesis. It seemed fitting, therefore, that on Saturday 18th July the biennial BARS conference held at Cardiff University offered two afternoon excursions – one to the Romantic ruins of Tintern Abbey, the other to Chapter Arts Centre for a screening of By Our Selves. This year’s conference theme, ‘Romantic Imprints’, resonated with the motives behind the film. Clare’s journey from Essex to Northborough has become its own kind of imprint on the landscape it covered, traced and re-traced by those who wish to experience the route he trod first-hand. Sinclair’s psychogeographical memoir, The Edge of the Orison (2005), takes up Clare’s walk and, along with the poet’s own account, is the main textual influence behind the film. By Our Selves is constantly alive to the relationship between image, place, and text; this is no straightforward dramatization of one of the most notorious episodes in Clare’s biography, but a self-conscious attempt to recycle and rework the written material through sound and image. Sinclair appears periodically as a goat-masked figure, haunting Clare by reading excerpts from By Himself, an edition of the poet’s autobiographical prose. Alan Moore reads ‘I Am’ from a selected works and also comments on his own graphic novel, Voice of the Fire (1996), in which Clare is a prominent figure. Simon Kövesi, a prominent Clare scholar at Oxford Brookes University who Kötting has dressed in a boxing robe and gloves (a reference to Clare’s own boxing obsession), is interviewed about his own critical essay on Don Juan and, in the midst of conversation, points out a mis-transcription in the edition of poems Sinclair is holding (Matthew Allen has been cleaned up as ‘Dr Bottle Imp who deals in wine’ rather than the original, and more derogatory, ‘urine’). Clare does not just wander silently, but on occasion sits at an anachronistic typewriter or is engrossed in a modern-day boxing magazine.

Such layering of textual responses to and editions of Clare’s work within the film has the effect of destabilizing any idea of textual authority on his journey, even his own. Indeed, the film’s title, By Our Selves, is, as Kövesi also discusses in his essay in the accompanying book, a pluralistic extension of By Himself, the title given to the edition of Clare’s autobiographical prose edited by Eric Robinson and David Powell. Kövesi suggests that this play on the original title evidences Kötting’s inherently collaborative approach to film-making, which is an ideal match for the various identities that make up Clare’s poetic sensibility, a ‘rural plural’ of influences and a fraught need for sociability.[1] The title also contains a nod to the collective process by which the film made it to production, being crowd-funded by a Kickstarter campaign. Yet the collective ‘ourselves’ can also be extended to include the layering of media that Kötting weaves together in order to bring the viewer into his hallucinatory and communal world that Clare is both at the centre and the edges of. The various interviews, textual references and vocal interjections resist offering the viewer a single, authoritative account of the Journey Out of Essex to offer instead a work-in-progress that might continue to grow and change.

Kötting’s directorial risks and innovations make this film in particular a rich site for undercutting and re-presenting that which we thought we knew and understood about Clare’s oft-cited narrative. The camera work in particular, directed by Nick Gordon Smith and operated by Anonymous Bosch, creates some wonderful moments and effects that involve the audience in experiences of delusion and disorientation. Some of the forest scenes are shot through a pin-hole camera, and their rounded, unfocussed and blurry edges echo visually a particular soundbite from Sinclair that floats amidst other noises: ‘They call this a paraphrensic delusion. There’s nothing there […] You find your eyeballs are turning into milk, completely white, no pupils at all’. In another scene, the camera has been attached to a kind of pivot so that it swings, in increasingly longer motions, between sky and forest floor, confusing the distinction between the two. We don’t know what is up and what is down, and one gets the sense that Kötting has an instinct for teasing out the more uncomfortable experiences that lie within Clare’s lines. Readings from ‘I Am’ recur throughout the film, but it is in this scene in particular that the poem’s last lines take on a feeling of bodily displacement and perceptual bewilderment: ‘Untroubling, and untroubled where I lie, / The grass below – above the vaulted sky’.

