News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

Archive for October 2019

BARS Treasurer, BARS Membership Secretary: Invitation for Expressions of Interest

The following message is from Anthony Mandal, BARS President.
     Dear BARS Members,
As announced at the BARS 2019 conference in Nottingham, our Treasurer & Membership Secretary, Dr Jane Moore, is stepping down at the end of this year. Since her election in 2013, she has worked tirelessly over six years marked by a growing membership, an expanding range of funding opportunities and new partnerships with external organisations. On behalf of BARS, the Executive would like to reiterate its thanks to Jane for her diligence and commitment over these years. It has been a pleasure working with her and she will be missed.
The Executive would also like to extend its gratitude to Dr Nicola Lloyd, who has assisted Jane over these years in preparing budgets, updating accounts and monitoring membership records.
In the context of BARS’ continuing expansion and diversification, it has become apparent that the role of Treasurer & Membership Secretary is now an extensive and demanding one. In light of this, the Executive wish to split the role into two separate posts. Such a decoupling would also align BARS with the practices of fellow societies such as BSECS, BAVS and BAMS. Additionally, This new arrangement would provide scope for the elected Officers to develop these roles in new and exciting ways.
Please find attached role descriptions for the Membership Secretary and Treasurer, detailing duties and anticipated activities. 
According to the BARS Constitution, a change of this nature would normally need to be passed at the July BGM with a two-thirds majority vote of Members present. However, circumstances didn’t allow for this at Nottingham this summer, although the proposed changes were announced. In light of this, Members who wish to lodge dissenting views of the proposed change or offer feedback on the decoupled roles should write to the President, Anthony Mandal ( by 14 November 2019.
The Executive wish to invite expressions of interest for the posts of Treasurer and Membership Secretary by 21 November 2019. Informal enquiries about the role should be directed to the outgoing Membership Secretary and Treasurer, Jane Moore ( Applications should be sent to the Secretary, Jennifer Orr (, and should comprise an up-to-date CV and a personal statement (up to 500 words) detailing the applicant’s qualifications for the role.

Please click here to view the document containing role descriptions.

If you have any issues accessing the PDF, please contact BARS Communications Officer Anna Mercer (

Techne Collaborative Doctoral Award 2020

The Keats House Collections: Constructing Romantic Lives and Afterlives

Applications are invited for a fully-funded, three-year PhD to be hosted jointly by Keats House and the Centre for Research in Romanticism at the University of Roehampton, London, UK. The PhD will begin in October 2020. This is an exciting opportunity to work with an internationally famous museum which celebrates the life and works of one of Britain’s greatest poets. Situated in Hampstead, London, Keats House contains many precious artefacts including correspondence, books and portraits. Its non-displayed collections are cared for by London Metropolitan Archives, who work with the House to provide access for researchers and anyone with an interest in Keats and his circle.

The aim of this project is to investigate the ways that a writer’s house and its collections can actively contribute to the cultural memory, reputation and appreciation of a canonical author. The exact topic of the PhD will be decided by the student in conjunction with supervisors, but we expect the development of the collections to provide an outstanding opportunity to put new research insights into practice through actual and virtual curation of the collections. The project provides excellent career opportunities and will provide relevant training in archives, heritage work and digitization. The student will contribute to ‘Keats200’ and the future plans of Keats House and the Keats Foundation.

The supervisory team will be Professor Ian Haywood and Dr. Dustin Frazier Wood (Roehampton) and Rob Shakespeare (Director, Keats House). Further expertise will be available from London Metropolitan Archives and the Keats House team.

Expressions of interest and any other queries: please contact Professor Ian Haywood no later than 1 December 2019:


The 13th Annual Wordsworth Lecture

Wednesday 20 November 2019, 6.00pm, free

The University of London, Chancellor’s Hall, Senate House

Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HU.

Followed by a drinks reception.

Professor Lucy Newlyn – ‘Vital Stream’: Love and Creativity in the Wordsworth Circle, 1802

1802 was an extraordinary year in the Wordsworth circle. William and Dorothy Wordsworth were writing some of their most beautiful poetry and prose, while Coleridge’s marriage was in a state of near collapse. Professor Lucy Newlyn’s new book Vital Stream draws on a detailed knowledge of letters, poems, notebooks and journals to explore their thoughts and feelings about love, family bonds, friendship and creativity at this time. In this lecture, Lucy will read from her collection and describe how she has re-told a famous love story for a modern audience, in sonnet-form.

Professor Lucy Newlyn is an academic and a poet, and was Fellow and Tutor in English at St Edmund Hall, Oxford for 32 years before retiring in 2016. She now lives and writes in Cornwall.

