Table Talks 1: New Approaches to Romanticism and the Natural World

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Join Andrew McInnes and Liz Edwards at the first of the ‘Table Talks’ linked to ‘The Romantic Ridiculous’ project on Wednesday 16th December to discuss new approaches to Romanticism and the natural world!

Exciting (paid!) opportunity for PG/ECRs to get involved and share your close readings and work in progress – details in attached document. (Deadline: Wednesday 14th October).

Call for Participants

‘Table Talks’ were a famous genre of literature in the early nineteenth century, recording the conversation of well-known writers, such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Hazlitt, and Charles Lamb. 

As part of ‘The Romantic Ridiculous’ project, EHU Nineteen will host a series of ‘Table Talks’, which will take the form of interactive online workshops led by relevant scholars in the field of Romantic Studies, with an aim to explore new perspectives on Romantic aesthetics, Romantic engagement with nature, society, and childhood, as well as later representations of Romantics and Romanticism.

These ‘Table Talks’ will be structured as informal workshops bringing together established academics with postgraduate students and early career scholars to discuss new methodologies in Romantic Studies. They will be recorded and disseminated as podcasts, available on the project website and advertised through social media. We also intend to produce a printed booklet drawing on the discussions at these ‘Table Talks’, which will present new approaches to Romanticism in critical and creative formats.

‘Table Talks’ will draw on Wayne Booth’s idea of ‘co-duction’, discussed in Maureen McLane’s 2007 essay ‘Romanticism; Or, Now’. Co-duction means leading through conversation with peers, fitting the collective and collaborative spirit of ‘The Romantic Ridiculous’. 

The first ‘Table Talk’ will focus on new approaches to Romanticism and the natural world. As AHRC leadership fellow, Andrew McInnes (Edge Hill University) will focus on how Romantic writers represented the natural world as ridiculous and include readings from Coleridge’s notebooks, letters, and poetry in conversation with selections from Dr Elizabeth Edwards (CAWCS/Centre for Advanced Welsh & Celtic Studies) on Coleridge in Wales and the French invasion of Fishguard.

We invite postgraduate and early career researchers to pitch a literary text to close read alongside our selections. This close reading does not have to be linked to ‘The Romantic Ridiculous’ project but should lead to a discussion of a new perspective on Romantic Studies and the natural world. We have 4 x £100 bursaries for successful pitches. A virtual reading pack will be sent out before the event and successful applicants will be expected to lead an informal discussion of their chosen text.

Please send a pitch including a literary text of ca. 1000 words with a 250 word rationale for its inclusion to by Wednesday 14th October 2020.

The ‘Table Talk’ will be open to all and we invite you to attend an exciting online discussion of new approaches to Romanticism and the natural world!

CFP – Gothic in a Time of Contagion, Populism and Racial Injustice

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A Gothic-Without-Borders Conference in March 2021, fully online.

  Deadline for proposals: October 31, 2020

Hosted by the Department of World Languages and Literatures (WLL) at Simon Fraser University (SFU), Vancouver, Canada, coordinated by the SFU Center for Educational Excellence (CEE), and co-sponsored by the International Gothic Association (IGA) and others.

“In the first place, a blazing star or comet appeared for several months before the plague, as there did the year after another, a little before the fire. The old women …. remarked…that those two comets passed directly over the city, and that so very near the houses that it was plain they imported something peculiar to the city alone; that the comet before the pestilence was of a faint, dull, languid colour, and its motion very heavy, Solemn, and slow…and that, accordingly, one foretold a heavy judgement, slow but severe, terrible and frightful, as was the plague.”  – Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year 1665 (1722)

The conference organizers herewith call for proposals for papers on how forms of the Gothic deal with the critical issues arising from racism, social injustice, populism, mass infection, and the relation of each of these to contagion in at least one of its many forms – the most pressing issues of our current moment — now and throughout world history.

The Conference Organizing Committee will entertain proposals about Gothic literature, drama, film, television, art-forms and/or cyberspace for a symposium to be conducted entirely online over 2-3 days. The proposals may range from abstracts for individual papers to suggested panels of 3 papers each to possible roundtables of up to 5 speakers.  The final papers should be 3600 words (or less), and audio-visual presentations should last no longer than 20 minutes.  All completed papers or presentations, once each proposal has been accepted (proposers will hear back by or before December 1), should be sent in electronically by February 15, 2021, well in advance of the conference itself. This process will enable the delegates at online sessions to read or view these presentations in full (or in abstract form) beforehand and then participate in hour-long online discussions after each presenter begins each session with a précis of his/her argument.  The official program will list all titles of presentations and the times of every session with the names and institutions of each author. There will be no conference fee for anyone, but all participants are expected to register for the conference and to be paid-up members of the IGA, at least at the partial level [go to]. We particularly welcome proposals from postgraduate students, other younger scholars, and specialists in Gothic from all parts of the world, especially those distant from the usual sites of IGA conferences. 

Topics may include, but are not limited to:  

  • Gothic manifestations of any of our themes, treated individually or in connections with each other, insofar as they involve some form of contagion
  • Suggestions about these themes and contagion in monstrosities, ghost-figures or settings that develop the Gothic tradition
  • Gothic renditions of these problems that touch on colonized peoples or postcolonial life
  • Gothic manifestations of contagious cultural conflicts over gender, sexual orientation, or transgender sexuality
  • Contagions in Gothic works as interpreted by ecocriticism or disability studies
  • The Gothic in relation to theoretical discourses connected with contagion and any of our other themes
  • The Gothic as it manifests, or contributes to, the histories and/or politics of contagion, populism, and/or racial injustice or to the cultural and psychological consequences of any one, two, or all of these realities.