Another way that Kötting pulls us in, or perhaps pulls Clare out, towards a collective experience in By Our Selves is through the tug of family ties. He interweaves scenes of the journey with scenes of his daughter, Eden, walking on the beach and dressed to look, presumably, like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Towards the end of the film she is met by the straw bear (played by Kötting) that, until this point, has been chained to Clare as he drags it through the countryside, a disobedient attendant that could symbolize the burden of his ‘peasant poet’ status. These scenes recall Kötting’s early film, Gallivant (1996), in which he travels round the coast of Britain with a younger Eden and his grandmother Gladys, so that they might spend some time with each other in the face of their respective life-expectancies: Eden has Joubert Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder, and Gladys, at 85, is coming to the end of her own life. The elegiac mixing of footage of British landscape and family interactions in Gallivant carries over into By Ourselves. Kötting has stated elsewhere that ‘my work and Eden are always linked […] she is the very fabric of my life’.[2] It seems natural, therefore, that he should use family connections in turn to explore the fabric of Clare’s. Whilst Toby Jones is cast as the silent Clare who trudges through the changing landscapes from Essex to Northborough, it is his father, Freddie Jones (also cast as Clare in the 1970 BBC production I Am) who becomes his voice, reading and stumbling over excerpts from the Journey, letters, poems, and journal entries. This temporal collapse, where two Clares inhabit the same places, is one of the most effective ways in which Kötting and Sinclair bring the old and the new together, making Clare both past and present. Another memorable line from the film’s vocal soundscape declares that ‘Clare’s asylum foretells our need for asylum. His deprivation foretells our deprivation’. This cuts to the heart of the communal impulses at work in By Our Selves, and what makes it such an arresting and intriguing piece of film-making. The collective serves also to highlight the lonely. The film makes no attempts to rehabilitate Clare’s madness and isolation, but perhaps redistribute them across different times and places so that they might be received as part of our own experience of the world.

As Sinclair suggests in the film, ‘Clare’s fantastically modern, in the sense that he adapts everything’. If we take By Our Selves not as a dramatization, nor as a reconstruction, but as an adaptation of Journey Out of Essex, then we can become immersed in the fantastic and the avant-garde element of Clare’s works that Kötting and Sinclair draw out so effectively. By Our Selves is a must-see for anyone unconvinced that Clare was just a ‘minor nature poet who went mad’.

By Our Selves will be released in cinemas throughout the UK in October 2015.

– Erin Lafford (University of Oxford)


[1] Simon Kövesi, ‘The Rural Plural: Andrew Kötting, Iain Sinclair and John Clare’, By Ourselves, ed. Andrew Kötting (Badbloodandsibyl and Andrew Kötting, 2015), pp. 184-187.

[2] Sophie Radice, ‘Cultureshock’, Guardian, 21 October (2006).

BARS First Book Prize 2015: Judges’ Report

Following up on the announcement that Orianne Smith’s Romantic Women Writers, Revolution, and Prophecy Rebellious Daughters, 1786–1826 was selected by the judges from a strong shortlist as the inaugural winner of the BARS First Book Prize, please see below for a statement from the judges on the shortlisted books and on the timetable for the 2017 prize.

– — – — – — –

BARS First Book Prize Shortlist 2015

Panel: Emma Clery (Chair), Ian Haywood, David Higgins, Susan Valladares.

It’s been heartening to find that news of the death of the academic monograph has been slightly exaggerated, and that British publishers are continuing to invest in new scholars. At the same time, getting a book into print remains a massive challenge and a huge achievement and all the nominated authors are prize-winners in that respect.

The following remarks are extracts from the views of the judges on the short-listed works, cited in the award ceremony speech:

Jeremy Davies, Bodily Pain in Romantic Literature (Routledge, 2014): intellectually adventurous and highly interdisciplinary…It successfully manages the difficult trick of combining theory-based erudition and accessibility, bringing a wealth of material from ‘pain studies’ and ‘medical humanities’ into the realm of Romantic literary studies.

Mary Fairclough, The Romantic Crowd: Sympathy, Controversy and Print Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2013): brings philosophy, science and politics together with literature, journalism and visual culture to create a rich, nuanced and original account of debate on the nature of the crowd…a brilliant extension of the question of sympathy into consideration of virtual crowds generated by the mechanisms of the press and the postal system.

