BARS First Book Prize 2019: Judges’ Report

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Thanks to everyone who submitted their first books to the 2017-2019 round. In total, the judging panel received 29 titles from which we created a short list of 8. In terms of gender breakdown, 14 of the nominated books were by men and 15 by women. Of the final 8, 3 books were by men and 5 by women with 3 published by Cambridge University Press, 2 by Oxford University Press, 1 by University of Virginia Press, 1 by Bucknell University Press and 1 by Palgrave. Shortlisted authors were based in the UK, the US and Australia. It was a real privilege to read across our dynamic field and encounter so much excellent work. Warm congratulations to all authors of first books, especially to the winners and runners up!

Claire Connolly (University College Cork; Chair), Daniel Cook (University of Dundee), Jane Moore (Cardiff University) and Mark Sandy (University of Durham).

WINNER

Thomas H. Ford, Wordsworth and the Poetics of Air (Cambridge UP)

We are familiar with atmosphere as a figure that names the air that surrounds us: as historical situation, emotional environs or prevailing psychological climate. These metaphorical meanings draw on early modern discoveries in the natural sciences and began to circulate more generally in culture from around 1800. Thomas Ford’s book, Wordsworth and the Poetics of Air thinks about how, when and where this powerful new vocabulary of atmosphere took shape. The book guides readers through territory at once literal and figurative, helping us to see anew the elements, moods and impressions that seem to surround and pervade poems, novels and plays. In the writing of William Wordsworth in particular, and amidst the ‘winds, clouds, fogs, mists, breezes, breaths and sighs’ of romantic poetry more generally, Ford finds a vocabulary and grammar of atmosphere and air. The result is a wholly original and deeply researched book that joins literary, historical and environmental forms of interpretation in harmonious ways and offers a genuinely original reading of ‘Tintern Abbey’. Wordsworth and the Poetics of Air draws an impressive range of critical sources into the flow of its own argument and moves beyond new historicist and ecocritical readings alike in its reinterpretation of the ways in which form both breathes and is shaped by climate. The very permeability of atmosphere seems to be reproduced in the disciplines that surround and support Ford’s approach, as anthropology, chemistry, politics, philology, physiology, meteorology, philosophy and aesthetics all mediate and colour the work of literary criticism. Above all, Wordsworth and the Poetics of Air enables an address to Romanticism both as defined period or object of knowledge in the past and as the writing of an unfixed and uncertain present. For that we thank Thomas Ford warmly and are proud to confer upon him the BARS First Book Prize for 2019.

RUNNERS UP

Melissa Bailes, Questioning Nature: British Women’s Scientific Writing and Literary Originality: 1750-1830 (Virginia UP)

An impressive new history that allows the natural sciences to reclaim a central cultural place via a close focus on the work of women writers of the period. The book shows how women writers appropriated the hierarchies of contemporary natural history and geology in order to subvert them for their own artistic, social, and political means. The book makes a very strong and deeply researched case for rethinking Romanticism’s engagement with discourses of natural history and revising established gendered readings of the period.

Manu Samriti Chander, Brown Romantics: Poetry and Nationalism in the Global Nineteenth Century (Bucknell UP)

A strikingly original analysis of late nineteenth-century colonial poets who testify to the influence of an earlier nineteenth-century Romanticism while simultaneously calling into question its imperial ideology. The book tracks the experience of colonial marginalization across the empire, considering the crossing of universalist ideals and particular cultural experiences in the work of three poets in particular (Henry Derozio in India, Egbert Martin in British Guiana, and Henry Lawson in Australia). In its detailed research and close attention to newspapers as a publishing output for colonial poets, the book expands our understanding of Romanticism and reorients the field.

Dahlia Porter, Science, Form, and the Problem of Induction in British Romanticism (Cambridge UP)

An original and deeply researched book that makes a case for a new understanding of induction as both method and form in Romanticism, fresh and compelling in its attention to the composite forms that shape the Romantic book. Porter’s monograph addresses a key Romantic idea – that print is out of control – and finds historical, critical and cultural ways to reimagine that diagnosis as a constitutive aspect of Romanticism. Her argument extends from citational practices around 1800 to thinking about how composition becomes self-referential and historical by the 1820s and 1830s.