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Archive for October 2017

Five Questions: 2017 BARS First Book Prize Winner Julia S. Carlson on Romantic Marks and Measures



Julia S. Carlson, the winner of the 2017 BARS First Book Prize, is Associate Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Cincinnati.  She completed her undergraduate degree at Stanford University and her graduate degrees at the University of Michigan.  She has published numerous essays on Romantic poetry, poetics, cartographies and sensation; is a member of the Multigraph Collective, co-authors of the forthcoming Interacting with Print: Elements of Reading in an Era of Print Saturation, 1700-1900 (University of Chicago Press, 2017); and is one of the co-editors of Romanticism on the NetShe received the First Book Prize for Romantic Marks and Measures: Wordsworth’s Poetry in Fields of Print (Penn Press, 2016), which we discuss below.

1) How did you begin the research that led you to write this book?

My research on this project began after a Comparative Literature seminar in which we read Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira Le Hasard and the poems of Emily Dickinson followed by a facing-page edition of Wordsworth’s Prelude, a sequence which primed me to observe typographic and topographic differences between the 1805 and 1850 texts.  Why the abundance of dashes and near absence of exclamation marks in the Norton 1805 Prelude, so clearly belied by the original manuscripts, I wondered?  Why the late twentieth-century editorial resistance to the mark of passion, and what contemporary ideas and practices shaped Wordsworth’s marking?  To explore this question, I went deep into the stacks of Harlan Hatcher Library to read surprisingly animated disputes among grammarians, elocutionists, and rhetoricians on the use and significance of the “wondering point,” the “blank line,” and other “Typographical Figures of Speech.”  I was interested, too, in the poem’s self-reflexivity: its thematics of marking and attention and its vocabulary of mark, point, spot, line, and trace—terms used to signal places in the landscape and accent the growth of the poet’s mind.  Particularly evident in the episode of crossing the Simplon Pass, these terms for geometric and cartographic symbols made me wonder how the Alps were rendered in period maps and why they’d been neglected in the criticism.  This led me to the Map Library, with its then panoramic view of the streets, squares, and houses of Ann Arbor, where, with the help of librarian Karl Eric Longstreth, I stood gazing at maps of Switzerland published between 1768 and 1844, struck by the radical shifts in symbol, style, and perspective with which they construed the rivers, roads, and slopes that meet in the narrow confines of the Pass.

2) Your book positions Wordsworth’s poetry ‘within a matrix of inscriptional projects not traditionally considered to be part of the Romantic canon: the charting of terrain and the notating of language by cartographers, elocutionists, prosodists, and the writers of tours and guidebooks.’  What for you are most significant insights into Wordsworth’s poetry that this positioning reveals, and what do you think are the most important things we can learn about the galaxies of topography and typography that you examine through relating them to Wordsworthian verse?

The notational lexicon Wordsworth uses in composition and revision puts his poems in dialogue with and differentiates them from contemporary visual and verbal grammars, with implications for our understanding of poetic language and form.  For example, Wordsworth’s reflexive use of line and point in The Prelude, which registers the scientific, ideological, and aesthetic interests of the Ordnance Survey of Britain, reveals tensions and affinities between the experimental project of epic autobiography and the new cartographic portrait of the nation.  Thus we see that the ostensibly more natural language by which Wordsworth’s attempts to inscribe feeling and place is inflected by a technical semiotics, and conversely, that that the retention of hill portraiture in the first series of topographical maps of England and Wales—its expressive pictorialism —is indebted to the Wordsworthian aesthetics of Ruskin and Arnold.

Poems and maps were highly interactive and formally reinforcing.  In another context, that of picturesque tours and guidebooks, short excerpts of long blank verse poems intended to bring nature “closer to the eye” were published side-by-side with increasingly large-scale charts and outline views of mountain ranges, and also within complex itineraries.  My critical cartopoetics reveals that what we’ve come to know as Wordsworthian “nature lyric” is not a phenomenon of consciousness that transcends the function of pointing to the landscape, as Geoffrey Hartman has argued.  Short blank verse nature poems were formalized in dynamic relation to other line systems, such as surveying and hill portraiture, and within specific indexical and diagrammatic contexts that heightened attention to the marks and measures of landscape and cultivated the interpretation, and correlation, of heterogeneous scales and views.

