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News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

Archive for September 2018

Call for Papers – Keats’s Odes at 200: A One-Day Bicentenary Conference (1819-2019)

CFP: Keats’s Odes at 200: A One-Day Bicentenary Conference (1819-2019)

1 February 2019, University of Caen (France)

Plenary speaker : Stanley Plumly (University of Maryland). Acclaimed poet and author of Posthumous Keats: A Personal Biography (Norton, 2008), The Immortal Evening: A Legendary Dinner with Keats, Wordsworth, and Lamb (Norton, 2014), winner of the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism, and Elegy Landscapes: Constable and Turner and the Intimate Sublime (Norton, 2018).

In the spring of 1819, living in the recently built Wentworth Place on the edge of Hampstead Heath, John Keats wrote five of the six poems now commonly referred to as the ‘Great Odes’, a group of texts whose hyper-canonicity can sometimes make it difficult to appreciate the precarious, unlikely circumstances under which they came into being – let alone to say anything new about them today. Over the course of the last two centuries, countless readers have found themselves enthralled by, and moved to comment on, Keats’s Ode to PsycheOde to a NightingaleOde on a Grecian UrnOde on MelancholyOde on Indolence, and ode To Autumn (composed in September 1819), generating a vast body of scholarly criticism, as well as a number of reuses or reimaginings of the odes in popular culture. Yet, not unlike the Hellenic urn which permanently remains, in its cold silence, ‘a friend to man’, the magic of the odes remains undiminished after all these years – and the depth and originality of Keats’s texts remain, miraculously, to be accounted for, still ‘teas[ing] us out of thought’. It is the aim of this one-day bicentenary conference not only to celebrate but also to continue to probe, question, and rethink the nature of Keats’s achievement in writing, at the height of his young artistic powers, these six ‘Great Odes’; to reexamine their past uses, and speculate on their lives to come, while teasing out (and, no less fruitfully, being teased by) their ostensible timelessness.

Speakers are invited to approach the odes from any number of angles, including (but not limited to) questions concerning: the composition and editing of the texts (their manuscript drafts, their multiple versions in print and digitization…); the critical reception of the odes in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries (in Britain, America, France, and elsewhere); Keats’s sources of inspiration, and of rupture; the odes and other forms of art (sculpture, music, painting); reuses and reimaginings of the odes in popular culture; their modern adaptations (cinema, fiction), etc.

Please send title of paper and abstract (300 words), with a brief CV, to Jeremy Elprin (jeremy.elprin@unicaen.fr) and Caroline Bertonèche (caroline.bertoneche@univ-grenoble-alpes.fr) by 31 October 2018.

Conference Report: ‘Character to Caricature, 1660-1850’

A report from the conference held at Northumbria University on 3 September 2018 (part-funded by BARS). Call for papers and programme here.

‘Character to Caricature, 1660-1850’: by Jenny Buckley

‘Character to Caricature’ was an interdisciplinary conference held at the Institute for Humanities at Northumbria University on 3 September, 2018. Bringing together scholars from across the UK, the conference desired to build upon current understandings of character. More particularly, it sought to explore character’s wider narratological implications and transmedial qualities in the long eighteenth century. With ‘character’ open to a range of definitions – from that which is branded or stamped, to styles of writing, distinctive personalities, moral and mental qualities, and status or official rank – given our particular historical moment, the way in which we understand the credibility and believability of character seems due for a re-evaluation.

To begin to grapple with these questions, the conference opened with a session on ‘Performing Parodies’, before featuring sessions on ‘Situating the Satirical’ and ‘Curating Character’. First to present was Montana Davies-Shuck (University of Northumbria) whose paper addressed ‘Fops, Monkeys, and Caricature’. She discussed the ways English gentlemen ape French fashions, becoming foppish in their pretensions and mannerisms and paid particular attention to caricatures of Louis Bourbon as ‘Louis Baboon.’ Next was David Barrow (University of York), who explored the way King Alfred was appropriated in the eighteenth-century as a way to respond to negative perceptions of the house of Hanover.

Characters and Caricaturas – William Hogarth (1743)

Refreshed after morning coffee, Adam James Smith (York St. John University) took us into the world of Tory satire, considering ‘The Partisan Hailing of “The Satirist” in the work of Joseph Addison and Alexander Pope’. Smith addressed the ways in which, for those in power, partisan hailing became a mode of simultaneously punching upwards and downwards. Continuing our exploration of periodicals, Mary Chadwick (University of Huddersfield) introduced us to the fascinating world of manuscript magazines. Focussing on the Breakfast Courant, she explored the use of animals in periodicals, paying particular attention to Welsh goats, Russian bears, and Addison and Steele’s lion. Olivia Ferguson (University of Edinburgh) delved into Walter Scott’s extensive collection of caricatures, considering the way in which only the author can genuinely illustrate their own work.

