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BARS Blog

News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

2020 BCLA Triennial Conference on Randomness

Randomness CfP

Queen’s University Belfast

15-17 September 2020

Keywords: Accidental, arbitrary, incidental, slapdash, hit-or-miss, unplanned, unintended (e.g. consequences), unexpected, unanticipated, unpredictable, contingent, volatility, excitement, wonder, fantasy, imagination, creativity, serendipity.

Chance encounters, unforeseen opportunities, and impulsive decisions play a bigger role in our life and work than we wish to acknowledge. Is reading not always random to some extent? It is only retrospectively, in shifting scale from the individual to social or perspective from reading to interpreting, that randomness becomes regularity and can get explained away as purpose and design.

Randomness and chance play a leading role in historical accounts, in narratives of war and battles, victory and defeat, in biographies and travelogues, in narratives of arrivals, encounters and departures. They resurface in stories, setting characters onto a course or hurtling them into the great unknown, towards their fate. People’s bookshelves, readers’ memories, and second-hand bookshops can produce a similar, puzzling – even dizzying – sense of randomness.

Fortunes of literary works and theory are not immune to the dictates of chance. What are the forces that get literary works published, translated, circulated locally or internationally, and nominated for and winning literary prizes? When do managed search algorithms fail and serendipitous connections appear? How do chance encounters with a literary work, a theory, or lead to translations or adaptations, new creative adventures, or additional and alternative theories?

Artists and writers can be more comfortable with randomness than scholars; they break away from the space of the familiar and the already-known and place trust in the process of the work itself. Critics are driven by institutional pressures to present their work as an execution of purpose, design and method. But randomness persists even in grand geo-political schemes. Randomness overcomes censorship and solutions are always found to circulate books without the support of publishers or the state. Randomness happens despite control, and may be the more attractive for it. It is often random finds that are the most treasured with a sense of delight. Random encounters excite imagination and creativity.

Randomness is also openness; it stands more often at beginnings and turns of the road of many literary and critical careers. How do we cultivate a sense of wonder and open up our critical discourses and theories of comparative literature and world literature to more inclusive and elastic modes of thinking and writing? Can we use randomness in and outside texts and oeuvres productively, to our advantage?

We seek panels that will work with the idea of randomness, particularly in relation to:

  • Encounters with literary works, theories and cultural others
  • Adaptations, new writings, performances, visualizations within the same literary/cultural field, or outside.
  • Representing randomness through visualisations and digital interfaces.
  • Multilingualism, heterolingualism, plurilingualism, translanguaging
  • Performance, performativity
  • Politics of the literary/cultural market, including publication, translation, circulation, literary prizes and literary festivals (and book fairs)
  • Critiquing randomness in the age of search algorithms
  • Unpredictable futures
  • Ecocritical approaches to randomness and unpredictability
  • Translation and translation studies, choice of work and language, choice of method and style
  • Theories and Methods of Comparative Literature and World Literature

Deadlines: 15 November 2019 for Panel proposals and 15 December 2019 for Paper proposals.

Submit your proposal to: randomness2020bcla@gmail.com or through the conference website https://randomness2020.wordpress.com/call-for-papers/.

CFP 46th International Byron Conference – 29 June-5 July 2020

Byron: Wars and Words

The 46th International Byron Conference
29 June-5 July 2020
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

Call for Papers

Proposals are invited for the 2020 Conference of the International Association of Byron Societies, “Byron: Wars and Words”, to be held at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki from 29th June to 5th July.

The aim of this conference is to look at how war in all its meanings, symbolisms, and manifestations influenced Byron’s words and worlds, and shaped his poetic and political sensibility. Drawing on recent scholarship in Romantic studies, it will also explore Romantic authors’ preoccupations with war, and how these intersected with Byron’s. How are the events of wars transformed into words, images and spectacle? Conversely, how do words become weapons and trigger literary, cultural, and political struggles? What kind of ideological conflicts, dilemmas, and anxieties does the print culture of the time embody when treating the issue of war? How does Romantic-period conflict extend our understanding of modern warfare?

The conference welcomes 20-minute proposals for papers on topics including, but not necessarily limited to:

  • Byron as revolutionary fighter and/or critic of war
  • Byron and Napoleon
  • Byron and epic
  • Warfare as inspiring force for poetic subjects, new genres, language forms and styles
  • Romantic nationalism
  • “Intellectual war”: newspapers, magazines, reviews and broadsides
  • The representation of military action and violence in literature and art
  • Famous critical wars that Byron’s words produced
  • War and gender
  • Revolution and knowledge production
  • Science and war
  • Media and military technologies

Submission of Proposals

Please send 250-word proposals by 31st December 2019 to byronthess@gmail.com, directing any enquiries to Dr. Maria Schoina. Confirmation of acceptance by 31st January 2020.

Academic Committee

Roderick Beaton (King’s College London)

Caroline Franklin (Swansea University)

Alexander Grammatikos (Langara College, Canada)

Jonathan Gross (DePaul University)

Argyros I. Protopapas (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens)

Maria Schoina (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki)

Note on the Programme: The academic sessions of the conference will end on the evening of Friday 3rd July. There will be an optional trip to Ioannina, Ali-Pasha’s capital visited by Byron in 1809, on Saturday 4th July with an overnight stay. Information on registration, accommodation, and the social programme of the conference will be posted later on the Conference Website.