To reserve a place email Hannah Stratton, Development Officer,

Romantic Reimaginings: Victor Victorious? Frankenstein’s Creation as Failed Romantic Revolution

Romantic Reimaginings is a BARS blog series which seeks to explore the ways in which texts of the Romantic era continue to resonate. The blog is curated by Eleanor Bryan. If you would like to publish an article in the series, please email

Today on the blog, Garrett Jeter discusses Frankenstein’s monster as a metaphor for a failed Romantic revolution.

When Victor Frankenstein gazes at his Creature in admiration, then horror, in reality he contemplates a failed revolution. More, he witnesses the failure of a Romantic project. What had fuelled a passion, a glowing vision for radical improvement in human existence, ended in wrecked hopes: “I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but … the beauty of the dream vanished” (43). Victor had employed science to advance a revolution in the human condition, dethroning the tyrannical rule of Nature, and realising a utopia of human happiness. As Peter Vernon notes, he speaks of his experiments “in visionary terms” (278). Fred Randel asserts that Frankenstein (1818) is Shelley’s “astute extension and complication” involving revolution and revolutionary ideas (466). In his estimation, Nature’s imposition of mortality on humanity constitutes oppression. Victor’s creative process and quest set two ideals of Romanticism – revolutionary spirit and the glorifying appreciation of both Nature and beauty – at odds. The result is the debacle of a revolutionary dream. With Frankenstein, Mary Shelley critiques the failure of Romanticism to achieve that vision – namely, the perfection of human existence.

Victor maintains a conflicted attitude toward Nature that undermines his revolutionary dream. She is both wondrous and oppressive. He admires her but wishes to subdue her in her “secret hiding places.” As a Romantic admirer, Victor extols her aesthetic achievements in human appearance and design. He seems “to view creation as a mystery” (Vernon, 274). Nature practices artistry in endowing “beauty” and a “fine form” to mankind (40). This handiwork includes fashioning physical perfection: “strength” (40). A creator himself, Victor lauds Nature as a transcendent creative force. Nature is the perfect Designer and Builder of “the wonders of the eye and brain” (40). His science, much like Romantic humanism, honours Nature in that it desires to recreate – to imitate – and preserve what Nature gives. Certainly, Victor’s Romantic secular humanism admires man as an ideal of Creation, but glowing praise of the human form and construction implies a Romantic exaltation of Nature’s divinity.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, painting by Richard Rothwell

Yet, the same Nature that giveth taketh away; she is both Creator and Destroyer. For this scientific revolutionary, Nature is an obsolete medieval aristocrat, an ancient relic of privilege that tyrannizes man with mortality as an encastled lord. He besieges “fortifications and impediments that seemed to keep human beings from entering the citadel of nature” (25). Victor regards himself as a liberator of man from mortality’s chains. Authors have used the Gothic to “align the author and reader with the supposedly enlightened against the anachronistic and benighted” (Randel, 466). A revolutionary needs an army. His new species is a legion of “soldiers” who will conquer death and overthrow the ancien régime of Nature. A revolutionary desires to liberate the common people: the Creature’s parts originate from the corpses of the anonymous masses.

Victor’s Creature’s body incarnates both the success and failure of the Romantic revolution. At his birth, he is a corporealized locus of Romantic and anti-Romantic principles, his physique contradictorily marrying exaltation and mockery of those ideals. Some features recall those of the Greek heroic ideal: he has proportion, perfectly balanced beauty according to natural measurements; here the Creature honours Nature. In terms of physique, he has “the work of muscles and arteries,” Victor’s gesture to artistry and aesthetics, including the handiwork of Nature herself (43). His hair is a “lustrous black” and his teeth are pearly white, all “luxuriances” (43). In forming his Creation, Victor attempted to emulate aesthetic sensibility, for he “selected the features as beautiful” (43). However, Victor subverts his own glorious revolution with a “horrid contrast” of Romantic ideals and parodic-Romantic (43). The eyes and skin are yellow, the eyes dull, suggesting sickness and lifelessness. Dull, watery eyes mock Romantic optimism and the “vision” of a glowing future, metaphorizing failed foresight. Shrivelled skin opposes beautiful appearances with ugliness. Furthermore, Victor forcibly enlists Nature in his hideous experiment, raiding slaughterhouses; comely Nature participates in a grotesquerie of itself. A crowning Romantic achievement of the noble heroic ideal becomes the corporealized travesty of the Revolutionary New Human.

