Summer of 1816: Creativity and Turmoil (24-27 June, University of Sheffield)
Conference report by Carly Stevenson
On an aptly stormy weekend in June, the University of Sheffield hosted an international conference commemorating the bicentenary of the infamous summer of 1816, when P.B. Shelley, Mary Godwin (later Shelley), Lord Byron, John Polidori and Claire Claremont gathered to share ghost stories at the Villa Diodati in Geneva. Organised by Professor Angela Wright and Dr Madeleine Callaghan, this conference celebrated the extraordinary literary output of this circle with a diverse array of papers from scholars in the fields of Romanticism, Gothic, eighteenth and nineteenth century studies.
On the Friday, keynote speakers Jerrold Hogle, Jane Stabler and Michael O’Neill lead a series of masterclasses for postgraduates and early careers researchers before the conference began in full the following day. After the first day of papers, Michael O’Neill gave a plenary lecture that examined the ways in which Byron and the Shelleys influenced each other in 1816-17. Afterwards, delegates headed over to 99 Mary Street for the conference dinner and drinks. This event was followed by another full day of parallel panels on the Sunday, rounded off with Jane Stabler’s poignant plenary lecture on Mary Shelley’s transcriptions of Byron’s poems. After Stabler’s keynote, the winners of the ‘Creativity and Turmoil’ ghost story competition were announced. Delegates were then given some free time to explore the city before the final day of the conference. After the last panel on Monday morning, Jerrold Hogle delivered his closing plenary lecture on the ‘Gothic Image’ as manifested in the ‘hideous progenies’ produced from the Diodati gathering in 1816. Hogle’s lecture crystallised a recurring theme of this conference: the fraught yet undeniably interwoven relationship between Gothic and Romantic literature, which the Diodati party were instrumental in shaping.
Finally, the remaining delegates set out on a conference excursion to Castleton to see the ancient ‘Devil’s Arse’ Peak Cavern that Byron had ventured into during his youth. Delegates had the opportunity to glimpse the Peak District countryside and take in the sights before heading back into Sheffield for farewells.
The overall atmosphere at the ‘Summer of 1816’ conference was one of excitement and encouragement. The high calibre of papers provoked stimulating discussions that will undoubtedly go on to bear richer fruit in the form of further research and it was a fantastic opportunity for global scholars to come together and share their enthusiasm for this small circle of writers. In light of recent political turmoil, this conference could not have happened at a better time.
Carly Stevenson is a PhD candidate at the University of Sheffield researching Gothic Keats.