Proposals/abstracts for individual papers (proposals no longer than 300 words) should include titles, presenter names, institutional affiliations and e-mail addresses and can result in either typescript documents or audio/visual recordings sent in as e-mail attachments.  Proposals for panels that will take place in one-hour online sessions (with each proposal no longer than 800 words) should include a session title, the name and contact information of the chair and abstracts no longer than 200 words from each presenter, with his/her name and affiliation. Proposals for roundtables (up to 800 words) should include a title; the chair’s name, affiliation, and e-mail address; the names and affiliations of the participants; and a proposed format.  Plenary sessions online may include single speakers or panels of experts invited by the Conference Organizing Committee in consultation with the leadership of this symposium’s co-sponsors. All sessions, if all the participants consent and depending on the available technology, will be recorded and made accessible to all conference attendees online.  The precise dates, panels, and plenary arrangements involving our SFU Zoom technology are still being worked on, and we will keep everyone well informed about the links, schedule, and further tech elements as we go forward.

The exact dates of the conference in March 2021 will be determined after all the proposals have been received so as to avoid conflicts with other events that might involve presenters and/or session leaders.

Send all proposals as word documents to The deadline is the 31st of October.

Wordsworth, Water, Writing

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Thursday, 10 September from 1.00-5.30 pm (GMT).


Registration is open for ‘Wordsworth, Water, Writing’, an afternoon of presentations, reflections and discussion hosted by ‘Wordsworth 2020’, an AHRC-funded research project focussing on The River Duddon and the poetry of rivers, lakes and streams, led by Phil Shaw at the University of Leicester.

Confirmed speakers include Fiona Stafford, Tim Fulford, Saeko Yoshikawa and Ralph Pite.

The conference, which concludes with a virtual guided tour of Dove Cottage hosted by Jeff Cowton, will take place on Zoom.

To register, contact Dr Joanna Wilson:

DISCOVERY – The 42nd Annual Virtual Conference of Nineteenth Century Studies Association

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March 11-13, 2021

Proposal Deadline: October 31, 2020

More details here

NCSA welcomes proposals for papers, panels, roundtables, and special sessions that explore our theme of “Discovery” in the long nineteenth century (1789-1914). Scholars are invited to interrogate the trope of “discovery” by questioning the term’s ideological and colonial implications. Why was the concept of “discovery” so appealing in the nineteenth century, and what does its popularity tell us about the people and social structures that were so invested in it? Papers might also consider indigenous perspectives that challenge ideas of western “discovery” and settler colonialism, new voices that theorize and critique nineteenth-century “discoveries,” intellectual exchange between cultures, and other methods of unmasking narratives of exploration and “discovery.”

As an interdisciplinary organization, we particularly seek papers by scholars working in art/architecture/visual studies, cultural studies, economics, gender and sexuality, history (including history of the book), language and literature, law and politics, musicology, philosophy, and science (and the history of science). In light of the many changes in pedagogy, research, and the exchange of ideas we have all experienced this past year, we particularly welcome papers, panels, or roundtable topics that address discoveries in the use of technology for nineteenth-century studies and teaching. Papers might discuss recovering forgotten manuscripts, or discovering new ways of thinking about aesthetic and historical periods. Scholars might explore not only the physical recovery of the past (archeology, geology), but also intellectual recovery as old ideas become new (evolution, neoclassicism, socialism, spiritualism). Papers might discuss publicizing discoveries (periodicals, lectures), exhibiting discoveries (museums, world’s fairs, exhibitions), or redressing the legacy of nineteenth-century practices (decolonization of museum collections and the repatriation of colonial-era artifacts). Other topics might include rediscovering and revisiting the period itself: teaching the nineteenth century, editing primary texts, and working toward diversity and social justice in the humanities.

For more details, visit the website.

Call for Applications: BARS Digital Events Fellow

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BARS are inviting applications for a BARS Digital Events Fellow to assist with the BARS Online Lecture Series 2020/21. The Fellowship will last for one year, beginning 1 October 2020. The Fellow will assist the BARS Online Lectures Committee on this project. 

The role will include general administrative duties and will be designed to be a position that functions alongside other academic commitments such as completing a research project and/or teaching. Previous involvement in online events/conferences is desirable. This position is paid an honorarium of £500 and is open to all postgraduate students and early career researchers working in Romantic Studies.

To apply: please send an academic CV and personal statement (no more than 1 page) explaining why you are best placed to undertake the duties below to by 14 September 2020. Informal enquiries can be directed to Anna Mercer


  • General administrative activities e.g. corresponding with speakers/attendees on email 
  • Managing the Eventbrite account and website
  • Organising social media posts and promoting the events online
  • Assisting with the running of Zoom online events 
  • Attending bi-monthly meetings with the BARS Online Lectures Committee 
  • Attending all BARS Online Lectures events
  • Suggesting ideas for future events and working with the BARS Online Lectures Committee to select speakers and topics

Shortlisted applicants will be invited to interview during the week commencing 21 September 2020. 

