News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

Archive for January 2018

Report from ‘Romantic Novels 1818’ – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Here is a report by Merrilees Roberts from the first ‘Romantic Novels 1818‘ seminar. This series is sponsored by BARS and seminars are held at the University of Greenwich. 

BARS also provides bursaries to support postgraduates and early career researchers who wish to attend. You can find more information on the application process and see details of upcoming seminars in the series here.



A Discussion of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) with Dr James Grande

Romantic Novels 1818 Seminar January 2018


James Grande delivered a fascinating paper on Frankenstein intended to spark ideas about how to capture the neglected ‘1818’ context of the novel’s first edition, which comprised only 500 copies sold mostly to circulating libraries. Grande took James Chandler’s England in 1819: The Politics of Literary Culture and the Case of Romantic Historicism as an inspiration for thinking through a microhistory of 1818 which would capture the novel’s historical – rather than literary – context. Resisting the critical orthodoxy of readings focused on biographical and ‘family romance’ narratives about the Shelley-Godwin family, Grande suggested possible ways of thinking through Frankenstein’s reception in 1818. These included setting the dedication to Godwin in the context of the repressive measures enforced by a government wishing to quash continuing debates fostered by 1790s radicalism, and research which shows that in this decade the fiction market was actually dominated by female authorship. This perhaps throws an interesting light on Percy Shelley’s support of and collaboration in the project. Another important consideration was the articles appearing in the same periodicals containing reviews of Frankenstein – those which express anxiety about the melting of the polar ice-caps, and which provide an unwittingly significant frame narrative to the novel.


University of Greenwich campus


Particularly interesting to me was the idea that the death of Princess Charlotte in November 1817 provides a more compelling analogue for the novel’s implicit preoccupation with the dangers of childbirth than Mary Wollstonecraft’s death in 1797. The idea that the changes in the weather throughout Europe following the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815, which created the so-called ‘year without a summer’ in 1816, was in some sense a causal factor of both the composition of Frankenstein and the continuing apocalyptic mood of this post-revolutionary period also offers an interesting point of relation to the burgeoning scholarly interest in eco-criticism and philosophies of matter.

– Merrilees Roberts

Five Questions: Tom Mole on What the Victorians Made of Romanticism

Tom Mole is Reader in English Literature and Director of the Centre for the History of the Book at the University of Edinburgh.  He has published extensively on Byron, Romantic-period celebrity, periodicals and print culture.  His recent books include The Broadview Introduction to Book History and The Broadview Reader in Book History (both with Michelle Levy); he is also a member of the Multigraph Collective, which authored the recently-released Interacting with Print: Elements of Reading in the Era of Print Saturation.  His new book, What the Victorians Made of Romanticism: Material Artifacts, Cultural Practices, and Reception History, which we discuss below, was published by Princeton University Press.

1) How did you come to realise that you wanted to write a book about what the Victorians made of Romanticism?

This project grew out of my previous work on Romanticism and celebrity culture.  One of the things I discovered in that research was that people at the beginning of the nineteenth century often talked about celebrity as a second-rate kind of fame.  Celebrity was a kind of fleeting recognition you received in your own lifetime; true fame was usually posthumous, but it lasted much longer.  Once the idea was established that these two kinds of fame were mutually exclusive, it became easy to assume that people who had been famous in their lifetimes – Byron, Scott – would be forgotten after their deaths.  Lots of people actually said that these poets would be forgotten.  And yet they weren’t.  So my starting question was – why?  What kinds of cultural work were necessary to keep those writers in the public eye?  That question, in turn, led me to others, as I started to uncover what I’ve come to call the web of reception – all the material artefacts and cultural practices that shaped the reception of Romantic writers and their works.

2) In your second chapter, you set what you’re doing in the book against a tradition of ‘punctual historicism’ that privileges moments of composition, first publication and initial reception.  What are the principal kinds of insight that you believe we can gain by turning to longer and more diverse reception histories?