Maureen McCue, British Romanticism and the Reception of Italian Old Master Art, 1793-1840 (Ashgate, 2014): the compelling chronicle of a quiet revolution, as the middle class stealthily acquire cultural capital through cultivating taste and exploiting new public forums for the consumption and appreciation of art…a major contribution to our understanding of the power of modern print media.

Orianne Smith, Romantic Women Writers, Revolution, and Prophecy Rebellious Daughters, 1786–1826 (Cambridge University Press, 2013): corrects the gender imbalance of previous work on literary enthusiasm by shedding light on the previously obscured role of women writers in apocalyptic discourse…a tremendously fluent and incisive study, making surprising and productive use of speech-act theory to bring out the performative dimension of prophetic writing.

As it happens, all of the short-listed books have ‘Romantic’ or ‘Romanticism’ in their title. This wasn’t a criterion of the competition, but each makes a persuasive case for the significance of the Romantic era as a pivotal historical moment, and consequently Romantic Studies comes away as a winner too. Thanks to the authors for this endorsement!

The next competition will open in September 2016, for any work in the field of Romanticism published between January 2015 and December 2016. Criteria will be circulated closer to the time, and nominees must be members of BARS. The winner will be announced at the next BARS International Conference, at York University, July 2017.

– — – — – — –

If you’d like to find out more about the shortlisted books, the BARS Blog has interviewed all four of their authors for the Five Questions series:


Five Questions: Orianne Smith on Romantic Women Writers, Revolution, and Prophecy

Orianne Smith - Romantic Women Writers, Revolution, and Prophecy

Orianne Smith, the inaugural winner of the BARS First Book Prize, is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of English at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC).  She has published widely on topics including gender in the Romantic period, the Gothic, Romantic war poetry and the connections between religion, superstition and magic in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  She edited Hubert de Sevrac (1796) for the Works of Mary Robinson (2009-10) and she is currently working on an edition of Helen Maria Williams’ Julia, a novel (1790) for Broadview.  Her award-winning first monograph, Romantic Women Writers, Revolution, and Prophecy: Rebellious Daughters, 1786–1826, which we discuss below, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2013.

1) How did you first come to realise that you wanted to write about the relationship between revolution and prophecy in the works of British women writers of the Romantic period?

It was a happy accident.  During my second year in graduate school I was taking a course on seventeenth-century sectarian writers and wrote my final paper on the wild, wacky and truly wonderful Civil War prophetesses.  Like most students I was still working on the paper on the day it was due and I needed a conclusion.  It occurred to me that there could be an interesting connection between these seventeenth-century women who claimed the authority of God during a period of revolution and Romantic women writers who also assumed the mantle of the female prophet in the wake of the French Revolution.  I wrapped up the paper with this thought, but the idea of a British tradition of female prophecy stuck with me.  Afterwards I mentioned it to my dissertation director, Steve Jones, and he encouraged me to explore the idea more fully.  That was in 1999!  A few sentences at the end of a paper turned into my dissertation and then, in 2013, my book.

2) In what ways did the project evolve between your initial conceptions and the publication of your monograph?

There were two very significant shifts in my thinking.  Originally, I thought of visionary writing in largely secular terms, as essentially a power grab by women writers who used the prophetic register in order to validate their stance as social and political commentators.  My perspective early on was that their visionary discourse consisted of something like 90% politics and 10% religion (at best).  I quickly discovered that this one-size-fits-all approach was not nuanced enough to accommodate the diverse ways in which Romantic women writers engaged in prophecy.  And it did not take into consideration the fact that most of the women in my study were in fact deeply religious and believed that they had a moral imperative to intervene at this critical juncture in human history.  My project truly began to take shape once I began approaching each of the women writers in my study on their own terms and not mine.

