News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

Conference Report: ‘Romantic Interactions’, Krakow

The following report is by Charlotte May (University of Nottingham).

‘Romantic Interactions’ Conference

Jagiellonian University in Krakow

4thand 5th April 2019

The ‘Romantic Interactions’ conference at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow interrogated two key definitions of interaction: firstly, social, artistic and literary interactions in the Romantic period itself; and secondly, how readers, audiences and writers have interacted with the Romantic period through different mediums over the past two hundred years.

The conference opened with the first plenary lecture delivered by Mary Jacobus, exploring ‘Keats’ Apollonian Afterlives’. The afternoon included panels on German Romanticism, the Classical Tradition, Cross-cultural and Transatlantic Interactions, and Negative Capability and Poetic Imagination. Brittany Pladek (Marquette University) provided one of many fantastic insights into how we might trace the reception of classical tradition in the Romantic period in the current political climate, including how responses to the #MeToo movement could be found in constructions of guilt in the epic tradition. Keats was very much on the mind of participants in the later afternoon session, with discussions on negative capability heavily influenced by Mary Jacobus’s plenary lecture earlier that day.

The day ended with a wonderful conference dinner at Kawaleria restaurant in Krakow. As Keats had been the focus of many conversations, and Byron had only formed the basis of one paper (Rowland Cotterill’s investigation of Don Juan as a Horatian poem), I posed one question to the dinner attendees: Byron or Keats? Without any context provided, the question proved easier to answer over a glass of wine, and we found that Byron was indeed the winner (although Juliette Wells’ response was, of course, Jane Austen).

(c) Newstead Abbey; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation


(c) National Portrait Gallery

The second and final day of the conference opened with an investigation of philosophical and religious interactions and Romanticism across Borders, in which Judith Thompson’s (Dalhousie University) discussion of John Thelwall as a ‘Citizen of the World’ reminded us of absences arising in interactions, and how much we – as historians and critics – must pursue studies of those who have been excluded from contemporary canons, as well as continue to hunt for evidence of interactions.

The day contained two plenary panels before lunch, covering how poets contemporaneously interacted with each other and how the public have been pursuing interaction with Romanticism since the end of the movement (if such an ‘end’ can indeed be agreed upon). Frederick Burwick (UCLA) spoke on ‘Coleridge’s Interaction with Wordsworth: The ‘Dejection’ Dialogue’, and Juliette Wells (Goucher College) focused on ‘William Dean Howells and the Rise of American Janeitism’.  As previous panels had done, this plenary was an important contribution to questioning the role of national identity within Romanticism and its legacy, and truly proved how the cult of personality and literary tastes could change the course of global literary history.



The conference ended with Nicola Watson (Open University) taking us on a tour of RỆVE (Romantic Europe: The Virtual Exhibition), an invaluable resource on how Romanticism has been defined and charted since its beginnings in the eighteenth century to the present day. Watson provided us with the example of ‘Shakespeare’s chair and the Polish Princess’,  Monika Coghen (our wonderful host at Jagiellonian University) spoke on ‘Kościuszko’s Mound’, and Mirosɫawa Modrzewska (University of Gdańsk) joined us on Skype to speak about ‘Chopin’s Piano’, three important contributions to the visual exhibition. The conference ended with a rendition of the selected works of Frederick Chopin told through the chronology of Chopin’s interactions with his Scottish patron Jane Stirling by Marcin Jaroszek, accompanied by the wonderful pianist Anna Dębowska. This recovery of Stirling as a supporter and driving-force of Chopin’s career showed how instrumental sociability was in the development of artistic careers and the movement of Romanticism itself. The essential role of women in founding and sculpting the movement of Romanticism had been referred to throughout the conference, particularly in the papers of Vitana Kostadinova (University of Plovdiv), Anna Messing (another of our fantastic hosts), Julie Donovan (George Washington University), and Rayna Rosenova (Sofia University).

This conference showcased up and coming work and projects which will further our understanding and definitions of what it means for an author, text, and literary period to interact. The atmosphere of the conference was friendly and supportive, with scholars from different careers and sectors engaging with a truly international body of delegates. There is surely no better legacy of interactions with(in) Romanticism than a conference such as this.


– Charlotte May (University of Nottingham)