The trouble with punctual historicism, as I see it, is that it focuses on one context to the exclusion of all others.  This can make literature seem like something that’s tied to a particular historical moment – the moment of its production – and that cannot operate outside of that moment.  But one of the things that makes literature special is that it outlives its moment of production.  I don’t want to go back to the old idea that great literature transcends its historical moment and becomes timeless because it appeals to some kind of universal humanity.  Instead, I want a kind of criticism that recognises that works of literature can be reactivated in historical moments beyond the imaginations of their authors, and even that they might make their most important impacts when they are redeployed in new historical, social, political and media contexts.

3) After an initial section on the web of reception, your book mainly focuses on four media through which Victorian culture remade Romantic-period authors and texts: illustrations, sermons, statues and anthologies.  How did you come to select these four media to make your case, and were there others that you explored during the process of composition?

These four strands of the web of reception give me a broad range to explore.  They allow me to take in artefacts and practices, verbal and visual responses to Romanticism, mass-produced books and one-off sculptures.  They allow me to tell stories of remediation, as works produced in one medium were mediated through another to new audiences.  These strands of the web also constitute their own self-aware traditions, so that, for example, anthologies refer back to earlier anthologies and sustain an ongoing debate about what a good anthology should be like.  But I could certainly have divided my material along other lines.  Photography is discussed in relation to both illustrations and statues, but it could have had a section of its own.  There are other strands of the web, and I hope I’ve identified enough that other people will be able to unpick them, taking up where I’ve left off.

4) You argue convincingly that ‘complex acts of selective forgetting’ were as crucial as acts of memory for Victorians making use of Romantic poets and their works.  What, for you, are the most telling things that the Victorians sought to forget, either about the individual poets you examine (Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Scott and Hemans), or about the Romantic-period generations more generally?

It wasn’t surprising to learn that the Victorians found Shelley’s atheism to be a problem. But I was surprised to discover the lengths they went to in their effort to forget it. First, they claimed that his atheism wasn’t important for his poetry.  Second, they went so far as to argue that his poetry carried a Christian message, even if Shelley the man would have denied it.  More generally, commemorating the Romantics meant forgetting many of their political commitments.  This wasn’t just true for radicals like Byron and Shelley, but also for a Tory like Scott – the problem wasn’t a particular set of political views, it was politics per se.  Romantic poets had to leave political commitments behind them as they were absorbed into the canon of English Literature.  Some critics have approached reception history through the lens of cultural memory – but I think that cultural memory studies are only helpful up to point.  We need to grasp that this process is as much about motivated forgetting as it is about remembering.

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

I have a number of articles coming out: one about the connections between celebrity and anonymity in the Romantic period; one about John ‘Walking’ Stewart, the Romantic pedestrian traveller and philosopher; and two about Byron – ‘Byron and the Good Death’ and ‘Byron and the Difficulty of Beginning’.  After that I have some ideas for another book, but it’s really too early to talk about them at the moment.

Applications welcome for new BARS Secretary

The ​Executive Committee of the British Association for Romantic Studies is recruiting a new Secretary.

The Secretary is responsible for the organisation and minuting of face to face and on-line Executive meetings, and serving as the first contact point for the Association. They circulate funding applications to the Executive Committee and liaise with applicants. Members of the Executive Committee are expected to attend three meetings (one at the biennial conference) and contribute to one ‘virtual’ meeting in a two-year cycle.

The post does not carry remuneration but it is an excellent opportunity for an early-career Romanticist to gain valuable experience and skills. 

Informal enquiries about the role should be directed to the outgoing Secretary, Helen Stark ( Applications should be made to the President, Ian Haywood ( and comprise a CV and a statement (up to 300 words) detailing the applicant’s qualification for the role. The start date is negotiable but no later than June 2018. Deadline for applications: 19 Feb 2018.