The other important shift took place when I was revising the dissertation into a book.  I had happily spent most of my time as a graduate student buried in the archives, reading everything written by and about my five case studies (Piozzi, Williams, Radcliffe, Barbauld and Shelley) as well as a range of historical documents (including sermons, prophecies, letters and diaries) and eighteenth-century scholarly activity (including eschatology, philology, aesthetic theory and moral philosophy).  This was incredibly useful material, but during my revisions I felt like I needed to take a step back and think through the special qualities of prophetic language.  Under what conditions did prophetic discourse succeed and (perhaps more interesting to me) why did it fail?  How was it different from ordinary language?  I began reading widely in speech act theory, as articulated by J. L. Austin in the mid-twentieth century and by later critics such as John Searle, Judith Butler and Pierre Bourdieu.  I also found Angela Esterhammer’s work on the Romantic performative particularly illuminating.  Speech act theory helped me think through the complex relationship between Romantic women writers who engaged in visionary discourse and their audiences, as well as the specific contexts in which these prophetic performances played out.

3) Religion is often a neglected factor in literary studies, partly because the kinds of aesthetic assumptions on which modern criticism is grounded implicitly seek to marginalise or replace it.  What do you think are the main benefits of approaches like yours in this book which place religious discourses back at the centre of cultural debates?

The main benefit is inherent in your question: religion belongs at the centre of cultural debates and restoring it is necessary if we want to have a more capacious understanding of literature and history.  That said, I think that religion has already made a comeback in literary studies.  You are right though to note that there are some inherent tensions between academic/critical and religious discourses.  I wonder sometimes if that is because of the uncomfortable similarities between the two.  For example, I have always intensely disliked the idea of a literary canon, with its suggestion of a set of timeless sacred texts carefully preserved for the edification of generations of students.  For the record, I do not consider myself to be a high priestess of literature!  To push the analogy even further: some theorists are invoked with something akin to reverence in the academy and I’m sure all of us have read works of criticism that seem truly inspired.  Are literary critics and cultural commentators scientists or prophets?  I would like to think that my work as a researcher is grounded in neutral, quasi-scientific inquiry and yet admittedly my best ideas are hardly ever the result of careful scaffolding and plodding from A to B.  Often they feel more like stolen fire or some sort of gift from the gods (yes, I appear to be channeling my inner—hopefully more responsible!—Victor Frankenstein in my answer here).

As I mentioned above, I didn’t set out to write a book on the influence of religion on Romantic-era writers, and I was certainly no expert on the subject when I began.  What I learned during the course of this project though is that while religious belief is about faith, it is also fueled by the imagination, the ability to imagine another super-natural world and to communicate this to others.  Those of us who make our living analyzing works of the imagination are therefore uniquely equipped to analyze the influence of religion and religious narrative on the figures we study.  And I am now convinced that, at least in our period, it is impossible to conduct literary analysis without some attention to the author’s beliefs, spiritual as well as secular.

4) To what extent do you see the figures you principally examine (Hester Lynch Piozzi, Helen Maria Williams, Ann Radcliffe, Anna Barbauld and Mary Shelley) as employing a common set of prophetic tropes, and to what extent do they each invent their own particular visionary modes?

That’s a great question.  I believe that all of the figures in my study were aware of, and attracted to, a genealogy of female authority that they used to position themselves as visionary writers and thinkers.  In the wake of the French Revolution these writers tended to draw on a Christian tradition of female prophecy, which was explicitly political and revolutionary, with a clear connection to the visionary discourse engaged in by the sectarian female prophets of the Civil War decades.  Later in the period, well after the revolution and the millenarian expectations that it inspired, I found a distinct shift from Christian to pagan modes of prophetic discourse in the work of second-generation Romantic writers like Mary Shelley.  Within this very general framework, however, each of these writers reinvented or explored the model of the female prophet in radically different ways.  Piozzi was especially drawn to the notion of female prophecy as theatrical performance, taking inspiration from her friend Sarah Siddons as well as the famous Italian improvisatrice Corilla.  Williams seemed to hit her stride as a visionary writer when she moved to Paris in 1790, and switched from writing poetry and her one novel Julia to political commentary, describing and prophesying the events unfolding around her.  Radcliffe had better luck than Williams with integrating female prophecy into the genre of the novel, casting the heroines of her Gothic narratives as prophets and revealing how their appreciation of God’s ordering of the natural world inspires their visionary activity.  Barbauld was one of my favorite case studies because of her utter fearlessness in her approach to visionary discourse.  Throughout her career, in her poetry and prose, Barbauld represents herself as a poet-prophet along the lines of Milton, leading the nation in a period of profound spiritual and political crisis.  I believe Shelley was perhaps more attuned than the rest to the notion of a matrilineal genealogy of prophecy with a beginning and an end, and in some ways saw herself as the last of the female visionaries in this tradition.

