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Archive for March 2018

The 47th Wordsworth Summer Conference, 2018

The Wordsworth Conference Foundation announces
The 47th Wordsworth Summer Conference

Monday 6 August to Thursday 16 August
Rydal Hall, Cumbria
Call for Papers and Bursary Applications

 

Keynote Lectures, 2018

Gillian Beer     Madeleine Callaghan     Philip Connell     Jeff Cowton

David Duff     Jessica Fay     Mina Gorji

Theresa M. Kelley     Stacey McDowell     Julian North

Kimiyo Ogawa     Seamus Perry     Adam Potkay

Charles Rzepka     Michael Rossington

 

The 2018 Wordsworth Summer Conference at elegant Rydal Hall will be the 47th since Richard Wordsworth’s inaugural conference gathering in 1970. This year we continue the format pioneered by Richard, mingling lectures, papers and lively academic debate with energetic fell walking, picturesque rambles, and excursions to places of Wordsworthian and Romantic interest. Upper and Lower Rydal Falls are within the grounds of the Hall, and Rydal Mount – Wordsworth’s home from 1813 until 1850 – is a two-minute walk away. In the evenings participants relax with poetry and music in the bar at Rydal Hall, wander through the terraced gardens, or stroll down to Rydal water for a moonlight swim …

By courtesy of the Wordsworth Trust, our opening night will include a reception at the Wordsworth Museum followed by a candle light visit to Dove Cottage. There will be a separate opportunity to explore the treasures of the Wordsworth Trust’s collections with the curator Jeff Cowton, and an evening visit to Wordsworth’s Rydal Mount and garden.

In 2018 our excursions are likely to include the picturesque coastal village St Bees, Ravenglass, and Muncaster Castle.  High points for energetic fell walkers are likely to include Crinkle Crags, Sheffield Pike, Great End, and Glaramara by the spectacular waterfall at Taylor Ghyll Force.

Format and Costs: The 2018 Summer Conference is in two parts of 5 days each, with a changeover day on Saturday 11 August. The registration fee, which includes excursions, is the same as  last year despite some increases in costs. This offers exceptional value at £250 for ten days and £175 for five days. For postgraduates, we offer a generous range of bursary funds (see below) to reduce rates for attendance. All participants will take all meals at Rydal Hall.  Full Board at Rydal Hall Diocesan Conference Centre is available, and at Rydal Hall Youth Centre on the same site. Non-resident rates and a day rate are also available. For estimates of 2018 accommodation and related costs please click here.

For additional information about the Wordsworth Summer Conference, including the call for papers, and terms and conditions, please visit their website.

And please visit their blog.

Plus their Facebook page.

‘Navigating the REF’, Nineteenth-Century Matters Training Day for PGRs and ECRs

10:00-17:00, Saturday 19 May 2018
Main Building, Cardiff University

This free training day is designed to help late-stage postgraduate researchers and early-career academics working within nineteenth-century studies to navigate the requirements of the Research Excellence Framework. The morning sessions are an opportunity to hear different perspectives on REF 2021 followed by a Q&A, the aim being to demystify the decision-making process and expectations for early-career scholars, particularly in relation to the job market.
  • The REF: What You Need to Know – Ann Heilmann (Cardiff University)
  • The REF from an ECR Perspective – Charlotte Mathieson (University of Surrey)
  • Thinking about Impact – Julia Thomas (Cardiff University)
The afternoon workshop sessions – ‘REF Submissions: How Are They Assessed?’ and ‘Thinking Through Your Own Submission’ – will provide participants with the chance to discuss the practicalities of the REF and apply this to their own research activities.
Some preparation before the training day will be required so that attendees can make the most of the afternoon activities. Further information regarding what this entails will be sent to those who register.

 

Please register here.

 

Registration closes Friday 20 April. Please note that places are limited and will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. Lunch included.

 

If you have any questions about this event, please email Clare Stainthorp.

‘Navigating the REF’ is sponsored by the British Association for Romantic Studies and the British Association for Victorian Studies. It is an outcome of the joint Nineteenth-Century Matters fellowship which is an initiative to support postdoctoral researchers without institutional affiliation or permanent academic employment. In 2017-18, the position entails a Visiting Fellowship hosted by Cardiff University.