Following lunch, Ben Jackson (QMUL) opened with his paper ‘The Thrill of the Chaise: Gendering the Phaeton in Literary Satirical Culture, 1770-1820’. Jackson addressed the way in which carriage ownership revealed a man’s character with phaeton’s being the sign of the man ready to marry, while the possession of a carriage indicates that he has settled down. Fiona Milne (University of York) considered the way character was used in the courtroom in her paper on character defence and allegory in William Hone’s trials of 1817. Concluding the session, Hannah Moss (University of Sheffield) entered the world of visual and verbal caricatures of female artistic endeavour, challenging traditional (and also Austen’s) definition of the attributes that were required for a woman to be characterised as truly accomplished.

The keynote session was delivered by Dr Elaine McGirr (University of Bristol). Titled ‘Uniquely Typical; Typically Unique: a meditation on the paradox of character’, McGirr’s paper explored characters from Robinson Crusoe to Boris Johnson, considered the penchant for modern panel shows and the blurring of the boundary between politicians and celebrities. Her paper offered an opportunity for a wider reflection on the ways in which understanding the history of character and the ensuing cult of personality is a concern that is rooted in the eighteenth century but which inflects our culture today.

The event was an opportunity to engage with a range of new approaches to thinking about character in the long eighteenth century, and to build upon the influential studies by Deidre Lynch, Lisa Freeman, Jane Moody, and Julie Park. We are very grateful to BARS for supporting this conference, and for the financial assistance that enabled us to offer bursaries to postgraduate and ECR speakers.

‘Character to Caricature’ conference Twitter.

‘Dorothy Wordsworth, Mountaineering Pioneer’ by Joanna Taylor

A special post on the BARS Blog today to celebrate the new exhibition ‘This Girl Did: Dorothy Wordsworth and Women’s Mountaineering’ at Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Trust. Joanna Taylor presents an edited version of her recent talk at the Trust, ‘Dorothy Wordsworth, Mountaineering Pioneer’.

On October 7 1818, Dorothy Wordsworth and her friend Mary Barker ascended England’s highest mountain: Scafell Pike. Wordsworth’s account of the feat is among the earliest records of a recreational ascent of the mountain – and it’s the earliest written by a woman.

Wordsworth’s and Barker’s climb of Scafell Pike is notable for the daring it displays: this was not simply a mountain climb, but a rebellious act that opened up the mountain – and mountaineering – for successive generations throughout the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries. More than that, reading Wordsworth’s account today suggests new ways of understanding the mountains that go beyond tales of sporting prowess: as Wordsworth knew, examining the details of a mountainside can be as rewarding as the view from the summit.

 

Dorothy Wordsworth’s ‘irregular habits’

 

Alex Jakob-Whitworth’s logo design for The Wordsworth Trust’s current exhibition, ‘This Girl Did: Dorothy Wordsworth and Women’s Mountaineering’.

 

Walking was an important part of the daily routine in the Wordsworth household, but they were well aware – and proud of – the fact that their commitment to almost daily extensive walks was unusual. In September 1800, for instance, we find Wordsworth explaining to Jane Marshall that the frequency with which they walked – and the distances they travelled – was one of the household’s ‘irregular’ habits. The Wordsworth siblings walked together most days for the best part of four decades; Thomas De Quincey estimated that William walked between 175,000 and 180,000 miles over his lifetime, and Dorothy can’t have fallen far short of that. Wordsworth bragged about the speed with which she could walk, and how little fatigued she was afterwards, until her mid-fifties.

Walking was not something Wordsworth took for granted. Both at the start and end of her life, Wordsworth knew what it was like to not be able – or allowed – to walk. In her late teens and early twenties – before she moved in with her brother in 1795 – Wordsworth’s walks were restricted by her relatives’ views on social decorum. For instance, she defended herself against her aunt’s disapproval of her ‘rambling about the country on foot’ by writing that:

I rather thought it would give my friends pleasure to hear that I had courage to make use of the strength with which nature has endowed me, when it not only procured me infinitely more pleasure than I should have received from sitting in a post-chaise – but was also the means of saving me at least thirty shillings.