Frontispiece for Frankenstein, 1831 edition

Victor’s valorization of the body over mind and spirit completes the Romantic failure. Privileging ancient over modern science exacerbates that debacle. In “infus[ing] a spark of being,” Victor employs a mystical, neo-alchemical vivification (43). The terms Victor employs “relate more to alchemy and miracle than they do to science. … [H]e is … like a magus” (Vernon, 275). In Romanticism’s credo, the human being’s soul possesses a divine spark; that ideal valued intuition, spirit, aesthetic sensitivity—transcendent components of mind. However, Victor neglects this aspect. If revolution espouses “progress,” Victor states that modern science encourages him: “I considered the improvement which every day takes place in science and mechanics” (39). His mention of mechanics is notable; it implies privileging exclusively physical design over attention to intellectual and emotional development. He forgets to equip the revolutionary body with the necessary revolutionary mind and soul. Abdullah identifies the crux of this failure in a confused scientific perspective: “In order to go out of the infinite circle of obsolescence and achieve the desired scientific finalization, Frankenstein uses the right means, but with faulty procedure. He uses the means and resources of modern science, but he maintains the attitude of ancient chemists” (47). When that body sprung from the anonymous masses in its parts, the Romantic Victor failed to imbue it with the uplift of spirit and beauty. Instead of elevating humanity, it is destroyed by undeveloped souls and conscience. Mark Hansen argues that Victor’s methods undermine Romanticism: “Shelley highlights the impotence of inspirational science (and romantic poetry) to control its creation; the inspirational leap, she suggests, gives rise to forces which act beyond the poet-scientist’s control” (582). Ironically, Victor’s liberatory dreams turn on themselves. While his vision is to free man to thrive, he also unchains destructive drives. Life and existence are not necessarily synonymous; full life entails the Romantic values of intuition, spirit, and aesthetic appreciation. The alchemical elixir of life contemplates only freedom from disease and mortality, not a dark heart. Perhaps the greatest travesty of Nature lies in this failed emancipation. Narcissistically, Victor sought to liberate humanity from Nature’s restrictive boundaries, but unwittingly removed the restraints on the Creature’s natural primitive impulses. The Romantic appreciation of Nature’s beauty is mocked when he negligently frees her equally ugly side to reign.

In its depiction of a hideous creation’s horrific consequence, Frankenstein critiques Romantic revolutionary ideals and their failure to achieve the radical purpose of overturning an old order for a liberated utopia. Frankenstein articulates our contemporaneous society’s reluctance to shape the ideal individual during periods of radical social change (Abdullah, 48). The Romantic Movement reacted against what it saw as the cold, sterile rationalism of the Enlightenment. What it substituted was spirit, sensitivity, and intuition. However, Victor neglects these in his reanimation. Shelley wrote to promote the liberal version of enlightenment “as the only alternative to the spread of violent revolution” (Randel, 466). Frankenstein’s visions of beauty suffer from a conflicted perspective of Nature as both creator and destroyer, of science as working both within and outside of Nature’s limits; he represents the “ideals of the present  … that modern science should not adhere to certain limits” (Abdullah, 48). In so doing, he both exalts and debases the Movement’s ideals in the Creature’s body. Romantic liberatory drives emancipate the horrific along with the comely. Shelley captures the hellish reality of the Romantic project’s disaster in Victor’s shocked realization; after the beauty of the dream vanishes, “breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. … [The Creature] became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived” (43, 44). In this way, Victor and his Creature both uneasily combine the twin antagonists of the beautiful and the hideous.

Works cited:
Abdullah, Shamil Taha. “The Moulding of the Scientist Individual in Frankenstein.” The Eskişehir Osmangazi Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Dergisi Aralık 19:2 (2018). 37-50.
Hansen, Mark. “Not Thus, after All, Would Life Be Given”: “Technesis”, Technology and the Parody of Romantic Poetics in “Frankenstein” Studies in Romanticism 36:4 (1997). 575-609.
Hindle, Maurice. “Vital Matters: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Romantic Science. Critical Survey 2:1 Science and the Nineteenth Century (1990). 29-35.
López-Varela Azcárate, A. and Saavedra, E. “The Metamorphosis of the Myth of Alquemy in the Romantic Imagination of Mary and Percy B. Shelley.” Icono14, 15:1, 108-127.
Randel, Fred V. “The Political Geography of Horror in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.” ELH (2003), 70:2. 465-491.
Sha, Richard C. “Romantic Skepticism about Scientific Experiment.” The Wordsworth Circle, 46:3 Romanticism and Experiment (2015). 127-131.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 1818. Introd. Diane Johnson. New York: Bantam, 2003.
Vernon, Peter. “Frankenstein: Science and Electricity.”  Études Anglaises (1997), 50:3. 270-83.

Garrett Jeter has a Ph.D. in English literature with a focus on 19th-century Gothic. His dissertative work addressed the Gothic as an intellectual, empirical reader experience. He currently teaches Composition and Literature as an Assistant Professor of English at Georgia Military College in Warner Robins, GA.

