Special Issue on Ecologies of the Atlantic Archipelago
Seán Hewitt & Anna Pilz
Ellen Hutchins, Fucus ovalis, collected on Whiddy Island, 1805, Trinity College Dublin
Studies of the intertwined histories of Great Britain, Ireland, and their associated islands have given rise to the notion of ‘archipelagic studies’. As in John Kerrigan’s seminal work Archipelagic English, the cover of which shows the familiar image of Great Britain and Ireland on a map tilted, reaching out from mainland Europe and into the Atlantic, this involves a new perspective on geography, identity, and the relations between nations. Central to this field of criticism are concerns regarding land and the natural world.
Nineteenth-century developments resulted in dramatic shifts within the archipelago, with attending drastically-altered human-environment relationships. There were numerous instances of famine, subsistence crises, demographic change, and altered pressures on land and systems of tenure. Connective technologies of the modern world spread to sparsely populated regions, complicating notions of centre and periphery as well as tradition and modernity. Unprecedented infrastructural developments via roads and railway networks connected rural and urban geographies, resulting in increased tourist traffic; the expansion of ports further enhanced trading networks with Europe and beyond; and the spread of the colonial project led to various productions of knowledge of the natural world.
Alongside the British project, various nationalisms looked to the natural world as a way of arguing for racial, cultural and geographical distinction. Islands and coastlines, the ‘untouched’ places, were loaded with radical potential. The folk revivals, and the attention paid to local cultures, had political as well as ecological consequences. A pan-Celtic cultural movement sought to offer new visions of the natural world which might alter, supplement or correct Anglo-Saxon narratives. Thus, nature became a temporal category within the imperial project.
Within the archipelago, the ‘Celtic’ nations contributed both to the larger British scientific project and to individual, national attempts to consolidate a vision of cultural and geographical identity through nature. While civic science and natural history bloomed alongside folklore collection, the boundary between scientific and literary writing remained productively porous. Networks of knowledge exchange proliferated.
In ecocritical studies which respond to the notion of the Anthropocene, an emphasis has been placed on the transnational capacity of environmental crisis to break down, and spill over, national borders. Likewise, ways of seeing the world which were posited as outmoded, belated, or ‘primitive’ by the rationalising project of nineteenth-century Europe are being re-examined and explored as beneficial to reconsidering human/non-human relations in the twenty-first century. Thus, animism, pantheism and vitalism have all recently been posited as radical correctives to Western thought.
This issue aims to bring into focus interconnection, idiosyncrasy, and the ways in which national boundaries were simultaneously made porous and more distinct by writers and artists who sought to engage with the new visions of nature which the nineteenth-century offered. How does ecological disaster prompt shifts in artistic production? How were ecological relationships linked with colonialism and its legacies withinthe archipelago? How does contested religious thought and identity affect relationships with the natural world? How are natural histories and national histories bound and interlinked? Literary considerations of the archipelagic environment, and archipelagic ecological relationships, are varied and multitudinous.
To focus on nineteenth-century contexts of archipelagic ecologies enables the tracing of connections and the identification of shifts in perception that might not easily align with literary periodisation of Romantic, Victorian and early Modernist writing. New developments in ecocriticism, from new materialisms to notions of the Anthropocene, shed light on the innovations of nineteenth-century cultural responses to environmental shifts and scientific work.
ARTICLES MIGHT FOCUS ON (BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO):
urban environments and their cultural productions
folk revival and ‘local’ literature
discoveries of archipelagic environments
environments in children’s literature
natural history and education
writing natural history
nature and regional languages / dialects
writing environmental catastrophe
nature, environment, and genre
poetics of place
nature writing and regional environments
literary geographies and environment
travel writing and environment
nature as a museum of the past
nature and its regenerative potentials
colonial networks within and outside the archipelago
periodical culture, agricultural reform, and environmentalism
We invite 600-800-word abstracts for a 31 January 2020 deadline. The commissioned articles (of no longer than 9,000 words, inclusive of footnotes) will be due on 31 August 2020. All article submissions will undergo peer review and may include illustrations with copyright to be secured by the author (colour for online publication and black and white for print).