Archive Spotlight: The changing reception of historical novels in periodicals

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Today in the ‘Archive Spotlight’ series, we’re delighted to present a post about the changing reception of the historical novel genre across the nineteenth century. Jonathan Taylor and Helen Kingstone have reviewed and studied the periodical reviews of Proquest’s British Periodicals database to explore how attitudes to the qualities of the historical novel genre shifted over time. We’re delighted to share with you their fascinating findings below, discussing, for example, the significant of Sir Walter Scott and how frequently the reviewers commented on historical fidelity. Enjoy!

View the other posts in the ‘Archive Spotlight’ series here.

Archive Spotlight: The changing reception of historical novels in periodicals by Jonathan Taylor and Helen Kingstone

Hybrid, transformative and difficult to define (or even name) without contention, the historical novel or historical romance is a quintessentially Romantic genre. Indelibly associated with Sir Walter Scott, whom many nineteenth-critics erroneously credited with inventing the form, the historical novel has a far longer Romantic history, which Fiona Price has traced back to the middle of the eighteenth century.[1] The historical novel has also enjoyed remarkable longevity, and the immense popularity which Scott bequeathed the genre is a Romantic legacy that has ensured that historical fiction continues to be written, and read, in the twenty-first century. However, historical novels have never been without their detractors. The genre’s fortunes altered subtly, and sometimes dramatically, during the course of the nineteenth century.

Our current project aims to nuance the story of the historical novel’s ‘rise and fall’ by investigating how periodicals’ reception of the genre changed across the century. We ask: on what grounds was it endorsed or condemned by reviewers? And what kinds of truth was it seen as able to offer? Previous scholarship has tended to focus understandably on the work of the novelists themselves, and commentary by eminent writers of various kinds.[2] Our project starts from the other end of the process, focusing on reception and looking systematically at the role of periodical reviews.

We have used ProQuest’s British Periodicals database to systematically code how over 1,300 nineteenth-century reviews of historical novels responded to particular historical novels and the genre as a whole in relation to particular reviewing criteria. We have covered all reviews of historical novels that include the terms ‘historical novel’, ‘historical romance’, ‘historical fiction’ and ‘historical tale’ (plus the variant ‘historic’). Over 400 of the reviews fall between 1801 and 1840, and our data is beginning to yield valuable insights into changing perceptions of the historical novel during the Romantic period.

The historical romance before Scott

The two most common criteria against which historical novels are reviewed, in our data, are quality of writing and of research. It is unsurprising to see fiction being judged on how well-written it is. However, we have been surprised to find that in the years before Waverley (1814), reviewers were already pervasively concerned about the quality of research in historical romances. In the 1800s decade, 22% of reviews expressed praise for what they saw as good research in the novel they reviewed, whereas 44% expressed criticism of perceived bad research. (Equally surprisingly, at this time there was relatively little concern with the writing quality in these novels: only 13% voiced that criticism in that decade, compared to 26% of reviews the following decade.)

In the years before Walter Scott joined the scene, the genre was also discussed more precisely as a genre (one that was tangled up with gothic and the ‘romance of history’) than it was for several decades afterwards. For example, in 1796 the Monthly Review commented that ‘We have often expressed our dislike of the mixture of history with romance, as a practice tending to perplex and pervert the Evidence of Facts, and thereby greatly to prejudice the Cause of Truth’. An 1810 review referred to ‘the objections which are invariably made to all heterogeneous mixtures of history with fiction’.[3]

By contrast, once the genre became more diverse and popular in the wake of Scott’s success, there came to be more focus on individual novels. It seems that in fact, a second tier of novels gradually developed that became the new butt of criticism, instead of the genre as a whole. There seemed to be a feeling that the genre itself could not be lambasted when it had produced such a hero as Scott!

Dominance of particular periodicals

Our data shows that, at different points during the century, different periodicals came to dominate the act of reviewing historical novels. Though this trend is less pronounced between 1800 and 1840 than later in the century (when a single periodical was sometimes responsible for a third of all such reviews during a decade), in the 1830s The Literary Gazette and The Athenæum alone account for 33% of reviews of historical novels (16% and 17% respectively). This raises an important question: are swings in our data indicative of general shifts in attitudes towards the historical novel, or are they the result of views propounded by one or two dominant periodicals that gained a sort of ‘market dominance’ during a particular period? 

A case study of The Literary Gazette demonstrates just how significantly leading periodicals might produce trends in the data. For example, between the 1820s and 1850s, when it accounted for 11%–17% of all reviews of historical novels, the Gazette correlates closely with the overall data for the percentage of reviews that are positive about their novels’ historical accuracy, but has consistently fewer negative responses on this score. Inevitably, this positive weighting disproportionately contributes to the gulf between positive and negative responses to historical accuracy that develops during these decades (particularly in the 1820s and 1830s). And that remains the case even though the Gazettewas less focused on historical accuracy than most (49% of the Gazette’s 1830s reviews of historical novels mention accuracy, compared to 58% of all reviews during the decade).