Romantic Reimaginings: The Ecstasy of Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Romantic Reimaginings is a BARS blog series which seeks to explore the ways in which texts of the Romantic era continue to resonate. The blog is curated by Eleanor Bryan. If you would like to publish an article in the series, please email

Today on the blog, Adam Neikirk provides a personal account of his work on poetical biographies of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Seamus Perry, author of Coleridge and the Uses of Division (Oxford English Monographs, 1999) once commented to me that his task of writing his contribution for the Oxford Handbook of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Oxford UP, 2009), on ‘Coleridge’s Literary Influence’, felt “a bit like trying to describe an alp”. “The achievement is so various,” writes Perry at the beginning of the article, and the literary influence so diverse, that no generalization here can be useful: there is no single distinctive ‘Coleridgean’ idiom or manner for later poets to appropriate or reject … Neither are the lines of influence always clearly defined: no subsequent ballad can hope to escape the example of ‘The Ancient Mariner’ … (661).

Samuel Taylor Coleridge by Peter Vandyke, 1795

Perry’s alp remark, while more compact, is perhaps even more illuminating of our general attitude to STC: there is something vast and yet indistinct which we attempt to reckon; so much so, that sometimes it is tidier to compare him (or his literary achievements) to an inanimate object, even if it be a stream or what Coleridge himself once called a “spring with the little tiny cone of loose sand ever rising and sinking at the bottom, but its surface without a wrinkle” (CN I, 980).

Virginia Woolf famously did this in her enraptured essay “The Man at the Gate,” in which she described “an immense mass of quivering matter” (getting right at the protean source), a “great swarm” of words, and “pendent drops” which roll down across a pane smeared by weakness, emblematic of the clarity of Coleridge’s mind struggling with its capaciousness to settle upon just one subject, to articulate just one idea. Whenever anyone, be they a critic,[1] another poet,[2] or prose writer,[3] has tried to do more than paint a mere caricature of Coleridge, there is almost always an attendant metaphysical confusion, as if by thinking hard about him, we summon up some kind of meddling or muddling arch-spirit to haunt the willed homology of our thoughts.

We seem to innately turn to poetry or to the possible beginnings of poetry (“describe an alp”) in order to imagine what we consider to be his full fullness. STC is almost himself a kind of writing prompt (“write about the edge of the universe; now write about Coleridge standing at the edge of the universe, scribbling away at what he sees”). My dissertation takes this tendency to veer into the poetic more literally by purporting to offer a “poetical biography” of Coleridge (that is, a series of poems which, taken as a whole, will give the reader the same sense of his life and person as a prose biography). Thus, I have found that Coleridge himself seems to have a poeticizing influence that cannot be ignored and, in fact, should probably be explored. The challenge lies in asking how we can write about Coleridge without reducing him to an image, either of our own values, or to some other set of interlinked values which we think we recognize (we might be tempted to do the same thing with the Alps or some other ‘natural’ object); in other words: how can we articulate him in such a way that he can evolve beyond what he has been seen as, as this or that apostate or champion, and become more like a process of inquiry, “[thriving] on the dynamic of contraries and contradictions, never finding any one church, political party, social theory, or philosophical creed to satisfy his sense of the subtleties of the human condition” (Richards 1962, xviii).

Although this quote is taken from I.A. Richards’ Coleridge on Imagination, it is Kathleen Coburn’s conviction that shines through, an image of a pluralistic Coleridge and a kind of intellectual world citizen who is also a wanderer. It is my conviction that, try as some have, it is not possible to communicate the whole of Coleridge from a critical position only, due to the fact that by the very act of assessing Coleridge, we must occupy a position outside of his life and work and his times, and render our judgment (as he often says) ab extra. Of course, I do not believe in time travel or telepathy, exactly; but believe there is more involved in the uses of poetry as a form of writing than merely versification (and there is a lot to versification as well). This is where the notion of ecstasy as ‘standing outside oneself’ derives from: in reimagining Coleridge through verse, we not only must in some measure put ourselves aside, and step out of ourselves and our times, but we also open ourselves up to Coleridge’s world. His world is the virtual space that is connected to all his writings, as well as to all of the writings about him. It is like the mansion in Bleak House, filled with chambers and twisting hallways, a bit of narcissism in this one, a German hexameter here, a travelogue here, the Lowesian origins[4] of Kubla Khan in a chandelier, the legacy of the “Opus Maximum”[5] leaking into the kitchen sink. The goal is to take the poetic tendencies of prose writings about Coleridge—which I have argued are always there in force—to their logical conclusion: the esemplastic power of poetry itself.

Works Cited:
Beer, John. Coleridge’s Play of Mind. Oxford UP, 2010.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Collected Notebooks I. Princeton UP, 1957.
Perry, Seamus. Coleridge and the Uses of Division. Oxford English Monographs, 1999.
Richards, I.A. Coleridge on Imagination. Routledge & Paul, 1962.
Woolf, Virginia. The Death of the Moth and Other Essays. Heritage Books, 2019.
Wordsworth, William. Lyrical Ballads. Longman, 1815.