 

 

Report from BARS/Wordsworth Trust Early Career Fellow 2018

Dr Emily Bell is a BARS/Wordsworth Trust Fellow, living in Grasmere and collaborating with the Wordsworth Trust, researching the relationship between Wordsworth and the village community. You can follow her on Twitter (@EmilyJLB).

 

                               Thou art pleased,

Pleased with thy crags and woody steeps, thy Lake,

Its one green island and its winding shores;

The multitude of little rocky hills,

Thy Church and cottages of mountain stone

Clustered like stars some few, but single most,

And lurking dimly in their shy retreats,

Or glancing at each other cheerful looks

Like separated stars with clouds between.

(‘Home at Grasmere’, lines 117-25)

 

From March to early April I am living on Wordsworth’s doorstep in Grasmere, with a view of Dove Cottage out of my window. Behind my house, villagers and tourists alike go to watch the sun set over the lake, with its ‘one green island and its winding shores’. Every day, rural and international communities come together in this beautiful part of the world. The Wordsworth Trust has its own lively community of trainees and staff, turning Dove Cottage into a welcoming spot of warmth in the changeable March weather.

 

 

During my residency here, I am exploring this idea of ‘community’ and, specifically, neighbourliness. I am doing this by interviewing people who live in the village, collecting oral history about their relationship with the Wordsworth Trust and Dove Cottage itself, and examining how that might have changed over time. The aim is to bring oral testimony together with archival research focused on exploring Wordsworth’s own relationships with his neighbours in the village, the history of the Trust, and the development of the museum. I am also interested in comparing other eighteenth and nineteenth-century authors, how they engaged with the people around them, and the influence these relationships may have had on their posthumous reputations.

Wordsworth’s appreciation of the natural beauty of the Lake District, and Grasmere particularly, has been well studied and celebrated. What I am probing are his day-to-day interactions with the people of the area with whom, for example, he volunteered for the local regiment in 1803 (terrifying poor Mary and Dorothy). So far I have delved into newspaper scrapbooks and other items in the collections held by the Trust in the museum and the Jerwood Centre. I have also had insightful conversations with the incredibly friendly staff of the Trust and people in Grasmere, who have shared anecdotes from their friends and family, as well as their own experiences living alongside Dove Cottage.

 

 

The outcome of this fellowship will, I hope, be a rich account of the Trust’s position in the community that will feed into the 2020 ‘Reimagining Wordsworth’ project. It will draw attention to the importance of the local to Wordsworth and Dove Cottage, complement what we already know about his poetry with evidence of his interactions with specific individuals, analyse contemporary perceptions to expose the basis of Wordsworth’s reputation in the local community today, and provide opportunities to enhance and expand this relationship ahead of Wordsworth’s 250th birthday.

A bit more about Emily and her research background:

Emily completed her PhD at the University of York in 2017, and she is an Associate of the Department of English and Related Literature and the Centre for Lifelong Learning at York. Her thesis, ‘Changing Representations of Charles Dickens, 1857-1939’, examined Dickensian biographical discourse and its role in the author’s literary legacy, moving from Dickens’s speeches and journalism to biographies and reminiscences, commemorative acts by friends and family, and the formation of literary societies. Her on-going research centres on the role of communities and circles in literary identity formation in the nineteenth century, during authors’ lives and afterwards.

BARS President’s Report 2018

From BARS President Ian Haywood:

I am delighted to be President of BARS at such an exciting time. We are a very busy and resourceful organisation, striving to fulfil our mission of promoting Romantic studies in the UK and beyond. Our financial situation is healthy which means we can support and expand existing initiatives and develop new methods of supporting our membership. Since I became President in 2015, we have made a big push to support Early Career scholars as we recognise that this can be a difficult stage in the career path. We have therefore introduced three new awards: the Wordsworth Trust Fellowships, the Nineteenth Century Matters Fellowship (in association with BAVS), and the Scottish Romanticism Research award. I would like to expand these schemes and introduce new ones, perhaps in new national or regional centres, and/or focused on public engagement and impact, and/or linking up with international partners. I invite all members to submit ideas for new awards with clearly defined outcomes that will benefit the holders: please send ideas to the Executive via the BARS Secretary (email address on the BARS website).