5) What new topics are you currently researching?

I’ve gone to the dark side.  Well, at least in terms of my interest in the intersection of religion and literature!  My next book is an exploration of representations of gender, witchcraft and magic in Romantic-era poetry and prose.  This is a natural extension of my first project and the research I did then on female enthusiasm.  From the Civil War decades through the Romantic period writers pondered the source of enthusiasm, and wondered if female enthusiasts were divinely or diabolically inspired.  My first book explored the limits and potential of divine inspiration for Romantic women writers and my second book will take up the diabolical angle.  So far it has been a lot of fun!  I’m currently working on the connections between Macbeth, Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor and Baillie’s Witchcraft, focusing on the ways in which the ties of kinship and community are disrupted and subverted by the villainesses.  I am still very interested in performative language, but I’m particularly intrigued by speech acts that founder or flail around or are willfully ignored by the characters in the works I’m studying.  I have found Eve Sedgwick’s idea of periperformatives—speech acts which populate the area around a performative and behave like bad neighbors, seeking to undo or weaken the illocutionary force of a performative—very useful in this project.

Report from BARS 2015: Romantic Imprints – Anna Mercer

I enjoyed three fantastic days at ‘BARS 2015: Romantic Imprints’, which was organised by Dr Anthony Mandal and Dr Jane Moore of Cardiff University. A convivial and inspiring atmosphere, a great location and even the Welsh weather on good form all made this really entertaining and stimulating conference experience. In this blog I’d like to document some of the highlights I experienced from the panels and plenary talks across the Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I only wish I could have had time to go to more! The full programme is online here.

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 10.46.53

Parallel Panel Highlights Day 1: Thursday

On the Thursday I attended the panel ‘Philosophical Imprints: Experimentation and Empiricism’. Tim Milnes gave a paper on ‘Socialized Epistemology and the Essay’, considering Hume, Lamb and ‘socialised empiricism’. He considered how intersubjectivity emerged as a counterpart to scientific empiricism, and how Hume unpacks the idea of the polite culture of the essayist in his ‘Of Essay-Writing’. Mary Fairclough followed with a paper on ‘Electricity, Experiment and Faith in the 1790s’: this was fascinating, especially as I knew nothing about the history of electricity beyond the very basic facts. She discussed Adam Walker’s A System of Familiar Philosophy, and the prevalence of small-scale, not very powerful yet entertaining experiments in the eighteenth century. Between the 1740s and the 1790s there were many important philosophical reflections stimulated by meditations on the power of electricity.

I chaired the panel on Thursday evening entitled ‘Imprinting the Private and Public’. Four very rich papers were given here, with topics ranging from objects and collections to the more traditional imprint of text – including poetry in the public sphere and the private aspects of a journal. Chiara Rolli discussed Sarah Sophia Banks’s collections, Emma Curran discussed Helen Maria Williams’ A Farewell, for Two Years, to England and Robert Jones’s paper considered Sheridan’s legacy in Byron and Moore (the complications of Sheridan’s life and his decline were very interesting as well as Byron’s writings on him). Lucy Johnson discussed the Shelleys’ elopement journal, the way in which physical intimacy is represented in the eroticised writing of this shared work, and how this initially private text was then worked into a publication in 1817 (part of History of a Six Weeks’ Tour). The panel as a whole brought up interesting questions about the concept of longevity: such as traditional and non-traditional forms of committing an artists legacy to the eternal. Thursday ended with a great wine reception (and whisky-tasting!).