The Gazette also offers an instructive example of how periodicals enjoying a large market share could give individual reviewers – not just the magazines themselves – disproportionate influence over trends. Between its launch in 1817 and his retirement in 1850, the Gazette was edited by the Scottish journalist William Jerdan, who is now best known as the exploitative patron, mentor and lover of Letitia E. Landon. Jerdan is a particularly helpful case study of the influence of an individual reviewer because, in contrast to the many critics whose identities have been hidden or rendered uncertain by the culture of anonymous reviewing, we know that he wrote the vast majority of the Gazette’s reviews. During the three full decades that he edited the Gazette, Jerdan was remarkably consistently positive about historical novels: 88-89% of the comments he made (across all reviewing criteria) were positive. 

However, after Jerdan was replaced with a new reviewer (or reviewers) in 1850, the Gazette’s attitude to the genre altered significantly. In the subsequent ten years, the percentage of positive responses fell to 70%, with negative responses rising from 12% to 30%. The magazine’s reviewing priorities and attitudes also shifted significantly with the advent of the new regime. Jerdan’s successor(s) were both more interested in the question of historical accuracy generally (commenting on it in 70% of reviews as opposed to Jerdan’s 47% the decade before) and more condemnatory of novels for lacking historical accuracy (23% of the Gazette’s 1850s reviews censured novels’ historical accuracy, compared to 6% in the 1840s). The Gazette’s staff changes, sizeable contribution (14%) of all reviews of the genre in the 1850s, and newfound willingness to censure departures from the historical record certainly played a role in narrowing the gap between positive and negative responses to historical novels’ historical fidelity.

Analysing these undercurrents in the data gives us insights into the role that individual periodicals and reviewers played in shaping wider attitudes towards the historical novel. It seems probable that, by dominating the conversation about the genre at particular times, periodicals such as The Literary Gazette not only may account for some of the major shifts in our data, but may have influenced other periodicals and their reviewers to adopt similar attitudes, accelerating some of the trends we have observed.

Read more about the Victorian-period findings of this project on Journal of Victorian Online.

Dr Jonathan Taylor is a Research Assistant at the University of Surrey’s School of Literature and Languages, where he is assisting Dr Helen Kingstone to map the changing reception of the historical novel during the nineteenth century through a systematic analysis of periodical reviews of historical novels. He has published articles on Robert Southey’s revolutionary politics in Romanticism and eighteenth-century and Romantic responses to Homer’s hero Achilles in Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies. He is the 2020 BSECS Georgian Papers Programme Fellow.

Dr Helen Kingstone is a research fellow at the University of Surrey. She is author of Victorian Narratives of the Recent Past: memory, history, fiction (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), and currently writing a book From Panoramas to Compilations, about the ways that nineteenth-century writers sought a sense of overview on their contemporary history. She co-leads a Wellcome Trust-funded network on Generations: what’s in the concept and how best should it be used?

[1] Fiona Price, Reinventing Liberty: Nation, Commerce and the Historical Novel from Walpole to Scott (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016).

[2] A flowering of work in the 1970s includes Avrom Fleishman, The English Historical Novel: Walter Scott to Virginia Woolf (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1971); James C. Simmons, The Novelist as Historian: Essays on the Victorian Historical Novel (The Hague: Mouton, 1973); Andrew Sanders, The Victorian Historical Novel, 1840–1880 (London: Macmillan, 1978).

A second wave around ten years ago includes Jerome De Groot, The Historical Novel (London: Routledge, 2010); Richard Maxwell, The Historical Novel in Europe, 1650–1950 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009); Brian Hamnett, The Historical Novel in Nineteenth-Century Europe: Representations of Reality in History and Fiction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

Other work on the historical romance, which mostly focuses on the twentieth century, includes Helen Hughes, The Historical Romance, 1890-1990(London ; New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 1 online resource (173 p.); Diana Wallace, The Woman’s Historical Novel: British Women Writers, 1900-2000. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005); Reading Historical Fiction: The Revenant and Remembered Past, ed. by Kate Mitchell and Nicola Parsons (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), p. 1 online resource (256 p.).

[3] ‘Henrietta, Princess Royal of England. An historical novel’, Monthly Review (November 1796), p. 347. ‘Anne of Brittany; an Historical Romance’, The Critical Review (August 1810), p. 442.

Five Questions: Kate Singer on Romantic Vacancy

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Kate Singer is Associate Professor of English and Chair of Critical Social Thought at Mount Holyoke College. Her wide-ranging research engages with fields including gender, philosophy, mediation, virtuality and digitality. She edits the Pedagogies section of Romantic Circles and is Secretary of the Keats-Shelley Association of America; with Ashley Cross and Suzanne L Barnett, she has recently published a new edited collection entitled Material Transgressions: Beyond Romantic Bodies, Genders, Things (Liverpool University Press, 2020). Her first monograph, Romantic Vacancy: The Poetics of Gender, Affect and Radical Speculation, which we discuss below, was published in August 2019 by SUNY Press.

1) How did you first become interested in exploring the ways that Romantic writers use vacancy?