Another major new development is the launch of ERA, European Romanticisms in Association. We are proud to have been a driving force behind this network, particularly in light of Brexit. I am delighted to report that ERA has been awarded a Network grant by the Arts and Humanities Research Council for a two-year programme of events (2018-20) entitled ‘Dreaming Europe’ (http://www.euromanticism.org). ERA currently hosts a BARS European Engagement Fellow and there are plans for this to continue. Congratulations to BARS Past President Nicola Watson (Open University) and her team.

Our international biennial conference in 2017, ‘Romantic Improvement’, was held at York University’s Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies and it was a great success; my thanks to the local team, in particular Jim Watt, Jon Mee and Catriona Kennedy. The next conference, ‘Romantic Facts and Fantasies’, will be held at the University of Nottingham in 2019. I am delighted to announce that the 2021 conference will be jointly organised with the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (NASSR) and will be at Edge Hill University, Liverpool.

At the York conference, the BARS First Book Prize was awarded to Julia Carlson (Cincinnati) for her monograph, Romantic Marks and Measures (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016). I want to thank Professor Nigel Leask (Glasgow) for his sterling work as Chair of the sub-committee for 2015-17. We are delighted that the new Chair for 2017-19 is Professor Claire Connolly (University College Cork). The next round of the book prize will begin soon: if you wish to nominate a book, please contact Professor Connolly: claireconnolly@ucc.ie.

I have tried to ensure that all members of the Executive have a specific role which they have been asked to develop with allocated resources. This model seems to be working well and the total number of Executive members (elected and co-opted) is at a record high, a reflection of the amount of activity we are generating. I have increased the budget for our current schemes: the Copley bursaries, the regular subventions for conferences, and the BARS First Book award. The ECR conference continues to be a great success. This year it will be held in Glasgow, 15-16 June: the topic is ‘Romantic Exchanges’.

Thanks to Professor Anthony Mandal (Cardiff), we now have BARS postcards, to be used for publicity purposes (all members are welcome to a bunch! Please contact the Secretary).

These achievements would not have been possible without the commitment and enthusiasm of the BARS Executive Committee (see the website for full list). I want to pay particular tribute to members who have recently left or will soon be leaving the committee. Dr Susan Valladares (Oxford), formerly the editor of the BARS Review, stepped down in 2017 after several years of dedicated and meticulous work. We are very pleased that Professor Mark Sandy (Durham) has taken her place. Dr Helen Stark (University College London) is stepping down as Secretary after doing this job outstandingly well since 2013; Helen’s place will be taken by Dr Jennifer Orr (Newcastle); again, we are delighted to welcome this new colleague.

Finally, I would like to report another BARS success: one of our nominees for the 2021 REF (Research Excellence Framework), Professor Simon Kövesi (Oxford Brookes), has been appointed as an assessor for the English Language and Literature panel. We wish Simon all the best in this important role and we are delighted that Romanticism has a voice on the panel.

I look forward to another year of exciting and productive work.

Ian Haywood, University of Roehampton

March 2018

The full text of this report can be downloaded here: BARS President’s Report 2018.

 

On This Day in 1818: Shelley approaches Italy

Prof Alan Weinberg (University of South Africa) has produced this post to mark 200 years since P B Shelley’s journey to Italy – a crucial turning point in his life, and his writing. He and Mary Shelley had left England on 12 March 1818 accompanied by Claire Clairmont, three children, and two female servants. Percy Shelley, who was 25 years old at the time of the journey, was never to return and would drown off the coast of Tuscany four years later in 1822.

On this day in 1818, just before his arrival in Italy, he writes from Lyons, France, to Leigh Hunt, in an affectionate letter full of hope:

 

Lyons, March 22  1818.––

My dear friend,

Why did you not wake me the night before we left England, you & Marianne  I take this as rather an unkind piece of kindness in you, but which in consideration of the 600 miles between us I forgive. ––

We have journeyed towards the spring that has been hastening to meet us from the South–– & though our weather was at first abominable, we have now warm sunny days & soft winds & a sky of deep azure, the most serene I ever saw. The heat in this city to day, is like that of London in the middle of summer–  My spirits & health sympathise in the change. Indeed before I left London my spirits were as feeble as my health – and I had demands on them which I found  difficult to supply.