Parallel Panel Highlights Day 2: Friday

Friday morning began with my favourite panel of BARS 2015 (although I am somewhat biased considering I am currently very engaged in manuscript work). The Wordsworth Trust sponsored a panel entitled ‘“Mimicking the texture of thought”: What Can We Learn from Manuscripts of an Author at the Wordsworth Trust?’, chaired by Michael Rossington. Jeff Cowton of the Trust spoke about all the amazing work the organisation does, both in the academic field and in terms of reaching out to local communities in Cumbria and beyond. It really captured what an awe-inspiring place Dove Cottage, Grasmere can be (once the venue for a BARS PG/ECR conference, my first BARS conference… if you haven’t yet been to visit, go! And give yourself plenty of time to take in the museum’s relics as well as the beautiful surrounding landscape).

Jeff’s talk also emphasised the power of being able to view a real manuscript from one of the great Romantic writers in person, for both the public and academics: this can be a tricky argument to make in today’s digitalised world, and Jeff and the rest of his panel carried this sentiment in a very persuasive way, one in which even the most sceptical listener would find hard to disagree with. Beatrice Turner followed with a paper on Sara Coleridge’s manuscripts, comparing a manuscript written by the 17-year-old Sara to one she wrote as she was dying decades later.


This paper was prompted by her personal interaction with manuscripts and archives in the Harry Ransom Center, and framed by the theories of Hazlitt and Derrida. Dove Cottage is another valuable place where interaction with manuscripts like this can happen. Ruth Abbott continued the panel with a case study on Wordsworth’s notebooks, considering each notebook as a ‘full document’ and Nick Mason gave an engaging talk on technology and manuscript research, emphasising the testimonies by students that explained how affected they were by being able to hold a first edition of Lyrical Ballads. Please consider donating to the Wordsworth Trust Catalyst Fund if you like the work that the Trust does.

The panel ‘Transnational Thomas Moore’ on Friday afternoon discussed the oriental romance Lalla Rookh, music, and the author’s reactions to Byron (especially Cain) as an author ‘unwilling to offend’ – unlike Byron himself. Three excellent papers by Sarah McCleave, Justin Tonra and Jim Watt placed Moore in context. It was interesting to hear how the links to Byron are complicated by the fact that Byron dedicated The Corsair to Moore, and the paper by Jim Watt discussed how Moore provided a template for Byron.

My Parallel Panel on Day 3: Saturday, and the Plenary Talks

The panel I presented on took place on Saturday morning and was entitled ‘Coleridge’s Afterlives’. I’d like to give a massive thank you to Philip Aherne and Jo Taylor for inviting me to join this panel, and thank you also to Maximiliaan van Woudenberg for chairing. Philip Aherne discussed T. H. Green and the Coleridgean Vocation, and Jo Taylor gave a paper on Edith Coleridge, S. T. Coleridge’s granddaughter: although almost all of her poetical compositions are unpublished, Edith’s verses engage with STC and also Hartley and Sara Coleridge, and often takes a swipe at poetical conventions in its mocking tone. We had a wide range of questions that gave us almost half an hour of interesting discussion on Coleridge and those influenced by him.

Now for the plenary talks: Twitter was very active during these (see the hashtag #BARS2015 (although with the caution that this has also been used for other things since the conference ended – Ed.)), which featured some really great images and quotes. John Barrell’s talk on the first day focused on ‘The Meeting of the Waters’, a phrase from poetry and folklore, songs and geographical locations. Barrell discussed his own experiences of finding such locations in the UK, Ireland and abroad. This confluence of location and poetry was a fascinating subject – the two things harmoniously mingle.

JMW Turner, 'The Junction of the Greta & the Tees'

JMW Turner, ‘The Junction of the Greta and the Tees’

The plenary on Friday was given by Claire Connolly on ‘Sea Crossings, Scale and the Imprint of Colonial Infrastructure from Swift to Edgeworth’. Connolly discussed Swift’s two famous poems from Holyhead, written on account of him being stuck there, unable to cross to Ireland. Her talk emphasised the significance of the sea crossing between Britain and Ireland at this time, including Irish history and the social ‘pull’ to London. Edgeworth’s letters from Holyhead showed another perspective on this, including her accounts of sublime scenery and her comparisons of the many different sea crossings she experienced in her lifetime.