When I was reading for my PhD comprehensive exams, I kept getting pulled toward moments in Charlotte Smith’s and Mary Robinson’s poems that seemed pretty deconstructive, particularly where very luxurious statements about sensibility were then negated via the form of the sonnet (Charlotte Smith’s voltas about tasting the Lethean cup that negates the very sensations that initiate the poetic voice), the allegory of the poem (such as sentimental Sappho’s suicidal leap into the Leucadian deep in Robinson’s Sappho and Phaon that destroys the poet and her voice), or a figural movement (such as the vanishing of the hermit at the end of Beachy Head, but not before alluding to his not-yet-written epitaph). These moments seemed oddly similar to Percy Shelley’s shadowy articulations of “vacancy” in his essay fragment “On Life” and in “Mont Blanc.” It took me a while to figure out how these moments were working as more than deconstructive or textual involutions that signaled the failures of sensibility, or its tendency to burn out into a clichéd emo numbness. But the more I felt these moments weren’t entirely empty, but often working through edgy, nebulous, or chaotic remainders of wispy language or materiality (the hinted-at hermit’s epitaph, the motion of drinking a metaphor like the Lethean cup), the more these moments seemed to offer a kind of dialectical movement, one that went further than further than negating the clichés of sensibility, but so far as fomenting new forms of affect and materiality outside the embodied emotion of sensibility. It was a lot of reading and rereading and a lot of failed attempts to talk gropingly about women’s poetry for its philosophic, poetic, and speculative dynamism.

2) As you conducted this research, what qualities came to define the poetics of vacancy you delineate?

These were figural moments in poems (and sometimes in other kinds of writing) that marked a resistance to strict forms of gendered embodiment and that attempted to raze empirical materiality via a figural movement that would then allow other forms of floating, iterative feelings (or affects) and materiality to be born. (I chose Sonia Gechtoff’s abstract expressionist painting “The Beginning” for the cover because it seemed visually to represent the material affect that came into being through figuration, which so many Romantic authors seemed to be after.) To be less abstract in terms of poetics, Mary Robinson’s sonnet sequence Sappho and Phaon moves to ironize certain forms of repetition in sonnets of sensibility, then turns to figure Sappho’s leap in to the Leucadian deep as a form of evanishment of that repetitive language tied to the feminine feeling body. Yet, the end of that poem with its oceanic depths has intimations of another figural move, an immersion, a becoming awash in a more oceanic materiality of language and embodiment that we then see at the end of “To the Poet Coleridge,” with its echoing caverns and streams and various trilling voices of humans and nonhumans ululating all around in a kind of Deleuzian or Baradian stew. It was striking to see, too, how Wordsworth and Shelley were likewise worrying over similar problems for feminine poetics in poems from “The Solitary Reaper” to “Alastor” to “Epipsychidion” and so on.

3) How did you come to select the principal subjects of your chapters (Charlotte Smith, Mary Robinson, Felicia Hemans, Maria Jane Jewsbury, William Wordsworth and Percy Shelley)?

When I started really reading Hemans seriously, thanks in no small part to Susan Wolfson’s Princeton edition, I realized not only how much she was taking from Percy Shelley (as Susan Wolfson and others have noted), but also how her poetry opened up some of the concerns of Charlotte Smith about the edges of the national body (a.k.a., Beachy Head) to a more global purview. Maria Jane Jewsbury was similarly working through some of Wordsworth (through her friendship with his daughter and her rereading of his work) to think about Anglo-Indian tensions. (My reading of Jewsbury was also in no small part due to becoming the technical editor of Judith Pascoe’s edition of The Oceanides while a Site Manager at Romantic Circles.) So, I began to conceptualize Smith and Robinson opening certain concerns about feminine poetics, sensibility, and the national body/landscape that then became shot through with concerns of empire and imperialism in Hemans and Jewsbury.

Then, early in my time at Mount Holyoke, I had to give a brief, entertainy lunchtime introduction to my scholarship to other colleagues across the college. I thought to use bits of Wordsworth and Shelley as pieces of Romantic-era poetry to represent that “naive Romanticism” that wasn’t hip to vacancy. I got reprimanded by a curmudgeonly older professor (in my department) for reading a line from Wordsworth’s Prelude about the brooding imagination as feminine, and I was so irritated and embarrassed that I eventually decided to write a chapter on Wordsworth and Shelley. This reinvestment in “male poets” helped me rethink the gender binarization I was actually still holding onto, vis-à-vis “women writers” and “male writers,” particularly when figures of the imagination and of thinking itself in both their works, to varying degrees, often invoke and then shirk gender binaries. Thinking about “The Solitary Reaper” one summer while I was wandering around Germany and Switzerland for NASSR and DH conferences, listening to languages and looking at different landscapes through the window of the Eurorail was pretty helpful for thinking about what’s happening in that poem as something more than the colonizing imagination, as Alan Richardson argues. The movements of the train and of languages I half knew and half created in my mind seemed an apt figure for a Wordsworthian feminist resistance to the assumption that the lass is singing a song of sensibility, or a recognizable version of women’s writing—a suspension of the presumption that we even know what she’s singing, which paradoxically opens a field of possibility, however narrow, for other voices not defined by their attachment to a sexed or gendered body but rather expressed through a nonbinary and ever-moving, ever-sung rolling landscape.

4) In your introduction, you argue that a strong investment in ‘the lens of sensibility’ has led to criticism that is ‘overwhelmingly unmindful of women poets’ play with other forms of knowledge and being’.  How might attending to the ‘serious, speculative poetics’ that your book uncovers help us rewrite our gender-inflected expectations regarding Romantic poetry, and how might this feed into the curricula we build?