Benjamin Robert Haydon Manuscripts at Houghton Library and Christ’s Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem at the Athenaeum of Ohio / Mount St. Mary’s Seminary
This June, thanks to a BARS Stephen Copley Research Award, I was able to visit the United States to access the collection of Houghton Library at Harvard University. My PhD thesis concerns the historical painter Benjamin Robert Haydon’s influence on the poetry and poetics of John Keats, and I devoted my time at Harvard mostly to consulting the painter’s (unpublished) materials that are specifically related to the poet’s life and writings.
Houghton Library, Harvard University (author’s photograph)
Among the rare materials that I accessed at Harvard, I was particularly pleased to be able to consult Haydon’s unpublished original draft for his Autobiography. Haydon started this draft, which he called ‘Vita’, sometime around 1815 and is assumed to have abandoned it after 1825. Resumed as late as 1839, his Autobiography was published posthumously in Tom Taylor’s Life of Benjamin Robert Haydon (1853). That is, Haydon worked on the ‘Vita’ while many of the Romantic writers were still alive. Somewhat disordered and even incomplete as it is, this voluminous manuscript (which counts more than 250 pages) not only bespeaks the vigour with which Haydon composed it, but also provides us with a version of his literary self-portrait, drawn from a perspective quite significantly different from that in the published Autobiography. Keats scholarship has previously paid very little attention to the ‘Vita’, but I believe that a close examination of this manuscript will shed new light on our understanding of the literary and artistic milieu of the Romantic period, especially in the Keats circle.
At Harvard, I was also pleased to be able to consult Haydon’s transcriptions of Keats’s letters. Most of them are addressed to Haydon himself, the rest to Keats’s brother Tom. Since all of these letters have been already published, Haydon’s transcriptions themselves are not that remarkable. Yet what makes this material singular is that Haydon ‘annotated’ some of the letters. Judging from its content, it is most plausible that Haydon sent them to Richard Monckton Milnes (later Lord Houghton) to assist him in preparing for his first biography of Keats. In fact, Milnes’s 1848 biography of the poet does seem to rely on some of Haydon’s annotations. Yet Milnes’s book does not reproduce all of Haydon’s commentary, including that on Wordsworth’s (in)famous comment on Keats’s recitation of Endymion as a ‘pretty piece of Paganism’. It now turns out that, along with the ‘Vita’, Haydon’s annotated transcriptions of Keats’s letters will indeed be indispensable for exploring their relationship in my thesis.
The Athenaeum of Ohio / Mount St. Mary’s Seminary (author’s photograph)
Leaving Boston (Harvard), my research trip in the US ended by seeing Haydon’s large painting Christ’s Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem at the Athenaeum of Ohio / Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Cincinnati. This Catholic seminary is located a long way from the airport, and it took more than an hour by bus even from the city centre to get there. But it was a rewarding experience for me to come Cincinnati to see this painting. Visitors to this seminary can now see Haydon’s painting hung awe-inspiringly in its darksome atrium. Christ’s Entry is grand both in its scale (size) and in its conception (subject). An often vainglorious artist, Haydon modelled the face of Christ on his own, and surrounded the figure with his own contemporaries including Keats, Wordsworth, and Lamb; and the painted scene served him, virtually, as a symposium of the geniuses that gathered to commemorate his own imminent ‘entry’ into the history of English art. After all, he was then about to—but failed to—gain far-flung fame as a great historical painter. However neglected Haydon is nowadays, Christ’s Entry is still, I believe, his masterpiece. And those nearly life-sized figures in the canvas also seemed to induce me to feel as if I were a part of the picture, and to envisage further in my mind the animated scene when those luminaries—Keats, Wordsworth, Lamb, and others—enjoyed ‘the immortal dinner’ in front of this picture in late December 1817.
Benjamin Robert Haydon, Christ’s Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem (1820; photo provided by: The Athenaeum of Ohio / Mount St. Mary’s Seminary of the West in Cincinnati, Ohio U.S.A.)
I am greatly indebted to BARS for awarding me the research grant, without which this archival trip would not have been possible. And I am also very grateful to the librarians and staff at Houghton Library and the Athenaeum of Ohio / Mount St. Mary’s Seminary for their permission to allow me to take a close look at the rare materials in their collections. Thanks to all those concerned, my research trip went very well, and will undoubtedly contribute significantly to the development of my thesis.