The poems’ formalization in the context of sign systems that tried to graph speech patterns—elocutionary punctuation—is revealed in subtle effects such as the double-long dashes that Wordsworth began to use in the second edition of Lyrical Ballads.  Considered historically, the marks indicate Wordsworth’s experimentation with elocutionary punctuation and his thematic development of elocutionary concerns within the poems.  Not merely signs of suspenseful pause or the silent passage of time, however, the marks are iconographic as well—tracings in the print medium of the “finger of mortality” (“The Brothers,” 126) that has scored the landscape.  As such, they offer countermappings of place, controlling the reader’s movement through the poems and enhancing her affective response to a landscape conventionally, and less meaningfully, marked in the picturesque guidebooks the poems indict.  Wordsworth’s reflexive handling of the long dash across the blank verse of the book shows how what Richard Payne Knight called “blank and unmark’d metre” is hardly such, but depends upon a complex interplay of spatiotemporal marks that engage the acoustic and visual imaginations of readers.  What we learn, therefore, about the “galaxies of topography and typography” is that they become, in the period, more interrelated as they strive to be both more systematic and more expressive in their encoding of the national language and landscape.  They were related aspects of a diagrammatic and accentual turn in British culture that produced new forms of the spatial and temporal organization of print, new kinds of literacy, and new modes of feeling.

3) How did you come to decide on the final structure for your book, with three chapters focusing on the burgeoning of cartographic practices pivoting around a transitional interchapter into four further chapters on the marking of language within a thriving print culture?

The topographical and typographical systems through which I was reading Wordsworth are intertwined in his poetry, so it was tempting to consider them together in each chapter.  Ultimately, I thought this would make for too dense a narrative, so I explored the graphic representation of landscape in the first half of the book and the graphic representation of speech in the second; the interchapter articulates the two, foregrounding the many connections between them in the culture and in Wordsworth’s verse.

4) To what extent does your study focus on Wordsworth because he was a poet particularly alive to marks and measures, and to what extent might the approach you take in your book be extended to other poets or literary writers of the period?

Wordsworth, the poet who founded his verse on the “plainer and more emphatic language” spoken by rustics who were in daily communication with the enduring objects of nature, was more deeply invested in marking and measuring both landscape and speech than any of his contemporaries.  That said, the book also discusses other writers—Coleridge, theorist of punctuation and of “mingled measures”; Southey—poet of experimental meters; Thelwall—teacher of elocution and radical prosodist.  There are other poets too for whom the marking of speech on the page is a matter of self-reflexive reference: Byron in Don Juan for one.

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

I’m co-editing a collection for Cambridge with Sally Bushell and Damian Walford Davies called Romantic Cartographies. I’m also co-editing a special issue of Essays in Romanticism on historical poetics with David Ruderman and Ewan Jones.  And my new monograph project is Reading with the Hands: Impression and Inscription in Romantic-Era Britain, which explores, among other things, the development of tactile print systems for the blind.

Wordsworth Annual Lecture 2017: Byron and Wordsworth

Please see below for details of the Wordsworth Annual Lecture 2017, to be held in London on Halloween.


Byron and Wordsworth: Art and Nature

Tuesday 31 October, 6.00 – 7.00pm

The 2017 London Lecture with Professor Sir Drummond Bone

Wordsworth and Byron fell out in a not very dignified way over politics, and there was heavy co-lateral damage in their opinion of each other’s poetry. But there was a fundamental intellectual difference too. Despite his flirtation with Wordsworthean pantheism at P B Shelley’s behest in 1816, Byron came to believe that moral and existential value could only be human constructs, whereas Wordsworth of course saw these very constructs as the barrier to an existential value inherent in Nature, the perception of which was the necessary ground of moral behaviour. Sir Drummond Bone will use this contrast as a way into reading their poetry, and spend some time specifically on their differing attitudes to city life and the nature of art.