Five Questions: Anna Mercer on the Shelleys’ Collaborative Literary Relationship

Anna Mercer is a Lecturer in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy at Cardiff University.  She is particularly interested in the dynamics of literary relationships, the works and experiences of women writers and the possibilities unlocked by manuscript studies, and has published a number of articles on these topics.  She organised the Shelley Conference in 2017, works closely with Keats House and the Keats-Shelley Association of America, has served on the BARS Executive as Blog Editor and was recently elected to the new role of BARS Communications Officer.  Her first book, The Collaborative Literary Relationship of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, which we discuss below, was recently published by Routledge.

 

1) How did you come to realise that you wanted to write a book on the collaborative relationship between the Shelleys?

My first engagement with the Shelleys was when I had the opportunity to study Frankenstein and A Defence of Poetry as an undergraduate – which is surely a very common way to initially encounter these two writers.  A section of research that features in my book probably appeared in some form in a second-year undergraduate essay on Romanticism (well, according to memory it does, although I wouldn’t like to seek it out and read it again!).  I had spent time examining the unity between the language of the Shelleys’ letters and their journal entries during the Alpine travels of 1816, and then compared it to what appeared in the printed 1818 version of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s (MWS’s) Frankenstein.  Even as an undergrad it was something that – as I explain in the introduction to my book – I did feel really drawn to, like this way of reading was leading somewhere interesting if only I had the time, credibility and determination to explore such a line of enquiry further.  I expected to find a book that already existed about the Shelleys’ broader collaborations beyond Frankenstein, but didn’t find a full-length study focusing solely on that.  I did of course find some amazing, inspiring work by scholars looking at aspects of the Shelleys’ relationship, including perhaps most significantly Charles E. Robinson’s excellent research on the Frankenstein manuscripts (in which he suggested someone should undertake a further major study of the Shelleys’ collaboration).  Other critics that had spent time identifying the Shelleys’ close working practices that influenced me (I can’t mention them all here) included Nora Crook, Michael O’Neill and Donald H. Reiman.  I went on to study the Shelleys for my MPhil dissertation and then was lucky enough to be funded by the AHRC to complete a PhD at the University of York on the Shelleys.  In early 2018 I was delighted to be offered a contract with Routledge to edit what was my original thesis into a monograph.

 

2) Where did you find evidence of the Shelleys’ collaborative ethos?  To what extent do you think that the surviving record allows for a full picture?

As I explain in the book, I found evidence of the Shelleys’ collaborative ethos primarily in manuscript facsimile editions of the Shelleys’ shared notebooks.  These were invaluable to me as I explored The Bodleian Shelley Manuscripts and The Manuscripts of the Younger Romantics in great detail.  In these wonderful publications you can find undeniable pen-on-paper evidence of the Shelleys’ collective working (whether ‘collective’ is the same as ‘collaborative’ is one of the key things I discuss in the book!).  MWS’s involvement in the drafting and copying stages of The Mask of Anarchy, for example, cannot be denied when we look to the manuscripts.  And there are many instances of collective working beyond the famous interventions by Percy Bysshe Shelley (PBS) on the draft of Frankenstein.  It’s important to emphasise, though, that as much as looking at the facsimiles of the holograph drafts (and on occasion, the original documents themselves) was important, it was crucially the editorial work of several hugely influential scholars that supported my research.  Their work framed these notebooks and brought the scribbles to life through explaining the relevant context(s) and providing detailed transcriptions as well as nuanced interpretations.  Without these editions I don’t think my project would have been possible.  Manuscript evidence coupled with the knowledge that we have of the Shelleys’ day-to-day activities (thanks mainly to MWS for recording them and including reading lists!) just substantiates the connections between the two authors’ works.  The Cenci and Mathilda are sister-works by theme; but what is also relevant is that we can identify the crossover points at which PBS and MWS were working on these individual projects.  For example, we know MWS was beginning to write Mathilda just as PBS was completing The Cenci in August 1819.  As for a full picture, I’m not sure.  Obviously so much is missing with regards to what has and hasn’t survived, and we can never truly ‘know’ anything about the way PBS and MWS thought, studied, and composed.  My book seeks to cover a broad period, using a chronological method to trace the ebbs and flows in their relationship, but both of the Shelleys were so prolific it is very fair to say I have only covered a series of case studies and there is so much more work to be done.

 

3) How would you characterise the collaboration between the Shelleys?  Did each fulfil particular defined roles for the other, or were their interactions more fluid and specific?

I think the range of ways in which the Shelleys collaborated is very important.  What I haven’t already mentioned about my inspiration for the study is the divisions evident in Shelley criticism that saw the couple separated in popular culture and, to some extent, in scholarly observations.  In some (often influential!) pockets of criticism, Shelleyans were divided into two very distinct ‘camps’.  Some who worked on PBS saw MWS as inferior in intellect and style in the first instance, and then a corrupt editor of his posthumous publications in the second, and perhaps worst of all: they considered that she didn’t even have the capacity to understand him.  But it was not just this troublesome group of Percy Shelleyans that were the problem.  Some of the people who worked on Mary Shelley thought that the only way she could be brought back from obscurity would be to denounce him – blame him for overshadowing her, and then even attack the way he collaborated on Frankenstein as an act of patriarchy.  I get very frustrated at the whole idea that PBS and MWS didn’t like each other or one another’s work.  Obviously, they had some relationship difficulties (unsurprising for most people, and expected for a couple like the Shelleys given the tragedies that befell them).  But I think this polarisation – the unhelpful separation of two authors who lived and worked together from 1814 to 1822 and who were also in love – seems a huge shame, especially when Romantic studies and studies of English literature of have of late been far more successfully focused on the idea of social creativity, rejecting the idea of the solitary genius.  I will note again here that the gradual force of change has been led by critics such as Robinson from the mid-twentieth century onwards, and again I am indebted to all of their work.