Call for Papers: Romantic Exchanges, 1760-1840 – 2018 BARS Early Career and Postgraduate Conference

Call for Papers

Romantic Exchanges, 1760-1840

British Association for Romantic Studies Early Career and Postgraduate Conference

University of Glasgow, 15–16 June 2018


Keynote Speakers: Professor Gerard Carruthers (University of Glasgow) and Dr Susan Manly (University of St Andrews)


The BARS Early Career and Postgraduate Conference will explore the concept of exchange in Romantic-period literature and thought. It will bring together postgraduate and early-career researchers whose work addresses this idea from a wide range of perspectives: from the economic exchange of objects and commodities, to the transnational circulation of books and ideas, to neglected connections between writers, texts and contexts.

We invite proposals for themed panels, as well as proposals for the traditional individual twenty-minute paper. Applicants might choose to address some of the following, though we also encourage you to interpret the theme more widely:

  • Commercial exchange: trade, commodities, the literary marketplace, economic value.
  • Epistolary exchange: letters, correspondence, bills of exchange, legal documents.
  • Financial exchange: money, gifts, credit, indebtedness, political economy.
  • Historical exchange: transmission and reception of writers and works across generations.
  • Intellectual exchange: literary networks and coteries, periodicals and print culture, public opinion.
  • International exchange: travel, intercultural encounters, translation, transnational circulation.
  • Interpersonal exchange: influence, collaboration and conversation between writers.

Please send abstracts of up to 250 words for individual papers or 750 words for themed three-person panels (including name and institutional affiliation of all proposed speakers) to by 9 March 2018.

Follow us on Twitter @BARS_PGs

Organisers: Honor Rieley (Glasgow) and Paul Stephens (Oxford)

Download this CfP here.

Call for Papers: Frankenstein – Parable of the Modern Age

Please see below for a Call for Papers from the Inklings Society for Literature and Aesthetics for a September 2018 conference on Frankenstein in Ingolstadt, close to the very building in which Frankenstein – if he had existed – would have attended his medical studies and worked on his creation.

Deadline February 15 2018
Please submit proposals of up to 500 words, along with a short CV to:

1818 · 2018
International Symposium of the Inklings-Society
Ingolstadt, 28th – 29th September 2018


The year 2018 marks the 200th anniversary of a novel that has had a lasting impact on literary fantasy, but also on thinking about ethics and science. The fact that Mary Shelley thought of more than a mere scary story when she anonymously published her novel Frankenstein in 1818 is illustrated by the alternative title: The Modern Prometheus. By referring to the ancient myth of Prometheus, it implies the relationship between creator and creature. One of Shelley’s fundamental literary innovations is to tell the story from the creature’s own point of view over substantial parts of the book. Coming into existence, Frankenstein’s creature at first desires nothing more than to be accepted as a human being in the community of humans. He becomes a danger, because even his own creator refuses to acknowledge him. Shelley deals with an existential question that can be extended from Frankenstein’s fictional laboratory in Ingolstadt to the phantasms and the real sceneries of contemporary history. If This Is a Man one might ask with the title of Primo Levi’s autobiographical report. Is fictional Frankenstein a myth standing for imagination creating monsters and then being afraid of them?

For our conference we are looking for contributions that deal with Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, its adaptations to the present day, and their potential as a model of interpretation for the modern age. The organizers encourage comparative studies that may – among others – reflect upon following topics:

– Battlegrounds: Shelley and Frankenstein between revolution and restoration
– Gods: literary perspectives on and of creators and creatures
– Enlightenment at its limits: abysses between sensibility, rationality and horror
– Poles and laboratories: Topographies of progress between the slaughterhouse and the permafrost
– Vivisections: Interpretations of the Frankenstein parable in later adaptations
– The Last Man: Images of the future between zombie and superhuman

The symposium will take place on September 28 and 29 2018 at the very place where Frankenstein – if he had existed – would have attended his anatomical and medical studies in Ingolstadt around 1800. The building complex now houses the German Medical History Museum.