Saturday’s plenary also had a focus on the female Romantic author: Devoney Looser gave a talk on ‘Jane Austen Matters’, considering Austen’s legacy and analysing the debates that occur around Austen’s image and her fiction through the ages. The complicated legacy of Austen is evident in the many attempts to illustrate her novels and what this tells us about the particular audience of that age: for example, different interpretations of scenes in Pride and Prejudice would lead to very different Elizabeth Bennetts being depicted in the accompanying illustrations. Looser’s talk then focused on Ferdinand Pickering’s Austen designs.

circa 1815:  A scene from Jane Austen's novel 'Emma', (1815) illustrated by Pickering.  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A scene from Jane Austen’s novel ‘Emma’, (1815) illustrated by Pickering

Overall, a great meeting of like-minded Romanticists!

– Anna Mercer (University of York)

Report from BARS 2015: Romantic Imprints – Lucy Johnson

(We’re very glad to welcome Lucy Johnson, of the University of Chester, to the BARS Blog, with a first post taking an in-depth look at two of the panels from Romantic Imprints – Ed.).

The 2015 British Association for Romantic Studies International Conference was held in Cardiff this July.  Entitled Romantic Imprints, the conference boasted an extraordinary array of interdisciplinary and wide-ranging scholarship on various facets of Romanticism, and delegates were greeted with a feast of ideas from which to choose.  I was lucky enough to attend a number of incredibly interesting and thought-provoking panels, and it is space alone that requires me to limit this report to two panels in particular.

The 1:45 PM Thursday panel I attended was Apocalypse and Ruination, chaired by Diane Piccitto (Mount Saint Vincent University).  This panel took a fascinating and diverse approach to the inspirational pull of apocalyptic imagery on the Romantic imagination, spanning from the real-life destruction of Herculaneum and Pompeii to a wide-ranging set of analyses of the depiction of millennium in Mary Shelley’s The Last Man.

The first paper was given by Sophie Thomas (Ryerson University, Canada) and was entitled ‘Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the Imprint of the Ancient World’.  Thomas explored Romantic responses to the newly excavated Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, both destroyed in the AD 79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and the ways in which contemporary writers imagined and reconstructed the ruined image of these places.  Thomas discussed how both Herculaneum and Pompeii were represented as sites where ‘life and death are wedded’ and how excavations of the towns inspired ‘paper museums’ for the modern world.

Objects from the sites, she explained, were extracted from their destroyed context and placed in museums, presented in a beautified style.  These ‘fantasies of re-animation and restoration’, Thomas argued, derived from Pompeii’s position as a site that offered ‘free play of the imagination’ for writers who were compelled by its Romantic mingling of destruction and re-generation through that destruction.

Thomas went on to explore how the ruin of the Villa of Diomedes ‘infused literary responses’, discussing how ‘the impression of a woman’s form…found at the uncovering of Herculaneum’ inspired Felicia Hemans’s 1827 poem ‘The Image in Lava’.  Similarly, William Branwhite Clarke’s ‘Pompeii, a poem’ presents its fall as beneficial to future poetic arts, depicting Pompeii at the height of its former glory and its subsequent destruction as an invaluable source of Romantic inspiration.  Thomas’s excellent paper was especially effective when discussing the very tangible evidence of life and death depicted in the Pompeii poems and how they bridged a gap of time, emblemised most touchingly in Robert Stephen Hawker’s ‘Pompeii’ where ‘the path just worn by human feet…almost reach the listening ear’.

The second paper was delivered by Olivia Murphy (University of Sydney, Australia), entitled ‘Apocalypse Not Quite: Romanticism and the Post-Human World’Murphy discussed how for the early generation of Romantics, the concept of apocalypse or millennium was associated with the possibility for earthly regeneration and ‘the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth’.  People anticipated the millennium with hope rather than fear.  However, for later generations of Romantic texts, and particularly texts that were conceived post-French Revolution, the millennium began to be associated with an increased sense of impending apocalyptic destruction.  Murphy argued that Mary Shelley’s 1826 novel The Last Man depicts the psychological trauma arising from the suspense that collective extinction that could come at any time, and that the later Romantic period heralded our modern negative view of the millennium/apocalypse.  Murphy speculated that the imaginative origins of this conception of apocalypse may be located in the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia that caused the ‘year without a summer’ of 1816, when the Shelleys and Byron gathered at the Villa Diodati.  Indeed, Murphy explored how The Last Man might be viewed as a specifically ‘post-Tambora’ text; where the narrator Lionel Verney muses on the vulnerabilities and interconnectedness of humanity, Murphy described how Morton Paley views The Last Man as ‘apocalypse without millennium.’