 

4) How do you think Romantic Studies might benefit from (re)examining collaborations in the period more widely?

I think Romantic Studies is generally excellent at emphasising the social nature of creativity and I am thrilled to be part of an area of research that is constantly growing and exciting new audiences.  Having said that, the Shelleys can be overlooked in terms of collaboration even now.  I think the Shelleys are one of the greatest of the so-called ‘Romantic collaborations’, alongside Wordsworth and Coleridge for example, and it would be a shame if we were to overlook them because of their shared critical history (which has been turbulent to say the least) and their difficult, frustrating representations in popular culture (see the latest film on Mary Shelley starring Elle Fanning).  I enjoy introducing the idea of literary collaboration to my students at Cardiff University and also in the work I do in communications and at Keats House Museum: I think the idea of poets and novelists conversing, sharing their inspirations, and working together on iconic literary texts can be a way of appealing to people who might be less familiar with the Romantics.

 

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

I’ve said a lot about my love for manuscript studies already – and so I’m thrilled to say I’m currently working on transcribing and editing the only manuscript book containing PBS’s hand that has not been published as a facsimile edition.  The book is MSS 13,290 in the Library of Congress.  For a taster, here’s a short blog post about one of the pages in the notebook via European Romanticisms in Association.  This project in itself is a collaboration!  I’m working with Professor Nora Crook and Dr Bysshe Coffey.

Beyond that, as well as teaching at Cardiff, I continue to work with Keats House Museum on their #Keats200 project(s) and also with the Keats-Shelley Association of America and BARS to promote new activities in Romantic Studies.  I will be organising a conference for the bicentenary of PBS’s death on 8 July 2020, along with Sharon Ruston, Bysshe Coffey, Amanda Blake Davis, and others.

Seventh Bicentennial John Keats Conference: 15-17 May 2020, London

  

Preliminary Announcement 

Seventh Bicentennial John Keats Conference 

John Keats in 1820 

A Three-Day Keats Foundation Conference at Keats House, Hampstead, London

Friday 15 – Sunday 17 May 2020

 

Keynote Speakers: John Barnard, Richard Lansdown, Sarah Wootton

The Keats Foundation is delighted to announce its seventh bicentenary conference, ‘John Keats in 1820’, which will be held at Keats House, Hampstead 15-17 May 2020.

1820 was the year that saw the publication of Keats’s third collection — Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes and Other Poems. A little over two months after the book appeared, Keats boarded the Maria Crowtherat Tower Wharf, and sailed for Italy where he aimed to pass the winter.

In due course we will be inviting proposals for 20-minute papers for presentation at the 2020 John Keats Conference. Possible themes, which are not exclusive, might include:

Keats’s 1820 collection and the poems in it. Unpublished Keats in 1820. New poems. The 1820 letters.  The Keats Circle in 1820. Keats and melancholy. Keats and tuberculosis. Friendships. Journeys. Financial entanglements. Keats and copyright.

For obvious reasons, all papers should have a significant Keats dimension. 

Lectures and papers will be presented in the spacious Nightingale Room adjacent to Keats House. We will explore the Keatsian locality, Hampstead Heath, and Leigh Hunt’s Vale of Health. For conference announcements and further information about the Keats Foundation please go to

For Keats House, please click here.

Call for Papers: The Limits of Life, Death and Consciousness in the Long Nineteenth Century

In Extremis:

The Limits of Life, Death and Consciousness in the Long Nineteenth Century

University College Dublin, 10-11 January 2020

 Keynote Speaker: Professor Angela Wright

This interdisciplinary conference seeks to explore the ways in which the fundamental understanding of embodied human life and consciousness was challenged by developments in science and medicine in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Spurred on by public experiments and mass casualties resulting from war, famine, disease, poverty and oppression, natural philosophers, poets and novelists, spiritualists and enthusiasts interrogated the limits of death and life. Social and intellectual cross-currents between imaginative and scientific discourses produced a flourishing culture of enquiry in which old certainties and taboos no longer defined the parameters of human existence. However, the body, rather than being tamed and comprehended by advancements in science, seemed more alien than human, a thing apart from consciousness yet intimately tied to mental processes.  From the grotesque and mutilated female bodies of William Hunter’s The Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus (1774) to the distorted figures of Henry Fuseli’s nightmarish paintings and on to Stevenson’s metamorphic identities in The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), eighteenth- and nineteenth-century intellectual life reimagined the boundaries of sex, disease and deformity in many ways.

Proposals are invited for 20-minute papers and/or 3-paper panels relating to bodies and minds in extremes, in transformation and in distress in the culture of the two centuries.