A limited number of travel allowances might be available for successful applicants.
Lectures should not exceed 25 minutes. Conference languages are English or German.
Contributions will be published in the next issue of the Inklings Yearbook for Literature and Aesthetics.

Please send your abstract of up to 500 words and a short CV until Thursday 15 February  2018.

Entries should be submitted to:
Inklings Society for Literature and Aesthetics
c/o Prof. Dr. Karl R. Kegler

Stephen Copley Research Report: The Lewis Walpole Library

The following report details research by Lauren Nixon, who visited the University of Yale supported by a BARS Stephen Copley Bursary.

Stephen Copley Research Award Report

Lauren Nixon: Researching Henry Seymour Conway at the Lewis Walpole Library


The Stephen Copley Research Award funded my visit to the Lewis Walpole Library, part of the University of Yale, which houses a large collection of materials relating to Horace Walpole (1717-1797) as well as an extensive array of rare books, prints and paintings. Thanks to the award I was able to spend a week in November 2017 studying the correspondence of Henry Seymour Conway (1721-1795), a cousin and friend of Horace Walpole and a British Army Officer who served during the Seven Years War (1756-1763). This research will form a part of my PhD thesis, ‘Conflicting Masculinities: The figure of the soldier in Gothic literature, 1764-1826’, and I hope to have the opportunity to present a snapshot of my findings at a conference this year.

Though significant critical work on exploring gender constructs within the early Gothic novel has been undertaken, very little has focused upon the military and the figure of the soldier. Yet the soldier, be it in the guise of an ancient knight, clansman or chevalier, appears frequently throughout the Gothic fiction of the period. My thesis analyses the ways in which Gothic writers employed the soldier and the military to redefine and reconsider masculinity, and charts shifting perceptions and presentations of the military in the eighteenth century.  As part of this research I am interested in the state of the military and social perception of the soldier during and in the aftermath of the Seven Years War, a conflict which Britain emerged victorious but which would have drastic lasting financial strains. Despite being heralded as heroes during the Seven Years War, the years after saw the private soldier turned loose without pay. Left to poverty and vagrancy, the British soldier of the 1770’s and 1780’s was far from a champion of national vigour and virtue – that is, until the renewed threat of conflict with France after the French Revolution.

In addition to the Gothic novels of authors such as Walpole, Ann Radcliffe, Regina Maria Roche and Mary Shelley, my research also incorporates a number of primary materials such as songs, pamphlets and speeches. During my week in the Lewis Walpole Library, I was able to further this study by analysing Henry Seymour Conway’s correspondence with his brother Francis Seymour Conway, 1st Marquess of Hertford (1718-1794) and three books of his military correspondence charting his service in Europe during the Seven Years War. This not only provided enlightening and intriguing insights into the military profession and the notion of the soldier’s duty during the eighteenth century from unpublished, understudied texts, but also indicated a crucial connection to the Gothic. Walpole and Conway were not just cousins, but close friends and frequent correspondents. In 1764, when Conway was abruptly dismissed from both parliament and his military command after speaking out against the Government on the John Wilkes controversy, Walpole supported Conway both financially and publically. As the Castle of Otranto was published later that same year, I believe there is an argument to be made for Conway’s identity as a soldier and his belief in the soldier’s chivalric masculinity influenced the novel. This is an avenue I had not previously considered, but now aim to pursue in the future.

I am extremely grateful to BARS for granting me the Stephen Copley Research Award, as without it I would not have been able to make the trip. The research I undertook at the Lewis Walpole Library was of great value to my thesis, but also to my development as a researcher. The library itself, located in the town of Farmington, Connecticut (about forty minutes drive from Yale University), has a varied and fascinating collection, including their current exhibition Global Encounters and the Archives: Great Britain’s Empire in the Age of Horace Walpole. 

– Lauren Nixon