Sir Drummond Bone graduated from Glasgow University, and was a Snell Exhibitioner at Balliol from 1968 to 1972. He is an acknowledged expert on the poetry of Byron and is President of the Scottish Byron Society. He became Professor of English Literature and Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Glasgow, Principal of Royal Holloway and Bedford New College in the University of London, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool, and President of Universities UK. He has been Master of Balliol since 2011. In Trinity Term 2016, he was appointed a Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University.

Following the lecture will be a drinks reception that all are welcome to attend.

Chancellor’s Hall, Senate House, Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HU

To RSVP please contact Hannah Stratton at the Wordsworth Trust on 015394 63520 or email

Conference Report: The Shelley Conference 2017

Note from Anna Mercer, BARS Blog Editor:
The Shelley Conference 2017 was a two-day event sponsored by BARS. As the organiser I am very grateful to BARS for the support, and then also to Ana Stevenson for compiling the following detailed report. You can see the full programme including all the parallel sessions here, and I am hoping to work on a published collection of essays, or a special journal issue, of some of the wonderful papers I heard at the conference. The keynote speakers’ talks will be available online very soon. Without further comment from me, please enjoy Ana’s account of this gathering of Shelleyans:

The Shelley Conference 2017. 15-16 September. Institute for English Studies, London.

By Ana Stevenson

Delegates outside the mural dedicated to PBS (Poland Street)

Delegates outside the mural dedicated to PBS (Poland Street)

It took almost the length of Shelley’s lifetime for another event celebrating his life and work to be organised – the last one took place on the bicentennial of his birth, in 1992. For this and other reasons, Anna Mercer was determined to organise this exceptional two-days conference. After realising that most of PBS’s contemporaries enjoy various symposiums, Mercer took it upon herself to side with Harrie Neal and organised The Shelley Conference 2017, celebrating both Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Under the guidance of Kelvin Everest and Michael Rossington, Mercer and Neal welcomed Michael O’Neill, Nora Crook, and many scholars from around the world to present a variety of papers exploring the many aspects of PBS and MWS’s lives, work, and collaboration with one another.

The Senate House, London, opened its doors for The Shelley Conference 2017 for the first time on the 15th of September. With a plethora of fascinating panels, it was a hard task to decide which ones to attend. Luckily Graham Henderson has recorded a few, which will soon be available online for those who wish to watch it [see Graham’s website on PBS here]. The Conference started with a short introduction by the organisers, who briefly talked about the programme and thanked those who made the event possible. They expressed the Shelleys’ importance in Literature and Culture, as well as other aspects that inspired them to design this conference. Mercer closed the introduction speech and started the conference with a beautiful reading of ‘Mutability’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley – a poem that perfectly suited the occasion.

The first plenary, Mary Shelley’s Editing of Percy Bysshe Shelley, was delivered by Professor Nora Crook from Anglia Ruskin University. Crook discussed the misconceptions that the public has of Mary Shelley’s intentions when she edited her husband’s work. From his contemporaries to modern day scholars, many believe that MWS did not do justice to her late husband when editing his posthumous pieces. Some are certain that she aimed to change Shelley’s reputation by omitting ‘shocking’ content against his wishes, when in fact, Shelley himself had discussed this matter with his publisher, hoping that his accessible pieces would help him to regain a degree of attention with readers that would then also appreciate his political work. Mrs Shelley was not the only person responsible for the selection of poems to be published; the publisher decided not to include specific pieces in order to avoid being prosecuted. Although MWS meant well by holding Shelley’s radical pieces back, it is uncertain if this was the right attitude. Delaying PBS’s political material also delayed the readers’ understanding and the progress that its content could trigger. Professor Crook discussed the evidence that MWS was heavily involved in her husband’s work until the day of his death. It is not uncommon to find annotations by her as well as blank spaces left by PBS so that his wife could add her input. It must be taken into consideration that MWS was under pressure while editing the volumes of her late husband’s work, which lead to a few mistakes. However, Crook says that their collaboration did not end with Shelley’s death – in life the Shelleys helped to inspire and edit each other’s poems, after Percy’s death, Mary seeks his memory in order to make decisions.