Proposals of no more than 300 words should be emailed no later than Friday October 25th to Lucy Cogan and Michelle O’Connell at inextremisconference@gmail.com

Two travel bursaries of €100 each will be awarded to the best proposals submitted by postgraduate students. Please indicate in the email submitting your proposal if you wish to be considered.

Website: http://www.inextremis2020.com

Suggested topics include:

  • Interdisciplinary intersections and intellectual relationships e.g. John Hunter and Joanna Baillie, Joseph Priestley and the Aikin-Barbauld circle,  Godwinian necessitarianism and scientific determinism
  • Medicalised bodies and minds—hysteria, insanity, anatomised and/or diseased bodies
  • Spiritualism/mysticism and the occult
  • Representations of the ‘madhouse’
  • Radical religious sects, e.g. millenarianism, antinomianism, gnosticism
  • Death, life and empire
  • Anatomised/magical/experimental/folkloric bodies
  • Thresholds of consciousness and life
  • The body and the archive/oeuvre
  • Dreams and double consciousness/existence
  • Othered bodies, colonial – miscegenation, hypersexuality, corruption, exploitation, degeneration
  • Monstrous production/reproduction
  • Catastrophic bodies: Famine, epidemic and death in the open
  • Altered states, altered minds, altered consciousnesses

Romantic Reimaginings: Frankenstein for Young Readers

Romantic Reimaginings is a BARS blog series which seeks to explore the ways in which texts of the Romantic era continue to resonate. The blog is curated by Eleanor Bryan. If you would like to publish an article in the series, please email ebryan@lincoln.ac.uk.

Today on the blog, Lauren Christie explores the ways in which Frankenstein has been reimagined for young readers. 

“And now, once again, I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper.”[1]

Two hundred years ago, a monstrous nightmare was crafted into one of the most influential novels ever written. With the multitude of references to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) across literature and popular culture, Shelley, Frankenstein and the Creature have become household names. The popularity and diverse nature of this novel lends itself well to literary adaptations for a young audience. The tormented narrative of both Victor Frankenstein and the Creature mirrors similarly turbulent issues that children experience throughout childhood and adolescence. This article will pay close attention to literary adaptations of Frankenstein for young readers, and the ways to ensure that the novel remains alive and relevant for future generations. Applying this message of monstrous diversity to twenty-first century literature, this article will note novels which have prominently drawn inspiration from Shelley’s original text

One of the best ways to ensure the longevity of a literary figure, particularly for a younger audience, is to demonstrate ways in which the novel is connected to them. Mary Shelley was a teenager when she wrote this novel. It is important to break through the fictional presence of a literary classic in order to incorporate the tale into reality. If children are made aware of Shelley’s young age when she created Frankenstein, then this encourages a sense of achievability for their own writing.

In order to continue promoting a traditional Gothic text to a contemporary audience, it is vital to consider the numerous ways in which tropes, themes and figures central to the novel have continued to adapt and survive: ‘Its central narrative… became a kind of independent trope or “myth” that invaded other art forms—plays, cartoons, advertisements, comic books, conversations, films. Frankenstein (the name) became a kind of all-purpose watchword for creativity gone wrong and monstrosity gone wild.’[2] The brand and figure of Frankenstein has been absorbed into popular culture. Stephen King refers to the ‘millions of Americans that are aware of the tale of Frankenstein, as it has become as common a household name as “Ronald McDonald”, and yet they are unaware of the difference between Victor Frankenstein and the Creature […] A fact which enhances the idea that the book has become a part of Hatlen’s American myth-pool.’[3] Two hundred years of film, literary and comic adaptations later, Frankenstein remains recognisable to any audience, regardless of country, culture, age or language.

Guy Bass, Stitch Head, (2011).

In response to the Creature and Shelley’s famous creation scene, the first literary adaptation that this article will highlight is Guy Bass’s Stitch Head (2011). This novel is a light-hearted tale of junior fiction from the point of view of a creature, the long forgotten original creation of a mad scientist. Destined to live his young life in the confines of Castle Grotteskew, similarities in the novel most notably include: a vulnerable and isolated narrative and a young character setting out on a voyage on which to find a companion. Furthering the relationship between this novel and Frankenstein, one chapter lists the ingredients required to create a “Truly Monstrous Creation”. These include: ‘3 Parts Human, 2 parts “Other”, 1 quart Monstrousness and just a pinch of impossibility.’[4] In this section the authors humour is portrayed as children realise there is no way to define a monstrous being. Therefore what remains is the fun surrounding monstrous tropes and creatures.

Image result for frankenweenie

Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie (2012).

Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie (2012) was the stop-motion animated adaptation of a short film he created in 1984. The film details the tragic heartache of a young boy (named Victor Frankenstein) whose beloved pet dog “Sparky” is killed by traffic. As with Shelley’s novel, Victor Frankenstein is influenced by the effect of galvanism on inanimate creatures, and one stormy night, he attempts to reanimate his dead pet. This story is littered with references to not only Shelley’s novel, but also to contemporary understandings of monsters in general (including a Godzilla creature and a monstrous sea monkeys scene). The film carries a deeper meaning as it urges children to consider the ethical consequences involved in bringing a beloved pet back from the dead. As much as every child that experiences the death of a loved one has surely at one point wished they could bring them back to life, this film (as with the novel) explores, in a child-friendly context, the consequences of doing so.

Maurice Sendak, Mommy? (2006).