Wordsworth was justifiably proud of her walking prowess – in 1818, when she was 46, she boasted to Sara Coleridge that she could ‘walk sixteen miles in four hours and three quarters, with short rests between, on a blustering cold day, without having felt any fatigue’. That’s an impressive pace of a little under four miles an hour around the Lake District hills!

But the climb up Scafell Pike with Mary Barker was perhaps Wordsworth’s most significant walking achievement. The two women initially only intended on climbing Ash Course – but, on reaching that point, they decided to push on to the Pike, since ‘three parts up that Mountain’. Although the distance turns out to be ‘greater than it had appeared’, still their ‘courage did not fail’.

 

One of the two surviving fair copies of the letter to William Johnson, in which Wordsworth describes the ascent of Scafell Pike. Used with permission from The Wordsworth Trust.

 

The letter in which Wordsworth describes this feat draws attention to different ways of reading the mountain. In one moment she describes a landscape that stretches out for miles from the summit on which she stands. But at the next, when she looks down, Dorothy realises that though the summit seemed lifeless at first glance, in fact beauty could be found clinging to the rocks if one looked closely enough:

I ought to have described the last part of our ascent to Scaw Fell pike. There, not a blade of grass was to be seen – hardly a cushion of moss, & that was parched & brown; and only growing rarely between the huge blocks & stones which cover the summit & lie in heaps all round to a great distance, like Skeletons or bones of the earth not wanted at the creation, & here left to be covered with never-dying lichens, which the Clouds and dews nourish; and adorn with colours of the most vivid and exquisite beauty, and endless in variety (quoted with permission from The Wordsworth Trust).

In focusing on these details close to hand, rather than rhapsodising on the distant prospect, Dorothy anticipates writers like Nan Shepherd: these women propose an alternative to more familiar accounts of mountaineering exploits that emphasise a victory over a feminised Mother Nature when the climber conquers the summit. Instead, Dorothy recognises that paying close attention reveals unexpected features even on a barren mountaintop.

 

Dorothy’s Legacy

 

A map from William Wordsworth’s Guide to the District of the Lakes showing the Scafell massif.  Used with permission from The Wordsworth Trust.

 

Wordsworth’s account of the ascent of Scafell Pike was later included – without attribution, possibly at her own request – in William Wordsworth’s Guide to the District of the Lakes. The implication was that it was William who had undertaken the ascent. As a result, Wordsworth’s legacy in climbing Scafell Pike is blurred into William’s, and many of the people who followed in her footsteps were unaware that it was her they were emulating.

Her ambitious walking practices established women’s walking as an accepted practice in the Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey families. Robert Southey, for instance, describes the delight which his daughter, Edith, and niece, Sara Coleridge, took from a young age in scrambling about on the fells around their home in Keswick, and Sara herself – not without some self-mockery – labelled them ‘expert mountaineers’.

But Wordsworth’s influence was much wider reaching. Harriet Martineau – a friend of the Wordsworths after she moved to Ambleside in the 1840s – seems not to have been aware that it was Dorothy who made the ascent, but her own account of an ascent of Scafell Pike closely replicates Wordsworth’s. Two decades later, Eliza Lynn Linton – the first salaried female journalist in Britain, though she’s perhaps more (in)famous for her notorious Girl of the Period essays – described Scafell’s intimidating appearance on the approach to it in her guidebook, The Lake Country, in 1865:

Scawfell rose up, and looked bigger and more formidable than ever. As we proceeded he grew, and our work seemed only beginning: all the climbing we have had mere child’s play to what was to come.

It did not put her off: Lynn Linton spent the night on the mountain. Lynn Linton’s description indicates what an extraordinary feat this climb was for Wordsworth to undertake at a moment when such ambitious routes were considered well beyond a woman’s capability. Wordsworth – like Martineau, Lynn Linton and countless others after her – made it clear that walking and other forms of mountaineering were as much for women as for men. Today, Wordsworth continues to offer a vision of the mountains that invites us all to look at, and move through, them in new ways.

 

This post is adapted from a talk given at The Wordsworth Trust on 1 September 2018; you can find a live video of the full paper here. ‘This Girl Did: Dorothy Wordsworth and Women’s Mountaineering’ opens at The Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere, on Saturday 1 September and runs until Sunday 23 December. A film about recreating of Dorothy’s climb up Scafell Pike will premiere at the Kendal Mountain Festival on Sunday 18 November; more details and tickets will be available here.