Amongst the first parallel panels was a section concerning Revisions and Editing. It began with Madeline Callaghan from the University of Sheffield presenting her paper ‘“Sweet visions in solitude”: P. B. Shelley’s Rejected Opening of Laon and Cythna’ which discussed Percy Bysshe Shelley’s preoccupation with eternity through the rejected opening of Laon and Cythna. It explores the limits and possibilities of experiencing, and imaging humanity’s relationship with eternity. Callaghan presented the poem as the ultimate way to express Nature and its powers, and Imagination as a complement to beauty, with Shelley thinking carefully about the responsibilities of the poet, amidst words that can encapsulate dreams, the splendour of the mighty dead, and death without glory. Bysshe Inigo Coffey from the University of Exeter followed Callaghan with a paper focused on PBS’s writing style. ‘Verse Under Erasure: Shelley and the Energies of Cancellation’ was a splendid complement to Crook’s lecture as it explored the difficulty of editing the poet’s manuscripts, which were often filled with doodles, scribbles, cancellations, and other abstract imagery, causing the editing of his work to be a hard task. While some say that rhymes kill the meaning of poetry, Coffey argues that its efforts enhance the English language and doesn’t take the poet away from the poem; it takes him beyond. Shelley can cancel our understanding of the Spencerian stanza and doesn’t allow form to limit his creations. Amanda Blake Davis from the University of Sheffield presented the final paper on this panel. Davis discussed MWS’s editing and framing of Prometheus Unbound, adding to Crook’s plenary as she defended that MWS’s editing did not deprive the reader of the poet’s ideas. She argues that Mary prolongs Shelley’s life as a source of happiness to the reader as her framing of P B Shelley’s works assure that his words will be available to readers and Shelley lovers for years to come.

Before the second parallel panels, attendees were invited to a discussion between Michael Rossington and Nora Crook on Current Editions of PBS’s poetry. Prof Rossington is editing poems for, and coordinating, the fifth and final volume of the Longman Annotated English Poets edition of The Poems of Shelley (Routledge). Shelley is the only English poet who did not have a complete academic edition of his work. Rossington explained that the fifth volume, which contains poems and plays from 1821, is scheduled to appear in 2019. Prof Crook gave a brief presentation about the John Hopkins University Press edition of The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Rossington discussed the Longman Annotated English Poets edition (The Poems of Shelley). When asked about having two different collections of the poet’s work being released simultaneously, they affirmed that the many editions of Shelley’s work guarantee him a world of fame.

L-R Anna Mercer, Elizabeth Denlinger, Joanna Harker Shaw

L-R Anna Mercer, Elizabeth Denlinger, Joanna Harker Shaw

Percy and Mary Together was one of the options for the second parallel panels section where the speakers concentrated on breaking the myth that PBS and MWS were no longer collaborating towards the end of his life. Anna Mercer from the University of York and organiser of the event started the panel by presenting evidence of the collaboration between the Shelleys in Italy from 1818 until P B Shelley’s death. While some scholars suggest that Mary was no more than Shelley’s copyist, Mercer explores manuscripts and letters that prove otherwise. Annotations show that Mary contributed with suggestions while editing her husband’s work, and pieces written simultaneously by each author show the inspiration that one drew from the other. Joanna Harker Shaw, who is working on a novel about the Shelleys, used her research to defend the position of the Shelleys as advisors. Shaw claims that the lack of evidence that we have of the couple’s collaboration is due to their physical proximity: when most information was recorded through letters, it is not surprising that sources are limited when it comes to people who lived together. However, that is not to say that such evidence does not exist, as it is clear through Shelley’s letters to MWS’s father, William Godwin, that their collaboration and influence on one another was heavily discussed. Elizabeth Denlinger from New York Public Library closed this panel by defending the importance of manuscripts. The modern public is attracted to the visual aspect of an exhibition, which is why Denlinger finds it essential to make manuscripts available. A piece of history creates a stronger connection to the material shown, resulting in a more significant interest from the spectator, who is more likely to have their attention drawn through an artefact than through a piece of text. A potential reader is more likely to become interested in Shelley’s work by seeing the original document than from being presented with a printed version of that piece in question. These manuscripts are more than the text itself; they reflect the person who has written it, their personality, relationships, and life.