Finally, considering adaptations for a much younger audience, Maurice Sendak’s Mommy? (2006) is a Gothic themed picturebook that encourages early development in young children. As demonstrated in Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are (1963), his literary monsters capture the heart and imagination of young children all over the world. Mommy? is the tale of a baby who is searching for its mother. On each page the baby encounters characters such as a mad scientist, Dracula, Frankenstein (with his Creature) and, eventually, its mother. The journey throughout this short book offers vibrant colours and a pop-up format to reveal different Gothic figures on each page. However, at no point is the baby fearful of these monsters which questions whether or not children are truly fearful of childhood monsters, or whether this is a projection from adults.

The inclusion of an ambiguous and controversial character in the form of the Creature allows the reader to draw their own conclusions about issues of humanity. Contemporary horror has transitioned away from traditional monsters that are visibly identifiable, into the anonymous figure of a contemporary monster in society. Despite possessing a visibly monstrous appearance, the Creature maintains a level of innocence, exiled through the cruelty of mankind─ a journey which can often be read as a transitional reflection of childhood into adolescence. It is vital to maintain a combined study of literary adaptations in conjunction with the original text for new and younger generations. By doing so, we can ensure that the text will remain alive and relevant for future generations.

Works cited:

[1] Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, (London: Penguin, 1994), p. 10.

[2] Paul Hunter, Frankenstein: A Norton Critical Edition, (New York: Norton, 2012), p.ix.

[3] Stephen King, Danse Macabre, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1991), p. 67.

[4] Guy Bass, Stitch Head, (London: Stripes Publishing, 2011), p. 35.

Lauren Christie is a PhD student at the University of Dundee, studying the gothic tradition in modern education. Lauren’s publication record covers a diverse range of areas, including contemporary horror, children’s literature, curriculum studies and the gothic tradition. Lauren has taught both gothic and contemporary horror literature and has designed modules in children’s literature and children’s gothic. Lauren intends to create core advisory material for teaching Gothic literature in secondary schools. This will encompass Gothic and contemporary horror, Gothic adaptations, and children’s fiction.

Stephen Copley Research Report: Jonathan Taylor on Alexander Runciman

This report is by Jonathan Taylor (University of Surrey), a recipient of the Stephen Copley Research grant. Find out how to apply for this BARS award here.

My Stephen Copley Research Award funded a trip to Edinburgh to consult the National Records of Scotland and the Scottish National Gallery’s collections of letters and drawings by the painter Alexander Runciman (1736-85).

What interests me about Runciman — who is best known as the creator of the first (now sadly lost) decorative scheme based on James Macpherson’s Ossian epics — is his heroic treatment of female characters from the epic tradition. Whereas other late eighteenth-century artists (most notably Angelica Kauffman) had pioneered painters’ treatment of women as heroic subjects, they also tended to circumscribe the heroism of female epic characters, such as Andromache and Penelope, to passive acts of suffering and endurance. In several instances, Runciman went a step further, representing the suffering of female epic heroes not as something in which they have no agency, but something that they bravely elect to undergo. This is most obviously the case in Runciman’s depiction of Corgan Carglâ, a hunter from Macpherson’s Ossian, who chooses to be imprisoned in a cave for life rather than submit to her husband’s murderer.

Before my research trip, I thought I had discerned the origins of Runciman’s contemporarily unusual approach to female heroism in preparatory drawings for a rendering of the death of Dido, which appear to give Virgil’s tragic heroine more and more agency in successive sketches. The truth was, as I found out, both more interesting and more confusing. The drawings (held by the Scottish National Gallery) do gradually shift away from the passive and sentimental renderings of Dido that were popular with earlier eighteenth-century artists, in which the queen typically appears to have died as the direct result of her abandonment by Aeneas, rather than (in any obvious way) by her own hand. However, while what appears to be the final drawing shows Dido very much alive, clutching the sword with which she will end her own life and evidently weighing her options — an artistic choice which emphasises her agency and tacitly associates her with the Classical tradition of tragic but heroic suicide populated by figures including Seneca and Lucan — the painting itself rows back on these innovations and offers a conventional portrayal of Dido as a passive and inert victim.

National Records of Scotland

A year later, as I discovered in a letter held at the National Records of Scotland, Runciman was contemplating an even more drastic return to the gendered conventions of male heroism and female passivity that typify the epic. His original plan for what he would later turn into the Ossian decorative scheme at Sir John Clerk’s Penicuik House (near Edinburgh) was an uncompromisingly manly and conventionally heroic scheme based upon the life of Achilles. The only female character Runciman proposed for this series was Achilles’ mother, Thetis, whose agency, as Runciman’s detailed description makes clear, would not even have extended to untying her own sandals.

Evidently, Runciman later opted for the Ossian illustrations, which put Corban Carglâ centre stage, but even here, he agonised over whether to represent the imprisoned hunter as an awe-inspiring figure in her own right, or as a damsel in distress saved by Macpherson’s epic hero Fingal. Two preparatory drawings (also at the Scottish National Gallery) show Runciman wavering between these options, with a muscled and armed Fingal occupying the foreground in one and a (literally towering) Corban Carglâ dominating the frame (with Fingal relegated to the background and looking up awe-struck) in the other.