[1] John Beer said of Coleridge (in response to Thomas Carlyle’s description of him as “a mass of richest spices putrefied into a dunghill”) that he was the embodiment of “an aporia, a deadlock between equally demanding, yet essentially irreconcilable, forces”—in the case of Coleridge, these forces are the competing discourses of science and the humanities. See John Beer, Coleridge’s Play of Mind, Chapter 16 (“Questioning Closure”).
[2] Wordsworth’s “Castle of Indolence” stanzas come to mind, wherein STC is described simultaneously as an overgrown child, and as a kind of sage to whom “many did … repair” because “he had inventions rare” (ln. 53-54).
[3] Aside from Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens and Henry James (both cited in Woolf’s essay) also attempted portraits of Coleridge in Bleak House and the short story “The Coxon Fund” respectively.
[4] John Livingston Lowes, The Road to Xanadu (1930).
[5] See, for example, Coleridge’s Assertion of Religion: Essays on the Opus Maximum (2006).

Adam Neikirk is a PhD Candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Essex. His dissertation is entitled “Your Very Own Ecstasy.”


Call for Papers – Global Blake: Afterlives in Art, Literature and Music

11-12 September 2020

University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK

In recent years a body of work – including Blake, Modernity and Popular Culture (2007), Blake 2.0: William Blake in Twentieth-Century Art, Music and Culture (2012), William Blake and the Age of Aquarius (2017), William Blake and the Myth of America (2018), and The Reception of William Blake in Europe (2019) – has emerged around the posthumous reception of the artist and poet, William Blake. From almost complete obscurity following his death in 1827, Blake has become one of the most important figures in British cultural life. What is less understood, outside certain pockets such as the USA and Japan, is the significance of Blake elsewhere in the world.

Today, Blake’s global presence cannot be underestimated. The aim of this project is to showcase the wide variety of global ‘Blakes’ (after Morris Eaves’s “On Blakes We Want and Blakes We Don’t”, 1995, and Mike Goode’s “Blakespotting”, 2006) and to provide an overview of the appropriations and rewritings as well as examples, that fall into three categories: art, literature and music. It will examine how Blake’s global audiences have responded to his poetry and art as well as explore what these specific, non-British responses and cultural and social legacies can bring to the study of Blake. What is fascinating about works in art, literature and music inspired by Blake is the fact in which the verbal and the visual in Blake’s art translates into different cultural contexts in unique ways.

Building on The Reception of Blake in the Orient (2006) and The Reception of William Blake’s Reception in Europe (2019), part of the longstanding and successful series The Reception of British and Irish Authors with Elinor Shaffer as series editor, the organisers welcome proposals for papers (20 minutes) and panels (three 20-minute papers). Potential topics include but are not limited to the following:

  • Studies of influence in Literature, such as Salman Rushdie, Ben Okri, Kenzaburo Oe, Pablo Neruda, Walt Whitman, the Beat Generation and the Black Mountain Poets.
  • Blake in translation
  • Postcolonial Blake and Blake in world literatures and arts
  • Blake and the theatre or performance
  • Afterlives in art and exhibition culture, such as Rockwell Kent, Helen Martins, or Subir Hati.
  • Blake and graphic novels and comics
  • Setting Blake to music
  • Reception by Women, People of Colour and LBGT+
  • Blake and the digital age
  • Routes of transmission: Blake and the web, social media, publishing houses, publishing histories and facsimiles
  • Blake and literature written for children
  • Blake and film, such as Jim Jarmusch, Derek Jarman, Hal Hartley
  • Blake scholarship, including T.S. Eliot, Northrop Frye, S. Foster Damon, Leopold Damrosch, Donald Ault, Robert Gleckner, Hazard Adams, Harold Bloom and David Erdman, Mona Wilson and G.E. Bentley Jr.

Abstracts of up to 300 words along with a short biographical note (50 words in the same Word document) should be sent to Sibylle Erle ( and Jason Whittaker ( by 29 February 2020.


The 28th Annual NASSR Conference

Romanticism and Vision

28th Annual Conference of the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (NASSR)

University of Toronto, Ontario on August 6-9, 2020.

For more details Click Here

The organizers of NASSR 2020 invite proposals for papers, panels, and roundtables–from scholars emerging and established, and in all areas of literary, philosophical, cultural, and artistic study–on the theme of “Romanticism and Vision.” In the field of Romanticism, the implications of “vision” as a keyword have changed dramatically over the last half-century, and have expanded to include (for example) the embodied senses, technologies of perception, visual and material culture, and the visual and performing arts. We welcome presentations that explore Romanticism’s connection to vision, the visual, and the visionary, understood in the widest possible sense. Approaches that broaden Romanticism’s disciplinary, geographical, and linguistic scope are especially welcome. In our echoing of the “Vision 2020” and “Beyond 2020” motif currently being deployed in academic, business, and public sectors, we aim to make this year’s conference an opportunity to consider the future of Romanticism as a critical field of humanist study, and to strategize about the role of Romanticism in shaping the future of the university.