The final paper on this panel was given by Kirstyn J. Leuner (Dartmouth College, US), on ‘Mary Shelley’s New Media in The Last Man‘.  In this inventive and interesting paper, Leuner rejected the pervasively argued idea that there is no technological progression in Shelley’s text, and instead focused on the novel’s representations of the diorama as new media.  She contextualised the diorama alongside its predecessor the panorama, discussing how the diorama might be interpreted as a facility for life writing.  Leuner argued that Shelley depicts the diorama as a futuristic mixed media form, a means of archiving media and preserving the past.  Leuner presented an extremely compelling re-reading of the role of ‘future technology’ in The Last Man, a text that has previously been interpreted as lacking in concrete ‘futuristic’ elements; she demonstrated, for example, how the Sybil’s cave could be read as a form of diorama in itself, and argued that the novel specifically presents reading (or the reading of memories) as an act of spectating.  This view was augmented by a series of interesting audience questions that highlighted the unreliability of the narrative voice in Shelley’s novel, suggesting that the story could change or be re-read depending on how it is assembled via the Sybil’s leaves.

On Friday, the 9:30 AM themed panel, Imprinting Anglo-Italian Relations in The Liberal, was chaired by Michael Tomko (Villanova University, US).  This panel was sponsored by the Inter-University Centre for Romantic Studies (University of Bologna, Italy) and is part of a long-running, wider-ranging project focusing on The Liberal and its various contributors.

Serena Baiesi (University of Bologna, Italy) kicked off the panel with her paper, ‘Leigh Hunt as Editor and Contributor to The Liberal‘.  Examining Leigh Hunt’s crucial role in the development of The Liberal, Baiesi argued that the journal was always part of a complex editorial plan, not just the meteoric and badly thought out flash in the pan it has commonly been represented as.  Hunt, Baiesi said, believed passionately that the influencing of public opinion was the only true way of overthrowing despotism, and he aspired to reproduce the ‘English spirit of liberalism’ in Italy via the medium of The Liberal.

Up next was Franca Dellarosa (University of Bari Aldo Moro, Italy).  Her paper, ‘Cockney Imprint: Notes on the Reception of The Liberal, 1822′, focused specifically on the contemporary responses to and reception of The Liberal.  Dellarosa discussed the significance of the journal’s title, referring to the ‘semantic transformation of the meaning of the word: old as well as new’.  Dellarosa’s contextualising of the tumultuous political atmosphere of the time was fascinating, as she explored how the Blackwood’s – arch-enemy of the cockney school – campaign against The Liberal significantly influenced its ultimately negative public reception.

The third paper was by Fabio Liberto, (University of Bologna, Italy).  In ‘Italian and British Representations in The Liberal’, Liberto asked whether The Liberal’s development was indeed ‘lacking in coordination and common sense’, as has so frequently been claimed.  He discussed how Italy was conceptualised by the journal’s developers as a ‘metonymic literary outpost’ to defend the cause of freedom, and discussed Mary Shelley’s use of Italy as an ‘ideological topos’ in her short story contribution to The Liberal, ‘A Tale of the Passions’.  Shelley’s parallel between old and new Italies, Liberto argued, was meant as an admonishment to the modern world.

The final paper on this jam-packed panel was presented by Gioia Angeletti (University of Parma, Italy).  In ‘Byron’s Emancipatory Poetics’, Angeletti argued that The Liberal was not simply a disaster but remains a rich and compelling testament to this unique moment in political Romanticism.  She examined how Byron’s desire to return to his native country may allow us to read his writing for The Liberal an attempt at rapprochement with England.  The journal was, for Byron, a ‘bi-cultural project’; never willing to abandon his roots, The Liberal became strikingly personal as well as political.

– Lucy Johnson, University of Chester.