I have read Foliage–– With most of the poems I was already familiar. What a delightful poem the Nymphs is, & especially the second part. It is truly poetical in the intense & emphatic sense of the word. If 600 miles were not between us, I should say what pity that glib is not omitted & that the poem is not as faultless as it is beautiful! But for fear I should spoil your next poem I will not let slip a word upon the subject––––  Give my love to Marianne & her sister & tell Marianne she defrauded me of a kiss by not waking me when she went away, & that as I have no better mode of conveying it I must take the best, & ask you to pay the debt. When shall I see you all again ? O, that it might b<e> in Italy! I confess that the thought of how long we may be divided make<s> me very melancholy:– Adieu –my d<ear> friends––  write soon–  ever most affectionately Yours
PBS.

[Shelley & his Circle VI: 523-4.]

 

Prof. Weinberg contextualises Shelley in Italy for us:

In the first 8 months of their residence in Italy (April to December 1818) the Shelleys crossed the length and breadth of Italy (excluding Sicily) and resided in or stopped by at a great number of places including (more importantly, and in something like chronological sequence), Turin, Milan, Como, Pisa, Livorno, Bagni di Lucca, Florence, Padua, Este, Venice, Ferrara, Bologna, Spoleto, Terni, Rome, Naples and its environs including Vesuvius. Visits were usually accompanied by sightseeing in regard to architecture and landscape or visits to palaces, prisons or picture galleries.  There were periods of calm and some of frenetic travelling by carriage in circumstances which would be a trial for the modern tourist. The Shelleys had few acquaintances and had two small children to look after, William and Clara, as well as assist with Claire and Byron’s daughter, Allegra, and in September, endured the severe illness and loss of their daughter Clara. It is not generally recognized that in these early months, Shelley wrote only one major poem, and it is one of his neglected Italianate pieces in iambic tetrameter and trimeter, Lines Written Among the Euganean Hills. It was largely inspired by Petrarch. Several other compositions, like Prometheus Unbound and ‘Julian and Maddalo’, were begun and only completed in 1819, or were eventually aborted, like ‘Prince Athanase’, a redaction of which appeared in press copy in 1819 as ‘Athanase: A Fragment’ (but was not published).  One prose essay,  ‘Discourse on the Manners of the Ancient Greeks’ was finished in draft, the translation from the Symposium nearly completed, and a few other prose works, such as a Preface to The Banquet (Symposium), ‘The Coliseum’ (begun December 1818) and ‘A Future State’, were left unfinished in manuscript.

Shelley’s residence in Italy is a turning point in his career: it follows a period of intense creativity which saw the composition of AlastorMont BlancHymn to Intellectual Beauty, Laon and Cythna (re-named The Revolt of Islam), Rosalind and Helen, as well as a History of a Six Weeks’ Tour, prefaces, reviews, political pamphlets, essays (like the sketch ‘On Christianity’ (more specifically Christ’s teachings), and brief, mostly unfinished political or philosophical sketches. Laon and Cythna was meant to be the crowning piece in which Shelley encompassed much of what he understood to be his task as poet and seer, and was written in the belief that he was suffering from consumption and thus had not long to live. He put his heart and soul into this composition but it didn’t win much favour. The early residence in Italy was clearly a period of settling in, of recuperation, of reconfiguration, and of adventure, but Shelley also felt the frustration of a loss of creativity. He began a play on ‘Tasso’ but soon abandoned it, turning to Greek translation as a means of compensation – but producing an outstandingly eloquent and fluent rendering of The Symposium which had a formative influence on subsequent works. While 1818 has little to show for itself in terms of finished products, it was effectively a period of conception and regeneration, and of great receptivity to the classical world as it suggested itself in the remains of antiquity and in the emulation of classical styles in modern architecture. In this regard Shelley was a classicist and not a romanticist, and was always aiming to reach beyond Christianity, much as he admired the ethics of Jesus, whom he regarded as a reformer and not a divine redeemer, and whose tortured representation in Italian painting, and that of his followers, filled him with anguish and disbelief. It was pagan and classical Italy that largely inspired Shelley, and this made an immediate impact in scenes which reminded him of Virgil’s eclogues or the famed scenes at Delphi and Mt Helicon.