My findings have made me reflect upon external factors that may have caused Runciman’s apparent flip-flopping, what his prevarication may tell us more broadly about the difficulties or potential repercussions of portraying female heroes during the Romantic period, and the particular problems he may have faced as a male artist championing this model of heroism. I am very grateful to BARS for funding what has been a very productive few days of confusion!

By Jonathan Taylor (University of Surrey)

Keats’s Bees in the Ode ‘To Autumn’ – Written On This Day in 1819

Portrait of John Keats by William Hilton

In this series, we celebrate the 200th anniversary of literary and historical events of the Romantic period. Today, on 19th September 2019, we celebrate the bicentenary of Keats’s ode ‘To Autumn’ with an article by Ellen Nicholls discussing the depiction of bees in the poem.

The 19th September 2019 marks the 200-year anniversary of Keats’s composition of the ode ‘To Autumn’. As this date approaches, I am struck by how the ode continues to capture the imaginations of modern readers, transcending its sociohistorical boundaries to resonate with the attitudes and concerns of the present day. In particular, I am drawn to the presence of bees in the ode’s opening stanza. Buzzing with insect and animal life, Keats’s ode is often celebrated for the ease with which it balances the sensuous plenitude of seasonal growth against the anticipation of natural loss and decay. Bees are essential figures in this balancing act. Keats positions bees as vital pollinators who conspire with nature ‘how to load and bless’ (‘To Autumn’, 3) flowers and fruit ‘with a sweet kernel’ (8), as well as creatures that participate in the ‘wailful choir’ (27) of the ode’s ‘soft-dying’ (25) music, implicitly capturing current anxieties around the decline in bee populations across the earth. While bee pollination is responsible for 70% of the earth’s food production, in recent years, bees have undergone a drastic population decline of 90% due to factors such as colony collapse disorder, pesticides, deforestation, parasites, viruses, and a lack of biodiversity. Such a catastrophic threat to bee populations has most recently animated protests across the UK from groups such as Extinction Rebellion who, amongst other things, have staged a ‘Critical Swarm “Die-In”’ outside of the Tate Modern gallery and a protest at the gates of Buckingham Palace to advocate for bee rehabilitation. As with the ode ‘To Autumn’, bees are located in the public imagination as figures of growth and loss; creatures who are under serious threat of extinction despite their crucial ability ‘to set budding more, / And still more’ (9-10).

In ‘To Autumn’, the image of the ‘o’er-brimmed […] clammy cells’ (11) of the beehive creates an ambivalence that weighs the pleasure of fecundity against the anxiety of waste. Amidst the ode’s luxurious growth, the presence of the bee gestures towards a fullness that might lead to loss. Images of loading, swelling, and plumping dominate the opening of the poem. Like the ‘clammy cells’ (11) of the beehive, this stanza is heavy and overflowing with nature’s bounty. Keats’s use of the noun ‘cell’ is itself packed with multiple associations. Amongst other definitions, ‘cell’ is at once evoked as: an entomologically specific term for the ‘hexagonal wax compartments in a honeycomb’; a small room; the suffocatingly enclosed space of the prison cell; a ‘storeroom’; and, the ‘cavities […] of the brain’.[1] More importantly still, the word ‘cell’ contains a crucial metapoetic echo with the etymological roots of the Italian word ‘stanza’, which translates as ‘stopping place’ and ‘dwelling room’.[2] The ‘clammy cells’ of the hive become closely associated with the ‘teeming brain’ (‘When I have Fears that I May Cease to Be’, 2) of the poet, whose creative imagination is so full that it overflows its confines, spilling out into the rich produce of the stanza:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun,
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimmed their clammy cells
(‘To Autumn’, 1-11).

Illustration for “To Autumn” by William James Neatby, from A Day with Keats, 1899

The Apollonian sun is evoked here as a subtle presence that not only ‘load[s] and bless[es]’ (3) the natural world with fruit, but also nurtures both the poet and reader towards ‘a ripeness of intellect’ (Letters: John Keats I, 231).[3] Keats describes the bounty of nature in rich sensual imagery, pushing the poetic language to breaking point to demonstrate the plenitude of the poet’s creative imagination and the potential meanings to be garnered by the reader. The stanza is formed as one long poetic sentence, containing enjambed lines and false stopping points that make the reader believe they have arrived at a concluding thought, before continuing with a related idea. We see this most clearly in lines 7, 8, and 9: ‘To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells / With a sweet kernel; to set budding more, / And still more’ (7-9). Keats’s use of enjambment here dramatizes the expanding of the engorged hazel shells by making the syntax of lines 7 and 8 explode outside of the parameters of the rhyme scheme. The semi-colon in line 8 seems to offer a brief pause for breath, ostensibly marking the end-point of nature’s swelling and the ceasing of its ‘fruitfulness’ (1). And yet ‘to set budding’ (8) continues the forward momentum of the poetic line, reinforced by Keats’s undermining of the punctuation point at the close of line 8 through the added clause ‘And still more’ (9). Keats appears to subvert any sense that growth has ceased, pushing the stanza towards the image of the bee filling the ‘clammy cells’ (11) of the hive until its stores have ‘o’er-brimmed’ (11) with honey. Helen Vendler characterises the bee’s summer activities in ‘To Autumn’ as an ‘Edenic harvest’.[4] The bee does not pluck and destroy the flower, but delicately extracts its nectar to store in the granaries of the hive. But Keats does not straightforwardly present bees as the ideal harvesters of creative fruit in this stanza in the way Vendler proposes. By rhyming the word ‘trees’ (5) with ‘bees’ (9) and ‘cease’ (10), Keats shadows Autumn’s fecundity with the prospect of death, decay, and the potential for loss. Just as Autumn is pictured watching the ‘last oozings’ (22) of the apple spill from the cider-press in the second stanza, the reader is made aware that we may never taste the ‘o’er-brimm[ing]’ (11) plenitude of the poet’s imaginings, instead allowing the possible meanings of the poem to be laid to waste. Bees become shifting figures in ‘To Autumn’ that weigh the pleasure of endless poetic possibility against the fear of failure and loss.

