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News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

‘Romantic Facts and Fantasies: Culture and Heritage of the Romantic Age, c. 1780-1840’ Exhibition Opening

‘Romantic Facts and Fantasies: Culture and Heritage of the Romantic Age, c. 1780-1840’ Exhibition Opening

by Amy Wilcockson 

After months of hard work and sifting through the plentiful archives of Manuscripts and Special Collections at the University of Nottingham, Thursday 9 May 2019 saw the private view and official opening of the ‘Romantic Facts and Fantasies: Culture and Heritage of the Romantic Age, c. 1780-1840’ exhibition.

All image credits to Manuscripts and Special Collections, University of Nottingham

The exhibition centres on key themes including science, travel, industry, communication and exploration in the Romantic period, alongside focusing on a number of authors, poets and key figures irrevocably linked with the East Midlands.

As part of the team co-curating this exhibition, it was astounding to see all the pieces of the jigsaw, so to speak, put together. From October 2018, the exhibition has been conceptualised, items chosen for inclusion, and then board texts, case backs and captions written, and then of course, loan items sourced from a variety of locations including Newstead Abbey and Derby Museums. To see it all in one place, and open to the public was an amazing feeling. The private view invited members of the BARS Executive Committee, local news outlets, University of Nottingham and other institutions’ staff and students, and enjoyed a large turnout, with over one hundred people hearing Professor Jeremy Gregory, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Arts, and Professor Lynda Pratt, one of the exhibition’s academic leads, officially open ‘Romantic Facts and Fantasies’ to the public.

Key items on display include Joseph Wright of Derby’s ‘Cottage on Fire’, kindly loaned by Derby Museums, which evinces Wright’s innovative use of light and shadow, and a number of wonderful loans from Newstead Abbey, including Lord Byron’s calling card, and a copy of Thomas Phillips’ famous 1813 portrait of Byron.

Many of Manuscript and Special Collections’ items are on display to the public for the first time and include first and second editions of Lord Byron’s poetry and juvenilia, autograph copies of poetry written by Henry Kirke White, and a selection of letters from Amelia Opie, Robert Southey, Joanna Baillie, Maria Edgeworth, Sir Walter Scott, Mary Howitt and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Richard Arkwright, Derbyshire’s innovator and inventor is heavily featured, and visitors to the exhibition will also view anatomical drawings, scientific equipment and dinosaurs in an exploration of early nineteenth century science.

It is hard to choose a favourite item in the exhibition, and I am torn between a couple of items. The first are two locks of James Thomas Townley Tisdall’s hair, one taken aged four, and one upon his deathbed. As you can imagine, it was quite a surprise when we opened these little bundles and found what was within… Another favourite has to be the beautiful drawing of the ‘Crimson Cliffs’, an odd phenomenon witnessed by early Arctic explorer, Major John Ross and his crew, who initially believed that the red hue of the rock face was due to the droppings of seabirds (this isn’t the case!). ‘Romantic Facts and Fantasies:Culture and Heritage of the Romantic Age, c. 1780-1840’ is full of an array of wonderful curiosities like those featured, and well worth a visit.

Open in the Weston Gallery at the University of Nottingham’s Lakeside Arts Centre, the exhibition is running to coincide with the British Association of Romantic Studies’ 2019 Conference, ‘Romantic Facts and Fantasies’, held at the University of Nottingham in July 2019. The organisational team of the conference are also the co-curators of the exhibition, and we encourage all conference delegates to visit the exhibition and explore the University of Nottingham’s unique and varied manuscript collections on show.

This exhibition has been jointly curated by a team from the School of English (Professor Lynda Pratt, Dr Máire ní Fhlathúin, Johnny Cammish, Colette Davies, Ruby Hawley-Sibbett, Jodie Marley, Amy Wilcockson and Dr Charlotte May) and Manuscripts and Special Collections, University of Nottingham. The exhibition continues until Sunday 25 August, and is open Tuesday-Friday, 11am-4pm, Saturday and Sunday, 12noon-4pm. Admission is free.

 

A series of wider engagement talks, gallery tours and film screenings are also available during the run of the exhibition which include –

Free Lunchtime Talks: Held in the Djanogly Theatre, Lakeside Arts Centre. All talks begin at 1pm and last for approximately one hour. Advance booking is recommended.

Gothic Haunting from the 1790s to the Present – Wednesday 5 June 2019.
The condition of haunting is central to the gothic mode. Dr Matt Green, Associate Professor in the School of English, University of Nottingham, explores haunting and being haunted, discussing creative artists and writers from William Blake to Alan Moore in a survey of texts and narratives of the gothic tradition from its hey-day in the 1790s into the 21stcentury.

Romantic Reputations: Angelic Austen and Beastly Byron? – Tuesday 2 July 2019.
Was Lord Byron really ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’, and was Jane Austen ‘a narrow-gutted spinster’? As two of the most enduringly popular writers of the Romantic period, their lives have been scrutinised and their moral reputations polarised. University of Nottingham PhD Researchers Ruby Hawley-Sibbett and Amy Wilcockson ask whether their lives, loves and works have been misrepresented.

Paupers and Poetry: The Workhouse at Southwell – Friday 26 July 2019. [During the BARS Conference].
The early 19thcentury is often seen as a time of invention, creativity and technology. However, it also saw the development of an institution that shaped the lives of less fortunate members of society for decades to come – the Workhouse. This talk by Dr Charlotte May will focus on the Workhouse at Southwell, Nottinghamshire, whose founder was a close connection of the poet Lord Byron.

Romanticism, Caricature and Politics – Tuesday 20 August.
The years 1780-1840 are sometimes regarded as the ‘golden age of caricature’. In this illustrated talk, Dr Richard Gaunt, Associate Professor in the Department of History, considers the rough, boisterous sensibilities which caricaturists brought to their craft.

 

And:

Gallery Tours: Join the exhibition curators for a guided walk through of the exhibition and learn about the stories behind the items on display.
Weston Gallery, free, advance booking required.
Wednesday 5 June, 2.30-2.30pm
Tuesday 2 July, 2.30-3.30pm

Film Screening of Mary Shelley (2017) – Tuesday 25 June, 7pm.
Running time 2 hours. Held in the Djanogly Theatre. Tickets are £5 (£3 concessions).
A romance based on the relationship of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Elle Fanning) and the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth). When the couple leave England with Mary’s step-sister Claire to stay at Lord Byron’s villa near Geneva, Mary is inspired to write one of the most important novels of the nineteenth century, Frankenstein. The film will be introduced by Dr Charlotte May.