Kelvin Everest delivered the second plenary. In his superb ‘The Heart’s Echoes’, Everest explores the reverberation of Queen Mab through Shelley’s career, the formal complexity and various movements of ‘The Cloud’, and how Shelley’s life echoes itself on his final years. Everest’s plenary granted the perfect conclusion for the first day of this excellent event. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that ‘The Heat’s Echoes’ conveyed Shelley’s true essence, and remained with those who had the privilege of enjoying this outstanding talk.

Kelvin Everest delivers his plenary

Kelvin Everest delivers his plenary

The second day of the Shelley Conference 2017 started with its third section of panels. Rethinking Shelley for Later Generations commenced with Mark Summers’s ‘Reclaiming the Radical Republicanism of P. B. Shelley’ which portrayed the humanist and socialist perception of PBS, who perceived individual freedom as a non-dominant aspect which is not limited to economic conditions and is inclusive of all citizens. Shelley, as a radical and Republican, was against violence and, although inspired by the French Revolution, reproved the lack of control from the reign of terror. Summers was followed by Tom Mole from the University of Edinburgh who has recently published his book What the Victorians Made of Romanticism. In his paper ‘Shelley’s Long Poems in Victorian Anthologies’, Mole explained that anthologies became popular with the working classes (for leisure as well as culture) and made Romantic poems conform to Victorian morals. Editors and publishers had to be careful when publishing Queen Mab due to its radical content; only eleven books show it, and Canto IV is the most printed section of that work. These anthologies were not interested in the entirety of the poems and their structure; they published excerpts of lyrics and natural descriptions extracted from dramatical context. Mole claims that by removing parts of the poem, it diminishes its value. However, shattering a text also inspires those who read it to seek its source, and those who are already familiar with it, to frame the extracted part of the poem. The final speaker, Graham Henderson, explored the meaning of Shelley’s visit to the Alps. When Shelley visited Mont Blanc, he was seeing the mountain for the first time – unlike today, their visual descriptions were limited to word accounts, sketches, and paintings. Due to the Napoleonic wars, that area became almost inaccessible to foreign visitors; therefore Shelley was unlikely to have a personal relation accounting this experience. When S T Coleridge visited Mont Blanc, he expressed that no one could see its sublimity and question the existence of a god, but Shelley’s registration in the hotel proves otherwise. He wrote ‘eimi philanthropos, demokratikos, atheos te’ (I am a lover of mankind, democrat and atheist) – Greek was perceived as an intellectual language, therefore by writing in Greek, Shelley was declaring that his view did not come from ignorance. ‘Philantropos tropos’ was used be Aeschylus to describe Prometheus as a ‘Lover of Humanity’, which Shelley was undoubtedly aware of. In 1816 he became more famous for his declarations on this registration book than for his poetry, but this is not the only entry Shelley left in a registration book. In that year, at the Hotel de Londres Shelley has written ‘lover of humanity, democrat, atheist’, at the Hotel d’Anglaterre the entry says ‘Democrat, great lover of mankind, Atheist’, at Montenvers Shelley writes ‘one and all atheists’, and at Sallanches the poet simply wrote ‘atheist’. Henderson expresses that when Shelley says that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, he means the delegators of humanity.