‘To Autumn’ Manuscript

And yet, ‘To Autumn’ demands that the reader is at ease with our inability to capture and digest the totality of the poem’s available meanings. Instead, Keats encourages the reader to remain content with our fear of missing out on luxuriating in the poem’s rich imaginings, encouraging us to be receptive to the experience of loss itself. If the words ‘bees’, ‘trees’, and ‘cease’ chime together in ‘To Autumn’ to portend a winter in which creativity and the budding of flowers will be no more, then the prospect of such waste paradoxically becomes a source of poetic inspiration, wherein Keats’s rhymes draw attention to the music created by loss, decay, and death. Amidst the songs of Autumn — the ‘wailful choir [of] the small gnats’ (27) and the ‘full grown lambs[’] loud bleat’ (30) — bees take on an ambivalence in which the defiant celebration of life is held in equipoise with the grief of imminent decay and departure. Bees help to situate Autumn in its rightful place between the generative force of ‘o’er-brimm[ing]’ (11) summer and the apparent lifelessness of winter’s ‘crystal fretting’ (‘In Drear-Nighted December’, 14). The bees of ‘To Autumn’ reveal how abundance transmutes into loss, and in turn how loss becomes the source of creative possibility.

Works Cited:

[1] ‘Cell n. 1’ in Oxford English Dictionary <https://www-oed-com.sheffield.idm.oclc.org/view/Entry/29468?rskey=mAlJB9&result=1&isAdvanced=false#eid> [accessed 05/07/2019].

[2] See Etymology of ‘Stanza, n.’ in Oxford English Dictionary <https://www-oed-com.sheffield.idm.oclc.org/view/Entry/189041?rskey=zQQdOf&result=1&isAdvanced=false#eid> [accessed 05/07/2019].

[3] John Keats, The Letters of John Keats, 1814-1818, ed. Hyder Edward Rollins, 2 vols. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1958).

[4] Vendler, ‘Peaceful Sway Above Man’s Harvesting’ in The Odes of John Keats (Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1983), pp. 227-288 , p. 247.

 

Ellen Nicholls completed her doctoral research on the experience of ‘aching Pleasure’ (‘Ode on Melancholy’, 23) in the works of John Keats at the University of Sheffield in 2019. Her research focused on how Keats explores the interdependency between pleasure and pain. She has recently assumed a new post in higher education at Derby College and will be pursuing research into Romantic conceptualisations of numbness.

Romantic Reimaginings: Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem

Romantic Reimaginings is a BARS blog series which seeks to explore the ways in which texts of the Romantic era continue to resonate. The blog is curated by Eleanor Bryan. If you would like to publish an article in the series, please email ebryan@lincoln.ac.uk.

Today on the blog, David Sigler explores the reimagining of Romanticism in Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem

Jerusalem, NHB Modern Plays book cover (2009).

Jez Butterworth’s play Jerusalem does not hide its debts to British Romantic poetry. It takes its title from William Blake’s Milton: A Poem (by way of Hubert Parry), and attempts to update for modern England the fantasy of England that Blake conjures. The play opens with a prologue that recites Blake’s prologue, and ends, as if in a revelation of a divine truth, with the character Ginger acknowledging Blake’s authorship. The protagonist, a distinctly Byronic figure and local cock-of-the-walk, is, in a subtle stroke, called Johnny “Rooster” Byron. The play premiered in 2009 at Royal Court Theatre in London and has since been frequently staged across the UK, the US, and Canada, most recently, through June 2019, in Vancouver.

As a play about nostalgia for bygone times and national myths, and as a play committed to bringing plain speech, and even crass speech, into the realm of literary high art, Jerusalem is a thoroughly Romantic play: it is both romantic, if ugly and unsentimental, and Romantic, in its eagerness to confer the dignity of literary classics upon a gang of self-described “educationally subnormal outcasts” (p.53). Rooster, a forcibly retired daredevil encamped illegally for decades on public land, spends his days drinking, getting banned from pubs, causing public disturbances, selling drugs to teenagers, and luring them into exploitative non-consensual sex. His squatter’s rights are being challenged by his wealthier, more respectable neighbours, and Rooster, dreaming of a “Flintock rebellion” (p.53), maintains staunch opposition to Kennet and Avon Council and its enforcement officers. As the drama unfolds, Butterworth effectively reactivates the ethos of Lyrical Ballads: Rooster, like Wordsworth’s Simon Lee, is a man once central to his local community who is forced to confront his own uselessness in the modern world, but whose act of living on as the last of his kind can be seen as a meaningful form of political resistance to the neoliberal powers that have dismantled the community. His capacity for tall tales (reminiscent of “The Thorn”) exposes the modern world to the realm of the mythological and supernatural (as in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”) and highlights his allegiances with literature. It is as if Lord Byron were inserted into the world of Lyrical Ballads and tasked with enacting Blake’s vision of divine political renovation. To see or read Jerusalem as a Romanticist, then, is to encounter something deeply familiar.

