This round, we had 19 nominations from publishers and BARS members, 12 from UK presses, the remainder from USA and Canada. As judges, we were really impressed by the high quality of the work submitted, which says a lot about the flourishing state of Romantic Studies. There was a lot of animated discussion and argument before the panel made its final decisions. Although it was hard work, we got a lot of pleasure from reading these books. Congratulations to all concerned, especially to the winner and runners up!
– Nigel Leask (Chair) (Glasgow); Nicola J. Watson (Open University); Anthony Mandal (Cardiff); Helen Stark (QMUL)
Julia S. Carlson, Romantic Marks and Measures: Wordsworth’s Poetry in Fields of Print (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).
Romantic Marks and Measures is a rich and evocative work of scholarship, building on a variety of historical materials – maps, travel guides, elocutionary and prosodic studies, and literary works – to argue the case for a cartopoetic reading of Wordsworth’s poetry and his adoption of blank verse as a turning point (in particular, in the Lyrical Ballads, The Excursion and The Prelude). As well offering a fresh reading of Wordsworth’s punctuation, metrics and poetic revisions, both in print and manuscript, the book is also distinguished by its learned account of transformations in Romantic period cartography. Its two main sections are cleverly bridged by an interchapter that makes the case for a new perceptual turn grounded in marks and measures, which in turn is shown to be an informing presence in Wordsworth’s poetics. A final chapter on Thelwall’s elocutionary work casts new light on his ‘therapoetics’ and his critique of the ‘measure’ of Wordsworth’s Excursion. This is an impressive debut and a strong contribution to interdisciplinary studies, displaying prosodic and interpretative rigour in reading Wordsworth’s ‘lines and points’. As well as a major intervention in Wordsworth studies, Romantic Marks and Measures really has the potential to redefine our sense of ‘natural’ representation, both in the field of topography, and in Romantic prosody and print culture.
Siobhan Carroll, An Empire of Air and Water: Uncolonized Space in the British Imagination, 1750-1850 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015).
An Empire of Air and Water is a tour de force of interdisciplinary excavation and remapping, which stakes new ground for the Romantic imaginary by drawing together a range of eclectic literary sources and putting them into dialogue with wider cultural projects during the Romantic Century. Carroll’s book examines the presence of ‘atopias’ – spaces which resist categorisation, habitation and conceptualisation: these are polar regions, the oceans, the atmosphere and subterranean spaces. Each of the core chapters offers a nuanced and intriguing piece of a wider puzzle that collects around the British imperial project and its various technologies (as well as those of its competitors). These atopias function variously in extending the Romantic imagination upwards and outwards, while also resisting human endeavour through its evocation of a gothic past that always lurks beneath the surface. Carroll includes readings of numerous literary works, by Mary Shelley, Byron, Thomas De Quincey, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Inchbald, Sophia Lee, and a number of lesser-known writers.
Devin Griffiths, The Age of Analogy: Science and Literature Between the Darwins (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016).
Via a highly theorized discussion of analogy, Devin Griffiths seeks to place a new ‘comparative historicism’ at the heart of literary and scientific studies in the century between Erasmus Darwin and his grandson Charles. Although only about half of the book actually focuses on Romantic period writings, it makes renews our sense of the importance of Romantic narrative and methodological influences on Victorian literature and science. A theoretical introduction reviews the current state of literature and science studies, including a persuasive discussion of analogy in the work of Bruno Latour, Pierre Bourdieu and Alain Badiou. The main argument is set up via an illuminating study of the poetry of Erasmus Darwin, unduly neglected in Romantic Studies. A chapter on Walter Scott contains original research on ‘popular antiquarianism’ and ballad collecting, as well as reviewing the role of Scott’s novels in developing ideas of historical analogy in nineteenth-century literature. Two chapters are devoted to Tennyson and George Eliot, and a closing chapter on Charles Darwin (with a highly original focus on his Orchid book) identifies selective adaptation as a form of ‘harmonious’ analogy. Clearly written and full of critical flair, Griffiths’ ambitious book harvests a decade’s worth of reading and scholarship, and will have a major impact on both Romantic and Victorian studies. It also reinvigorates our sense of the relationship between the ‘two cultures’ of literature and science in the long nineteenth century.