Topics may include (but are not limited to):

  • Re-envisioning Romanticism: looking back and looking forward
  • Visions and the visionary: perception, prognostication, projection, speculation, the speculative
  • Ways of looking: reading, conceptualizing, observing, peeping, gazing, categorizing, examining, recognizing and misrecognizing
  • Visual culture and aesthetics: objects of sight, spectacle, the spectacular, the sublime and the beautiful
  • Reading methods and histories: careful, close, distant, surface; plagiarism, copyright law
  • Print culture in its social, theoretical, and physical aspects (e.g. text, design, structure, layout); manuscripts, letters, journals, scrapbooks, books, journals, newspapers
  • The seen and the unseen: noumena, phenomena, the spirit world, apparitions and appearances
  • Romantic iconoclasm and anti-representationalism; ocularcentrism and “the tyranny of the eye”
  • Visual communication: text, numbers, notation (e.g. musical), images, sign language, placards, banners, flags, gestures, hieroglyphs, emblems, insignia
  • Questions of form and representation
  • Fashionable looking: costume, hair, makeup, manner, style, taste, places to see and be seen
  • Visualizing gender and sexuality: identity, performance, politics
  • Visual and scenic arts: sculpture, painting, illustration, graphic satire, print shops, pornography, broadsheets, dioramas, panoramas, architectural and landscape design
  • Theatre and performing arts: set design, lighting, visual effects, costume, body movement, dance, pantomime, attitudes, tableaux vivants
  • Art collection and assessment: museums and curation, connoisseurship, formal and evaluative concerns (e.g. light, color, pattern, shape, scale, proportion)
  • Visualizing class: social hierarchies and signifiers (e.g. clothing, heraldry, pageantry), occupational and economic segregation
  • Instruments of looking: lenses, spectacles, quizzing glasses, spy glasses, Claude glasses, prisms, mirrors, telescopes, microscopes, orreries, windows
  • Forms of illumination and darkness: lightning, electricity, candlelight, lamps, gas light, spotlights, limelight, torches, fireworks; shade, shadow, twilight, gloom, obscurity
  • Religious vision(s): prophecy, revelation, enthusiasm, sermons and hymns, public and private devotion, natural and revealed religion
  • The science of the eye: vision, optics, visual anatomy, medicine, pathology, disability, blindness
  • Data visualization (e.g. land, economy, population studies): mapping, cartography, geography, geolocation, charts, diagrams, categorization, numerical and pictorial statistics
  • Visualizing race: slavery, racism, racialization, minoritization
  • Vision and ecopoetics: seeing nature (vistas, prospects, the picturesque); noticing and reading features of land, water, and sky; watching weather and recognizing climate; the animal gaze
  • Envisioning space and place: the local and the global, home and abroad, the peripheral and transperipheral
  • Envisioning (the ends of) empire: imperialism, colonialism, sites and sights of war; decolonization, indigenization
  • Political and military forecasting, strategy, optics, campaigns, battlegrounds, political theatre
  • Imagining the future of Romanticism; strategizing its work in the humanities, in the university, and in society

Keynote Speakers:
Elizabeth Maddock Dillon (Northeastern University)
Martin Myrone (Tate Britain)

Special Seminar Leaders:
Luisa Calè (Birkbeck, University of London)

Timothy Campbell (University of Chicago)

William H. Galperin (Rutgers University)

Ian Haywood (University of Roehampton)

Grégory Pierrot (University of Connecticut at Stamford)

Padma Rangarajan (University of California, Riverside)

Gillian Russell (University of York)

Sophie Thomas (Ryerson University)



Romantic Reimaginings: Luke Howard, Namer of Clouds

Romantic Reimaginings is a BARS blog series which seeks to explore the ways in which texts of the Romantic era continue to resonate. The blog is curated by Eleanor Bryan. If you would like to publish an article in the series, please email

Today on the blog, Tess Somervell explores the resonance of Luke Howard’s writings on clouds.

A contender for the best English Heritage blue plaque in London is that commemorating the chemist and meteorologist Luke Howard (1772-1864), at 7 Bruce Grove, Tottenham. Howard is listed simply as ‘Namer of Clouds’.

In December 1802, Howard gave a lecture to the Askesian Society called the ‘Essay on Clouds’, published the following year as an essay ‘On the Modification of Clouds’. Previously most meteorologists had held that clouds were too transient and variable to classify. But Howard argued that clouds shifted between a limited number of fundamental forms or ‘modifications’, for which he proposed the Latin nomenclature that we still use today: cumulus, cirrus, stratus, nimbus, and their various combinations.