Texts Composed in 1816 was one of the last parallel panels. Deborah Stiles from the Dalhousie University brought a variety of booklets from places visited by the Shelleys in order to support her paper ‘Geneva Summer, Dundee Winter: MWS, Seasonality, and Settings in Frankenstein’. During her early teenage years, Mary Shelley was sent to Scotland to live in Dundee with the Baxters. They often visited the port where whaling ships were found, which is later portrayed in Frankenstein. While in Geneva, the cold weather experienced in the year without a summer reminded Mary of the winter she spent in Dundee, which may have awakened her early ideas of the themes found in her first novel. Stiles explains that Mary’s book is very weather-based, having its story set through various seasons which may be perceived as a reflection of various moments when Mary had thoughts that lead to Frankenstein. Carl McKeating from the University of Leeds followed with ‘A City of Death: The Shelleys and “Mont Blanc”’, showing Mont Blanc is a pace of confrontation; it represents glory, but it also has the fame of being a ‘cursed mountain’. Percy Bysshe Shelley describes it as snowy and serene, but also as a city of death, and for Mary, the mountain symbolises hope, but it is also the conveyor of death. The Shelleys’ excursion to Mont Blanc was a safe one led by guides. However, they were aware of the dangers of such place – perhaps they saw an avalanche or received accounts of it. The dangers of Mont Blanc are seen in a metaphysical way in Frankenstein, with humanity as the ultimate prey of the snow. Miriam Sette from the University ‘G. d’Annuzio’ Pescara expresses Mont Blanc’s echoes of text influences from Plato to Blake in her ‘Poetry as Vision: “Mont Blanc” by Shelley’. Percy Bysshe Shelley was a natural organism of Romanticism; ‘a passionate advocate of the platonic world and mutability’. Mont Blanc was not only appreciated for the sublimity of its beauty, but also for what it represented. It is powerful, remote, and unaffected; the top of the mountain remains unaffected no matter what happens in the world below. The speakers debated the humane aspects of the Shelleys’ works, which have been inspired by their personal experience of Mont Blanc, which is often underestimated.

The Conference Dinner

The Conference Dinner, held at Vasco & Piero’s, the building where PBS lived in 1811

The Shelley Conference 2017 concluded with a third plenary by Michael O’Neill from Durham University. In ‘“Pictures” and “Signs”: Creative Thinking in P. B. Shelley’s Prose’, O’Neill expressed Shelley’s commitment to writing poetry as a poet. While ancient as well as contemporary poets inspired him, Shelley’s language is common, not individual. Shelley does not deny his inspiration; ‘Our words are dead, our thoughts are cold and borrowed’. Yet he is not limited to the form – ‘On Life’ is a prose poem with great Philosophical weight, and ‘A Defence of Poetry’ shows a decline from image to sign. It is how Shelley perceives poetry that sets him apart, and his prose is a great proof that soul and imagination are very much relevant in politics. Michael O’Neill presented examples such as ‘An Address to the People on the Death of Princess Charlotte’ where Shelley manipulates the audience through language, and instead of grieving the dead princess, he laments the death of Liberty. ‘Shelley tells us that language is both a veil and a pointer to what lies beyond the veil’. [n.b.: O’Neill’s talk was based on an essay to be published in a forthcoming book by Oxford University Press: Thinking through Style ed. Michael D. Hurley and Marcus Waithe].

So with this extraordinary plenary, The Shelley Conference 2017 came to an end. Two days worth of excellent panels and speakers passed by hastily, however, the success of the conference shows the relevancy of the Shelleys and the demand for such events. This will hopefully mark the start of a new era of conferences and seminars dedicated to explore and discuss the Shelleys and their work. Until another event is confirmed, the public can expect great material from many of the speakers, such as the Longman Annotated English Poets edition of The Poems of Shelley, the John Hopkins University Press edition of The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Tom Mole’s What the Victorians Made of Romanticism, and Joanna Harker Shaw’s novel.
– Ana Stevenson


Images are the organisers’ own.

Conference website here.

Conference twitter here.