I’m hoping that we can start from a place of openness to women’s and men’s poetry in new ways—that we don’t begin reading women’s writing of the period by assuming that they are writing about embodied emotion related to childrearing, domestic entanglements, or personal suffering—or when they do, they might also be writing incisively about questions of epistemology and ontology. Like many Romantic writers, women are interminably interested in how language can iteratively reflect and create structures of thought. I also believe that there is a strong sense of the nonbinary in writing from the period that we haven’t completely come to terms with. I don’t just mean nonbinary gender in terms of cross-dressing, or Blakean opposition as true friendship, or even formations of transgender in The Last Man, “The Forest Sanctuary,” or Frankenstein. I think there are other formulations that skirt either the two-sex or one-sex models, which are much more nebulous and that explore more shifting senses of gender identity and sexuality grounded in an equally shifting sense of materiality. (You can see some of this work others have done on this area in Material Transgressions: Beyond Romantic Genders, Bodies, Things (LUP 2020), and I think there’s more to do.) I had the opportunity this past year at Mount Holyoke to put together a two-semester series of courses on “The Queer Eighteenth Century” and “Nonbinary Romanticism” to help explore how notions of materiality might be quite different from the standard narrative of the shift from the one-sex to the two-sex model. This was my way of doing some extra reading on the early eighteenth century leading into a reconceptualization of the way I (try to) teach Romanticism, so that rather than, say, the idea of revolution, the idea of the nonbinary became the organizing idea. It was pretty incredible to read Olaudah Equiano, Mary Wollstonecraft, the Shelleys, and others, after reading things like Margaret Cavendish’s The Convent of Pleasure and Sarah Scott’s Millenium Hall. Earlier eighteenth-century women’s communes offer other possibilities for non-phallic sexuality and rearrangements of gender that follow into the gothic spaces of the asylum (in Wollstonecraft’s Maria) and the ship (in Equiano’s Interesting Narrative) and the historical syncopes in Mary Shelley’s back-to-the-future stories such as “Valerius: The Reanimated Roman.”

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently in the guts of an essay about Jane Austen and ontology, trying to understand Fanny Price in Mansfield Park as alternately a withdrawn object (in Tim Morton’s sense) and a new material actant (in Jane Bennett’s sense), as Austen’s way of thinking through questions of the human/nonhuman/inhuman via the double questions that haunt that novel, as Patricia Matthew has written—women’s ontological status as objects and moral actants and slaves’ ontologies as nonbeing, chattel, and undercommon disavowal. While we usually think of Fanny as a frustratingly static character who holds her puritanical ground against the footloose exploits of her cousins’ play-acting and Henry Crawford’s inconstancy (his “oops I did it again” moments with Maria Bertram), I think she actually does revolve through a number of ontological positions as human, inhuman, and nonhuman, and I’m interested in how and why she does—and how that articulates possibilities for ontological change. I’m also starting research on a book on shapeshifting that attempts to understand the confluence of BIPOC ontology, climate change, disability, and transgender in the Romantic period and how it speaks to the entanglements of those concerns now. It’s been a way for me to try to understand better how different pieces of Romantic-era culture conceptualize change, particularly ontological change that allows for (or causes) changes in being, to rethink questions about how we change, why, and what happens if we can’t change when we’d like to (e.g., the American political disaster). A final piece I’m looking forward to writing is on Anne Lister’s diaries and the ideas of coding—coding as a way to talk about both early computing and gender identity. Lister used mathematical symbols and Greek letters to code the very sex-in-the-suburbs queer content in her diaries, and, after reading these with my students, I’m really interested in how they might help us think about the way we code, decode, and recode gender identities—as a measure of the nonbinary nature of Romantic-era texts that has gone under the gaydar, as it were.

BARS/NASSR Joint Conference – Notice of Postponement

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The BARS and NASSR Executives, in discussion with the organizing committee at Edge Hill University, have agreed to postpone the joint BARS/NASSR conference, originally scheduled for August 2021, until August 2022. We have reached this difficult decision after taking into consideration the unprecedented global circumstances created by the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on researchers in terms of health and safety, travel budgets, and transport infrastructure, as well as personal and professional circumstances. We now plan to run the joint conference from 2 to 5 August 2022. The organizers are working to ensure the event will be inclusive and diverse when it is safe to be held. While BARS and NASSR members will be understandably disappointed as we are about the postponement, we are grateful for your support as we move forward with our revised plans. BARS plans to collaborate with NASSR on a virtual event or events for the Summer 2021 season in light of this deferment and will keep BARS and NASSR members informed about developments and opportunities for participation.

On This Day in 1820: P. B. Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound is Published

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The BARS ‘On This Day’ Blog series celebrates the 200th anniversary of literary and historical events of the Romantic period. Want to contribute a future post? Get in touch.

Today, Amanda Blake Davis discusses Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound volume.

On This Day in 1820: P. B. Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound: A Lyrical Drama in Four Acts, with Other Poems is published (14 August)

by Dr Amanda Blake Davis (University of Sheffield)

Today marks the bicentenary of the publication of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound: A Lyrical Drama in Four Acts, with Other Poems.[1] The volume contains, in addition to the lyrical drama, the following shorter poems: ‘The Sensitive Plant’, ‘A Vision of the Sea’, ‘Ode to Heaven’, ‘An Exhortation’, ‘Ode to the West Wind’, ‘An Ode, written October, 1819, before the Spaniards had recovered their Liberty’, ‘The Cloud’, ‘To a Skylark’, and ‘Ode to Liberty’.