Luke Howard blue plaque. Photo by Acabashi.

Howard’s theory of cloud formation immediately caught the imaginations of Romantic poets and artists: its influence can be seen in Percy Shelley’s 1820 poem ‘The Cloud’ and in the landscape paintings of John Constable. Howard’s cloud terminology has become so familiar that most people who are familiar with the cloud names aren’t aware that they are Romantic inventions. Over the last century, as well as providing titles for paintings, sculptures, and musical and literary compositions, Howard’s cloud names have been repurposed in product branding: you can buy Cumulus and Nimbus running shoes, or a Cirrus Ironing Board.

Portrait of Howard by John Opie

Howard’s essay on clouds, then, is a Romantic text that has been reimagined in varied ways. But from the first, readers were intrigued as much by the figure of Howard himself as by his work. In 1815, Goethe read a German translation of ‘On the Modification of Clouds’ and was stirred by Howard’s method of giving form and order to formless, boundless nature. He wrote a poem ‘In Honour of Howard’ which, before describing the cloud types themselves, begins with lines celebrating the namer of clouds: ‘Howard gives us with his clearer mind / The gain of lessons new to all mankind… As clouds ascend, are folded, scatter, fall, / Let the world think of thee who taught it all.’ (trans. George Soane and Sir John Bowring). Goethe wanted to know more about the man behind the science. He wrote to the British Foreign Office, requesting ‘even the barest outline of Howard’s life… Thus I could see how such a mind took form, and how it was led to view nature in a natural way, give itself over to her, recognize her laws…’ (trans. Douglas Miller) He was delighted when this request was met with a letter from Howard himself, containing a brief autobiography, which Goethe then translated into German and had published.

In recent decades, artists and writers have continued to reimagine Howard as a figure and a personality. Many are just as if not more romanticising in their depiction of Howard as is Goethe’s poem. In his excellent book, Clouds: Nature and Culture, Richard Hamblyn (also Howard’s biographer) lists several works of art that have taken Howard the man, rather than the clouds-as-understood-by-Howard, for their theme. These include Lavinia Greenlaw’s poem ‘What We Can See of the Sky Has Fallen’ (from A World Where News Travelled Slowly) and Carol Ann Duffy’s poem ‘Luke Howard, Namer of Clouds’ (from The Bees). It is telling that both Greenlaw’s and Duffy’s poems draw more from Howard’s memoir letter to Goethe (and also, in Greenlaw’s case, an account of him written by his granddaughter), than from the essay on clouds. In his letter, Howard recalls watching the weather from his bedroom at school, especially the strange weather of 1783 and a dramatic meteor: ‘We were roused from our beds by the intense light it afforded’. Greenlaw echoes but reworks this as ‘A childhood of freak weather – roused from your bed / To see the night lit by a meteor’. Duffy’s account is even more Romantic: ‘Smitten / he stared up evermore; saw / a meteor’s fiery spurt’.

One of the most recent reimaginings of Howard is ‘Namer of Clouds’, the title song of the debut album by folk singer-songwriter Kitty Macfarlane. The song begins with that same image of Howard as a child: ‘A small boy stands / Face pressed to the glass…’ The first half of ‘Namer of Clouds’ celebrates, as did Goethe, Howard’s ability to name and give meaning to an elusive sky. However, in the second half, a note of disturbance enters. ‘How did we become so bold,’ Macfarlane asks, to ‘seize the heavens, claim control’? These lines reverberate to the song’s close, so that the refrain ‘namer of clouds’ assumes an ambivalence. Is naming an act of inspired imagination, as for Goethe, an expression of love, as for Duffy, or is it, as Macfarlane suggests, a way of claiming ownership that may be arrogant, even violent?

It is amusing that Howard has been reimagined so often as a Romantic lone visionary, more closely resembling Wordsworth’s image of Newton as ‘a mind forever / Voyaging through strange seas of thought, alone’ than Howard’s portrait of himself in the letter to Goethe: ‘a man of domestic habits and very happy in my family and a few friends’. But romanticising Howard at least reminds us of the human creativity, and the emotional and cultural currents, that underlie seemingly objective scientific theories and terms, in the Romantic period and in any age. Imagining and reimagining the ‘Namer of Clouds’ is a way into thinking about the ethics of observing, analysing, and labelling the natural world.