Percy Bysshe Shelley in the Baths of Caracalla, Joseph Severn 1845

 

Conference: John Keats in Scotland

A conference taking place in May organised by Prof Nicholas Roe:

 

John Keats in Scotland

To celebrate the bicentenary of John Keats’s epic walking tour of Scotland in summer 1818, the School of English at the University of St Andrews will hold a two-day symposium on Friday 11 and Saturday 12 May.

Confirmed speakers: John Barnard, Jeffrey Cox, Katie Garner, Hrileena Ghosh, Nigel Leask, Meiko O’Halloran, Nicholas Roe, Richard Marggraf Turley, Carol Kyros Walker, Sarah Wootton.

Non-speaking participants are welcome to attend: to reserve a place, please e-mail to Dr. Katie Garner at klg7@st-andrews.ac.uk.

The full programme will be circulated in April.

 

John Keats by William Hilton, after Joseph Severn. Oil on canvas, based on a work of circa 1822. National Portrait Gallery.

 

Five Questions: Simon Kövesi on John Clare: Nature, Criticism and History

Simon Kövesi is Professor and Head of the Department of English and Modern Languages at Oxford Brookes University.  He tweets as @kovesi1.  He has published widely on contemporary fiction (with a particular focus on the Scottish novelist James Kelman), on working-class literature and on the relationship between writing and the natural world.  At the heart of his work, though, is his abiding interest in and love for John Clare, on whom he has published numerous essays and book chapters.  He is the editor of the John Clare Society Journal and the co-editor (with Scott McEathron) of New Essays on John Clare: Poetry, Culture and Community (Cambridge University Press, 2015).  He has recently led a high-profile campaign to highlight the threat posed to Clare’s archives by ongoing local authority cuts.  His passion for Clare’s work has also led to his being one of the very few academics to have sparred with a straw bear on the silver screen.  Below, we discuss his most recent monograph, John Clare: Nature, Criticism and History, which was published by Palgrave in September 2017.

1) What first drew you to John Clare?

I was an undergrad on an exchange year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  It was clear to me then that the world needed my dreadful poetry, and (boldly) I showed it to a Professor of Romanticism, the brilliant Robert Kirkpatrick, who took pity on me, and kindly invited me to an evening poetry group at his house.  I’d written this nostalgic thing about watching a fox doing a wee – I suppose I was missing seeing them rifling through the bins of suburban London (to this day I’ve never actually seen a fox doing a wee).  Nevertheless, making the best of it, Kirkpatrick read us Clare’s ‘The Vixen’.  I’d never known of anything poetical about a fox and I’d never read any nature poetry of such precise clarity, all propelled by sharp, delicate sympathy, yet beneath no ostensible organising ego.  I stopped writing poetry straight away, and thankfully.  That was in 1993 – 200 years after Clare was born – and so it happened to be a great year for high profile celebrations and publications about his work.  When I returned to Glasgow for my final year, I became obsessed.  More often than not, I read Clare instead of revising for finals.  Early on, the rich pickings of his nature poetry were extended for me by the stylisations and politics of his (seemingly) wild language; by the capitalisation of land he occasionally protests about; by his diverse insights into folk culture and local traditions; by his unique prose; by his inversions of accepted valuations of nature; by his lyrical verse (which can be nothing but ego of course); by his playfulness, his cheekiness, his political lubricity, his isolation.  Like so many, I was haunted by the sad, depleted, often-romanticised story of his life.  At the start, however, it was his late love poetry that grabbed me most of all and that was the focus of my PhD with John Goodridge.

2) In your new book, you contend that ‘nature, feeling, fidelity persist as limitations on readings of Clare’, tracing the longstanding currency of characterisations such as ‘down-to-earth’ that serve to place and constrain him.  To what extent do you think that modern criticism of Clare is still shaped by the social and critical conditions of his original reception?

Those terms come from very early comments on his work.  I argue in the book that while they have been blown apart by the best of Clare criticism, they have been latently reaffirmed by the polemical accommodation of Clare to the agendas of contemporary green criticism especially, particularly because criticism can have a deaf ear, or a ham-shaped fist, when it comes to class.  The old model of Clare as ‘honest John’ does harm to the way we read his work – many have said so but it still creeps back.  Many critics reveal discomfort in the way they deal with Clare’s class; often, this manifests through treating his work as simple documentary evidence of landscaped fact, or a kind of social realism – as if he’s not capable of slippery, literary sophistication.  Partly this is Clare’s own fault – he often romanticises his agency out of the window – he denies his art and artfulness even in the manner in which he frames its conception.