Textual Composition and Publication

Prometheus Unbound is the apotheosis of Shelley’s poetic achievements, lauded by the poet as ‘the most perfect of my productions’.[2] The poem’s period of textual composition runs from August 1818 in Bagni di Lucca to December 1819 in Florence, carrying through the Shelleys’ travels to Livorno, Venice, Este, Naples, and Rome in between. Shelley is famously depicted at work on the poem in Joseph Severn’s posthumous portrait, in the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, described by the poet in March 1819 as ‘a scene by which expression is overpowered: which words cannot convey’.[3] It was during this period in Rome, Mary Shelley writes, ‘during a bright and beautiful spring’ that Shelley ‘gave up his whole time to the composition’ of Prometheus Unbound.[4]

Shelley Composing Prometheus Unbound in the Baths of Caracalla, Joseph Severn (1845), on long-term loan to The Wordsworth Trust.

Shelley declared Prometheus Unbound completed—in three acts—in April 1819, describing it as ‘a drama, with characters & a mechanism of a kind yet unattempted’.[5] But work continued and he later added a fourth act, finally finishing the poem in Florence in December 1819. Despite desiring Prometheus Unbound be swiftly printed, delays and miscommunication impeded its production. After much anticipation, and ‘two little papers of corrections & additions’ sent from Pisa in May,[6] the poem was published in August 1820. Although being ‘most beautifully printed’,[7] it contained numerous errors that pained and distressed Shelley. In her 1839 edition of Shelley’s poetry, Mary revised Prometheus Unbound ‘with exceptional care’,[8] but the loss of many of Shelley’s original drafts for the poem and the press transcript has caused issues to remain for modern editors.[9]

A fair copy page from Act 4 of Prometheus Unbound in The Shelley-Godwin Archive, MS. Shelley e.1, 2r. Retrieved from The Shelley-Godwin Archive. Neil Fraistat describes the fair copy contained in notebooks e.1-e.3 as ‘the latest extant holograph version of Prometheus Unbound, providing a focal point for understanding the vexed textual situation of the poem’, BSM IX, p. lxiii.

Inspiration and Influence

Shelley seems to have been engaged in mental composition of Prometheus Unbound even earlier than August 1818. The Shelleys’ record of their route through the Alps to Italy in March 1818 includes a scene ‘like that described in the Prometheus of Aeschylus –Vast rifts & caverns in the granite precipices – wintry mountains with ice & snow above – the loud sounds of unseen waters within the caverns, & walls of topling rocks only to be scaled as he describes, by the winged chariot of the Ocean Nymphs’.[10] Taking its cue from Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, Shelley’s lyrical drama expands to include a range of literary influences and allusions—including Herodotus, Plato, Boccaccio, and Milton—while harmonising periods of Wordsworthian blank verse with distinctly Shelleyan lyrical effusions. 

Prometheus and the Oceanid Nymphs (from Prometheus Bound), 12 January 1795, After John Flaxman, RA.

‘[W]hile at the Bagni di Lucca’, Mary writes, ‘[Shelley] translated Plato’s Symposium. But, though he diversified his studies, his thoughts centred in the Prometheus’.[11] Mary’s editorial note emphasises the intellectual overlap between Shelley’s mental composition of Prometheus Unbound and his translation of the Symposium. Indebted to his readings and translation of the Symposium, love becomes a force for revolution in Prometheus Unbound. Love, the topic of Plato’s dialogue, is a ‘great Daemon’,[12] mediating between what is mortal and what is divine. Prometheus Unbound’s form of a ‘lyrical drama’ chimes with Shelley’s estimation of the Symposium as a ‘drama (for [so] the lively distinction of characters and the various and well-wrought circumstances of the story almost entitle it to be called)’ with his description of Plato’s ‘rare union of close and subtle logic, with the Pythian enthusiasm of poetry, melted by the splendour and harmony of his periods into one irresistible stream of musical impressions’.[13] At its lyrical heights, Prometheus Unbound echoes this description of Plato in verse, where Asia floats ‘Into a sea profound, of ever-spreading sound’, ‘In music’s most serene dominions’ (II. 84 and 86).[14] Recalling the mediating Daemon of the Symposium, Asia is guided to:

Realms where the air we breathe is love,                                           

Which in the winds and on the waves doth move,

Harmonizing this earth with what we feel above.

(II. 95-97)

A direct allusion to the Symposium occurs during the Spirits’ song in Act I, where Zachary Leader and Michael O’Neill note that the Sixth Spirit’s song ‘[d]raws on Plato’s Symposium…in which Love is described as “the most delicate of all things, who touches lightly with his feet only the softest parts of those things which are softest of all”’.[15]

 Ah, sister! Desolation is a delicate thing:

It walks not on the earth, it floats not on the air,

But treads with lulling footstep, and fans with silent wing

The tender hopes which in their hearts the best and gentlest bear

(I. 772-75)