Works Cited:
– Duffy, Carol Ann. The Bees. Picador, 2011.
– Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Scientific Studies. Ed. and trans. Douglas Miller. Vol. 12 of Collected Works. Princeton University Press, 1996.
– Greenlaw, Lavinia. A World Where News Travelled Slowly. Faber and Faber, 1997.
– Hamblyn, Richard. Clouds: Nature and Culture. Reaktion Books, 2017.
– Macfarlane, Kitty. Namer of Clouds. Navigator Records, 2018.
– Scott, Douglas. Luke Howard (1772-1864): His Correspondence with Goethe and His Continental Journey of 1816. William Sessions Ltd, 1976.

Tess Somervell is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Leeds. Her current project is titled ‘Georgic Climates: Writing the Weather in Eighteenth-Century Poetry’.

Midlands Romantic Seminar

20th November, 6.30-8.00pm

University of Derby

Professor Tim Fulford and Dr Andrew Lacey

We are delighted to announce that the Midlands Romantic Seminar is being re-launched on 20th November at the University of Derby.  Our first event will welcome Professor Tim Fulford and Dr Andrew Lacey, two members of the research team involved with the Davy Letters Project, who will each be speaking about their recent research on the chemist and poet Humphry Davy.

Event Details:


Room OL1, Kedleston Road Campus

Professor Tim Fulford (De MOntfort University), ‘From Derbyshire to Vesuvius:Humphry Davy and the Midlands Enlightenment’

Dr Andrew Lacy (Lancaster University), ‘Brothers in Science: John and Humphry Davy’

There will be a Wine Reception afterwards. All are very welcome! Please do pass this information on to anyone who you think would be interested in attending.


There will be two further Midlands Romantic Seminars during the year 2019/20: watch this space for more details and follow us on Twitter @RomanticMidland. If you have any proposals for future seminars or events, please contact Dr Paul Whickman and Dr Erin Lafford at either or


BARS/Wordsworth Trust Early Career Fellowship 2020

We would like to invite Early Career Researchers who are not in permanent employment to apply for a one-month residential Fellowship with the Wordsworth Trust at Grasmere.

The Wordsworth Trust is centred around Dove Cottage, the Wordsworths’ home between 1799 and 1808, where Wordsworth wrote most of his greatest poetry and Dorothy wrote her Grasmere journals. The Trust’s collection comprises over 68,000 books, manuscripts and works of art, and at its heart remains the poetry, prose and letters of William and Dorothy.

This Fellowship will take place during one of the most exciting and transformative times in the Wordsworth Trust’s history. Our major HLF-funded project ‘Reimagining Wordsworth’ is due for completion in time to celebrate Wordsworth’s 250th birthday on 7 April 2020. ‘Reimagining Wordsworth’ seeks to raise awareness and change perceptions of Wordsworth’s life and work, furthering his own wish for his poetry to help people ‘to see, to think and feel’.

To help achieve this, we are transforming our site (which will include a redesigned and extended museum, a new learning centre, a newly interpreted Dove Cottage and two new outdoor spaces) alongside an extensive programme of engagement and activities in Cumbria and beyond.

The Wordsworth Trust is also committed to embracing the Creative Case for Diversity in all that we do. We believe that by welcoming a wide range of influences, practices and perspectives, we can better understand our own collection and the stories it can tell, thereby enriching our public programmes. The purpose of this Fellowship is to help us achieve just that – to examine our collection from a different perspective, and to use that perspective and knowledge to help an audience of your choice better understand and engage with Wordsworth’s life and work. We are open to discussing what form this might take (a workshop, or online activity, for example) and what would work best for the audience you choose. The impact of this Fellowship will be substantial, not only in helping us shape the direction of our public programmes, but it also has the potential to foster positive in change the way people see Wordsworth, the world and themselves.

You will receive advice and training from the Collections and Learning team, led by Jeff Cowton (Curator and Head of Learning). The activity could be delivered within a workshop setting, or online – or whatever you think works best for the audience in question. There will also be opportunities to develop your own research.

We welcome applications from anyone whose research interests will help us to re-imagine Wordsworth and to embrace the Creative Case for Diversity. We particularly welcome applications from candidates that are under-represented, including candidates from low-income backgrounds, and/or candidates with disabilities (we are happy to discuss any reasonable adjustments that we can make).

The Fellowship provides on-site self-catering accommodation for one month; we would prefer the residency to take place between January and March 2019. The Fellowship also provides £100 towards travel expenses. All applicants must be members of BARS.

Application procedure: on no more than two sides of A4, provide your name, email contact details, institutional affiliation (if relevant), current employment status, a brief biographical note, a description of your PhD thesis, details of the proposed research and audience based activity, and preferred period of residence (from November 2019 to the end of March 2020). The successful applicant will show enthusiasm for audience engagement and for exploring Wordsworth’s life and work in new ways, demonstrated in initial ideas of their proposed project.

Send the application as an attached Word file to Jeff Cowton ( and  Dr Jennifer Orr ( no later than 31 October 2019. The successful candidate will be informed within two weeks.