In the book I also explore the ways critical awkwardness with Clare’s class can sometimes be downright insensitivity.  Calling Clare ‘homeless’ for example, is an historical nonsense, and yet it has such traction in Clare criticism, as it works well for a prevalent version of his relationship to land, or his supposed full-spectrum alienation.  But ‘homeless’ is now a dead metaphor in Clare, and if anything serves to stop us thinking about the subtlety and variety of his versions of ‘home’, and his constant, learned attention to people without one.  Perhaps because of its origins in conservation, but also because of founding tensions with the left and industrially-born socialism, ecocriticism has never been great on class; this is compounded in Clare studies by an understandable confluence between the sentimentalising of Clare’s location with the turn to the local in moralising green criticism – which of course many green critics worry about.

From all kinds of politicised critical approaches, you can track tendencies to reduce Clare to a kind of naïve holy fool whose knees and identity wobbled if he walked beyond the bounds of his parish – and that modelling (down to Clare himself of course – or at least partially so) has been entrenched by the blunter end of green criticism, but also by the crass end of historicism which can only see straightforward autobiography in a poem like ‘The Flitting’ (there’s certainly a reductive channel of class prejudice in assuming every time Clare writes ‘I’ it is uncomplicatedly and ‘honestly’ him).  Clare said himself in one of his most unbelievable and deliberately fragmentary poems – the wilfully fraudulent ‘Child Harold’ – that his life had been ‘one chain of contradictions’.  He did wear a green suit to go dining with his new London Magazine friends who all wore ‘sable’ – but a rich friend bought it for him.  Clare did mostly live in Helpston throughout his life, but that doesn’t mean he wanted to stay there.  Clare did write himself into a tradition of anti-enclosure poems, which have convinced everyone of their veracity, but we should not forget that he worked in enclosure gangs for many years, wrote his best nature poetry after enclosure, and continued to do so after he’d left Helpston – and by no means all of it is looking back to a pre-enclosure Edenic childhood – not at all.  Clare did thresh in a barn from the age of 8 or 9 – but by his own account, he suffered deep and lasting trauma over it.  He did that labour alongside his father so that he could help pay for his schooling, not because he lusted after labour.  He fantasised about having a domestic servant – we ignore these elements if we want honest John back.

It’s indicative of the romanticisation of Clare that no one has ever asked, before me, why he was able to find work in lime kilns.  Why were there so many lime kilns across the countryside in the Romantic period?  The answer is obvious: lime was pretty much the only material cheaply available that could help drain, fertilise and regulate the acidity of newly-enclosed land.  Lime was the main tool of enclosure and Clare helped make it, just before his launch as a poet; indeed the lime-kiln money was supposed to go towards funding his first publication of poetry.  It doesn’t mean he is a hypocrite – and I don’t care about it morally at all – it just means he is not a green messiah.  If we judge him, we have to be completely unhistorical to do so.  He was a poor labourer, and working in enclosure gangs or slaking lime in a kiln was decent money, if offering extremely low social status.  The only thing he seems to have worried about when working the enclosure gangs was the ‘wild and irregular habits’ of the itinerant men he was working with: not the ‘wild and irregular’ countryside they were enclosing.  I think critics need to start incorporating the moral messiness of Clare into their valuation of him – else we’re just forging self-affirming narratives and forgetting the contingencies of a life lived.  We don’t think any the less of the poems Wordsworth and Coleridge wrote, just because Lyrical Ballads was designed to fund a trip to Germany.  Clare is robust enough for these paradoxes, these tensions and multiplicities, to surface.  Too much criticism of Clare is sentimental and patronising – delicate, even.

3) In seeking to move beyond that echoing phrase from By Our Selves – ‘John Clare was a minor nature poet who went mad’ – which occluded aspects of Clare’s life and art do you think should be emphasised more strongly?

We need to think about what we do when we emphasise Clare’s ‘lack’ of education.  What did he gain by not having a ‘formal education’?  What forms of knowledge and routes to understanding did he have open to him that other poets ‘lacked’?  Could Byron play the fiddle like Clare?  What does Byron’s poetry lack because he didn’t go to the pub and listen to storytellers spinning folk narratives?  It’s as if academics just don’t know what to do with writers who have never been to a lecture, and so we flock to the poets who have.  People like us, right?  What we tend to do is express astonishment at writers like Clare and move awkwardly on: that’s the history of the reception of working-class writing in academia in a nutshell.  Clare’s education was incredibly complicated – it needs much more attention.