‘This is one of the most remarkable examples of the direct influence of Shelley’s reading and translation of Plato’, Timothy Webb affirms.[16] Earlier, the Fifth Spirit’s song also draws on the Symposium, from the same speech by Agathon. The Fifth Spirit describes Love as ‘Scattering the liquid joy of life from his ambrosial tresses: / His footsteps paved the world with light’ (I. 767-68). In Shelley’s translation of Agathon’s speech, Love is described as ‘moist and liquid’ and possessing a ‘liquid and flowing symmetry’ of form;[17] additionally, he is:

the ornament and governor of all things human and divine; the best, the loveliest; in whose footsteps every one ought to follow, celebrating him excellently in song, and bearing each his part in that divinest harmony which Love sings to all things which live and are, soothing the troubled minds of Gods and men.[18]

Agathon’s description of the fluidity and footsteps of Love bears a strong resemblance to the form of Love recalled by the Fifth Spirit. The allusion also recurs during the scene of amorous intermingling in Act II where Panthea communicates her dream of Prometheus to Asia. Within the dream, Prometheus’ form addresses Panthea as: ‘Sister of her whose footsteps pave the world / With loveliness’ (II. 1.68-69). Later, Panthea describes Prometheus’ voice to Asia as ‘Like footsteps of a far melody’ (II. 1.89). Shelley’s translation of the Symposium—itself a harmonising of Shelley’s thoughts and words with Plato’s own—plays a key role in inspiring Prometheus Unbound, wherein Panthea’s dream becomes an embodiment of Agathon’s description of Love, with Asia, a goddess of love, ‘pav[ing] the world’ with her light footsteps, and Prometheus following her in harmonious song.  

Amanda Blake Davis recently received her PhD from the University of Sheffield for her thesis, Shelley and Androgyny, which analyses P. B. Shelley’s uses of androgyny alongside his readings and translations of Plato. She is a Postgraduate Representative for BARS.

[1] For the dating of the volume’s publication, see Neil Fraistat’s discussion of an advertisement for Prometheus Unbound in The Examiner on 13 August 1820 in BSM IX: The Prometheus Unbound Notebooks: A Facsimile of Bodleian MSS. Shelley e.1, e.2, and e.3, ed. by Neil Fraistat (New York, NY: Garland, 1991), p. lxxviii.

[2] Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. by Frederick L. Jones, 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon, 1964), II, p. 127. Hereafter abbreviated as PBS Letters.

[3] PBS Letters, II, p. 85.

[4] Mary Shelley, Note on Prometheus Unbound in The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. by Mary Shelley, 4 vols (London: Edward Moxon, 1839), II, p. 132.

[5] PBS Letters, II, p. 94.

[6] PBS Letters, II, p. 201.

[7] PBS Letters, II, p. 246.

[8] The Poems of Shelley, ed. by Jack Donovan, Cian Duffy, Kelvin Everest, and Michael Rossington, founding ed. Geoffrey Matthews, 5 vols to date (New York, NY and London: Routledge, 1989-), II, p. 463. Hereafter abbreviated as Longman.

[9] See Longman, II, pp. 462-65 for a detailed account of the poem’s publication history and editorial issues. See also BSM IX.

[10] Mary Shelley, The Journals of Mary Shelley, ed. by Paula K. Feldman and Diana Scott-Kilvert, 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987), I, p. 200. The Longman editors note that this entry is in P. B. Shelley’s hand, Longman, II, p. 456.

[11] Mary Shelley, Note on Prometheus Unbound in The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, II, p. 132.

[12] Plato, Symposium, trans. by Percy Bysshe Shelley as The Banquet, quoted in The Platonism of Shelley: A Study of Platonism and the Poetic Mind (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1949), p. 441

[13] Percy Bysshe Shelley, Preface to The Banquet quoted in James A. Notopoulos, The Platonism of Shelley: A Study of Platonism and the Poetic Mind (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1949), pp. 403 and 402.

[14] Shelley’s poetry is quoted from Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Major Works, ed. by Zachary Leader and Michael O’Neill (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003; repr. 2009).

[15] Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Major Works, ed. by Zachary Leader and Michael O’Neill (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003; repr. 2009), p. 747n.

[16] Timothy Webb, Shelley: A Voice Not Understood (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1977), p. 117.

[17] The Banquet, p. 435.

[18] The Banquet, p. 437.

Romantic Wellbeing

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Lectures in Literature via Durham University

Free public lectures on Zoom, 17.30 BST

Wednesday 19 August 2020

Dr Amanda Blake Davis (University of Sheffield) – ‘Unbodied Joy’: Birds and Embodiment in Shelley and Keats

The bodies of living birds in Keats and Shelley’s poetry are cast off in favour of ethereal song in poems such as ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, composed in the presence of a living nightingale outside Keats’ Hampstead home, and ‘To a Skylark’, in which Shelley glides between the ethereal and the material. This lecture will explore the Platonic implications of Keats and Shelley’s vacillations between body and mind through their
depictions of birds.

Alex Hobday (University of Cambridge) – The Happiness of the High-Wrought Mind: The Autobiographical Pursuit of Happiness in Eighteenth-Century Literature

‘And, considering the question of human happiness, where, oh where does it reside? Has it taken up its abode with unconscious ignorance or with the high-wrought mind?’. Broken-hearted and soon to be deserted by the father of her child, Mary Wollstonecraft writes these words in her autobiographical travelogue Short Residence. Such questions echoed throughout eighteenth-century culture. What is happiness? And how can we achieve it?

Sign up on Eventbrite for Zoom details here

@Late_Summer2020 #LateSummerLectures