In the book, I talk about ‘place’ being not just a liberation for Clare – it was not merely a ‘positive’ platform for his locally ‘botanising’ focus.  Place was also a narrowing problem: being placed, knowing his place, keeping to his place, being regarded as ‘down to earth’ – the organicist impulse is still prevalent in contemporary criticism and you can see it in the accident of phrasing sometimes.  Clare talks about feeling like a donkey tied to a post in his relation to Helpston.  Too often we turn what was a severe limitation on the life of this poorest of poets, conflate it with a certain mood in some poems, and construct a magical green or folksily happy commitment to place, particularity and soil.  This move can be dangerously patronising, dismissive of material suffering, and can mean we ignore Clare’s constant changes of mood and temperament – let alone his shifting desires.  To shift all of this into blanket ‘alienation’ is also to obfuscate things.  Clare loved London, he loved travelling to the largest seasonal body of water in England (Whittlesea Mere – drained by one of his patron’s sons when Clare was in an asylum), he loved going beyond the ‘edge of the orison’ – he wasn’t ruined by doing so.  And he loved Helpston too – but he resented its parochialness, the lack of anyone to talk to about books, and wanted it to move closer to London.  There is a funny early poem where he speculates what his fantasy home will be like one day, when he’s made it, and while the house he builds for himself is determinedly rural, someone else will be doing the labour and chores while he writes, and there’s no family around to bother him, just a maidservant.  He hated being poor and not being able to buy the books he wanted, or food for his kids, or travel.  It is amazing we have to say this, but the fact is Clare criticism ignores it.  The fraudulent Reverend of a quack who ran Clare’s asylum – Matthew Allen – thought in 1840 that the only reason Clare needed help was what we would now call ‘anxiety’ over money coupled with a poor diet across decades.

There’s no romance in poverty, rural or urban, just as there’s little romance in hand-work or pre-mechanised agriculture – pre- or post-enclosure – though Clare does manage to squeeze a good deal of emotive nostalgia out of it, for sure.  He can be sentimental and conservative, as much as he can cry for reform and protest against the monied and the greedy.  His politics are as slippery as his accounts of grammar: in this mobility he is the most Byronic of poets.  Like all good poets, Clare is an unstable subject, and we need to be aware of that much more – and stop reducing a very long writing career to a moment of fury, passion or creative depression.  I think some of his greatest poems are not about enclosure or nature: they are about human poverty, about social mores, about status, ignorance and prejudice.  And to answer the question directly, Clare could have been a great satirist but nobody encouraged him, for example, when he wrote ‘The Parish’, while his sonnet parodying Wordsworth’s use of enjambment is brilliant, and his reworking of Byron by way of poetical masculinist empowerment is as foul as can be.  He also writes light comic verse of which John Hamilton Reynolds and Thomas Hood would have been proud.  He is so knowingly playful in rummaging amongst others’ styles and techniques – a sociable yet solitary magpie – stealing shiny bits – lining his own poetic nest.

4) Which of Clare’s works do you think are particularly ripe for reconsideration from a broader range of perspectives?  Which texts would you select for an undergraduate seminar to try and give a balanced sense of his value and achievements?

In Clare studies this is a sore point.  There just are not enough editions of his verse – particularly cheap ones or selections with good scholarly notes.  There are some good collections but they do not yet amount to easy access to the full range of his work.  I hope scholars reading this blog will one day produce their own editions of Clare, according to a wide variety of editing principles and presentational styles.  Imagine the possibilities of a manuscript-based facsimile edition online, with all sorts of reading texts (as the Cornell Wordsworth called them), of all the variants – which included (rather than demoted) lifetime published texts too?  That’s got to be the future of editing Clare.  To answer the question, I think Clare’s work offering social commentary does not get enough attention: sometimes it is satire, sometimes straight narrative, sometimes polemic, and some prose moments are also unique in the period; the letters can be really pointed in this area.  We have good engagement with the nature poetry, for sure, though I think more emphasis on the work of the early 1830s would reveal some real gems – and I think it is in this period that Clare’s writing about nature becomes super-sophisticated.  Though most commentary would have it that after leaving Helpston he loses his mojo, the poetic evidence just does not support it.

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

A big travelling exhibition of Clare portraits, original manuscripts, books and ephemera, to kick off in January 2020, 200 years after the publication of Poems Descriptive.  It’s a good time to take Clare on the road, I hope – just need to locate some funding.  I’ve just signed a contract with Palgrave to co-write a book with Bridget Keegan entitled The Occupations of Labour: Labouring-Class Writers, 1800–1900; this will group what shoemaker Chartist poet James Dacres Devlin (one of my personal favourites) called ‘hand-producer poets’ into their occupations for thematic consideration.  With Erin Lafford, I am putting together a collection of new Clare essays to propose to a publisher soon.  The longer-term book I’ve been chewing on for a while now is to be called British Literature and Poverty: 1800–2000, and the reading for that is opening up all sorts of new avenues for me.  It’s probably too big a project to ever finish, but I’m happy to give it a go.  Before any of that, I’ve got to finish an essay on poverty in the Romantic period – especially in agricultural improvement debates – and another on Clare’s reading, and rewriting, of Byron.

The BARS Blog: Call for Contributors  

The British Association for Romantic Studies (BARS) is looking for contributors to write for our blog: an online collection of news/notices and longer posts, all of which celebrate and promote research in Romanticism. Would you like to contribute to a) The ‘Archive Spotlight’ series or b) The ‘On This Day’ series?

Please get in touch by sending a short pitch of what your post will include, and a short bio. Final posts should be around 1000 words.

Further details:
‘Archive Spotlight’:

Posts should be a blog about your experience of using an archive. You could use the space to discuss one or two things of interest you found at the archive, perhaps things that are intriguing, but that you cannot fit into your thesis, book, or other written work.

The post could also be an account of the archive itself as well as some things you’ve studied there that relate to the Romantic Period (1770-1830). You could focus more on the latter if you prefer. Previous examples can be found here.

‘On This Day’:
This is a Romantic bicentenary series that has been running since July 2015. We have been inspired to create this series following the popularity on Twitter of the ‘OnThisDay’ hashtag. We want to present a catalogue of #OnThisDay blog posts that relate to events happening exactly 200 years ago. The premise of the blog is to give readers a snapshot of 1818 in 2018 (and on into 2019 and beyond!), relevant to that month or even that particular day. The series is also a part of #Romantics200.

The best way to get a feel of this series is to read our excellent posts from past contributors. You can see all the posts here.

If you have any questions or would like to make an informal enquiry about writing for us, please get in touch with Anna Mercer (BARS Blog Editor): mercerannam@gmail.com

Stephen Copley Award Report: Eleanor Bryan, The British Library

A report from Eleanor Bryan (PhD candidate, University of Lincoln) who was awarded a BARS Stephen Copley Award.

See the full list of 2018 winners here.

 

Eleanor Bryan – Stephen Copley Award Report

The Stephen Copley Award funded my visit to the British Library Doctoral Open day on Monday 19th March. The purpose of the open day was to acquaint new PhD students with the variety of resources that the British Library offers, and to explain the best ways of using its services and navigating its collections, both physically and online. This particular open day took an interdisciplinary approach to the British Library’s nineteenth-century collections and, as such, provided a holistic overview of a plethora of potential resources. Presentations were given by a host of librarians, all with different areas of expertise, who provided information on the nineteenth-century printed collections, modern archives, and manuscript collections.

My research focuses on dramatic adaptations of Gothic novels, namely Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I was therefore particularly interested in the British Ephemera collections, which include playbills, prints, and drawings. The other doctoral students and I were able to peruse some of the historical manuscripts. We were shown a variety of eclectic ephemera and librarians demonstrated how to find specific items and then subsequently source other more obscure items that may be connected but not the result of an initial search.

My day at the British Library far exceeded my expectations, and I would recommend their Doctoral Open Days to anyone and everyone, regardless of discipline, who is in the first few months of their PhD. I now feel much more confident in my own skills as a researcher and feel more equipped to seek out relevant material that will be of use to me. I am therefore extremely grateful to the BARS Stephen Copley Award for funding my visit as it will prove to be of great value to my thesis.