Jerusalem at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury, 2018. Photograph by Philip Tull.

The play’s populist politics have not aged well in the decade since its debut. It is clear, though, that Butterworth saw the urgency with which white, poor, and sometimes xenophobic people, feeling abandoned by the official national eye and encroached upon by outsiders, and enamoured especially of ludicrous bullshit, were set to become the focal point of national politics in Britain and worldwide. There is a nativist strand in the play, according to which supposedly real Britons, through “lines of ancient energy” (p.72), can claim an ancestral connection to Stonehenge, May Day, and the woods. Hence Rooster delights in his fantasy of having urinated on the car of the traffic wardens in Marlborough town, whom he supposes to be “big Nigerians,” and of having escaped their clutches by refusing their “Nigerian delicacies” (p.68). Rooster deems himself authentically British by virtue of his bloodlines—what Rooster boasts of as Romany “Byron blood”—even when those bloodlines mark him as a perpetual outsider and subject him to racialized violence. His marginalization, legally and socially, are all the more a sign that he belongs in “Rooster’s Wood,” whatever the Rules of County Court would say. Jerusalem uses Romantic poetry as a signifier for these nativist bona fides, and to justify the squatters’ battle against the respectable New Estate. This all seems problematic and over-familiar in 2019. Yet, as Rooster and Ginger become more desperate in Act 3, their Romantic myths begin to turn against them with the brutality of a gang and with the administrative violence of the law. The myths are nevertheless all they’ve got, and so the play begins to undercut its characters’ propensity to valorize their own social and economic marginalization. The irony that results is, I think, part of the play’s Byronic and Blakean ethos.

Jerusalem is a complex and challenging contemporary response to British Romanticism. It re-activates the Romantic era’s debates over enclosure and the commons, its revolutionary impulses, its class warfare over respectability, its commitment to the “real language of men,” its affection for the supernatural, its consolidation of nationalist and racial ideologies, and its valorizations of drug addiction and sexual exploitation; it persuasively implies that these Romantic inheritances have laid the groundwork for contemporary British politics. It then suggests—with recourse to a magical golden drum—that Romanticism might offer a solution to Britain’s current political impasses, such as Brexit, which the play very much anticipates. Yet it does so by refusing to wish away the fault lines that have come to a crisis since 2009, especially during the Brexit referendum but also in the U.S. and around the world. Jerusalem, like a CNN pundit from 2016, demands that we learn to respect the values and prejudices of the rural poor—lest these forgotten people vow to exact their cosmic revenge. It invites us to think of “England” as a “green and pleasant land” belonging to the people, and redeemed by its miniature oases of authenticity, in which, ironically, self-aggrandizing lies are the coin of the realm. And it stresses the living presence of activist poetry as part of a national counterpublic that, even when it is ignored or forcibly suppressed, still simmers, by many undetected, in British politics. In that sense it is prescient and quite thoughtful—even revolutionary.

In doing so, however, Jerusalem takes a narrow and stereotyped view of British Romanticism and its legacy. Its vision of Romanticism is nearly a cult of masculinity that worships solitary men of extraordinary vision, who, through the force of their irrepressible personalities, are clearly better than the regular folks around them. These men, Butterworth suggests, won’t be constrained by society’s rules. This is the most conservative possible vision of British Romanticism, and one that the field of Romantic studies has been working to undo for several decades now.

 

Work cited: Butterworth, Jez. Jerusalem. Nick Hern Books, 2009.

David Sigler is Associate Professor of English at the University of Calgary (Canada). He is the author of Sexual Enjoyment in British Romanticism (McGill-Queen’s UP, 2015) and co-editor of Lacan and Romanticism (SUNY Press, 2019).

 

Call for Papers: Coleridge Conference 2020 – 27th-31st July in the Lakes

From 27-31 July 2020 the Coleridge Conference will be held, for the first time, in the Lake District, in the heart of Newlands, the valley he loved for ‘the exceeding greenness & pastoral beauty of the Vale itself, with the savage wildness of the Mountains, their Coves, and long arm-shaped & elbow-shaped Ridges’.

 

As usual, the conference will be both intense and relaxed, as the mostly plenary sessions overspill into garden parties, poetry readings and hikes along the river, up Causey Pike or to the nearby pub and tearooms.  A ropes course, volleyball and archery will be available for the more athletic Coleridgeans.  Paddling and stone-skimming in the beck is also possible.

This time, our keynote speaker is Mary Favret, author of War at a Distance and Romantic Correspondence.

Our venue, Newlands Activity Centre, is viewable here: https://www.activity-centre.com/facilities/grounds

The cost, for full residence, meals, fee and transport to and from Penrith railway station will be approx. £380-£520, depending on the level of accommodation you choose.  Bursaries for part of this cost will be available to graduate students and to unwaged scholars on a competitive basis.  If you wish to be considered for a bursary, say so and explain why at the top of your proposal.

The conference is supported in 2020 by the Friends of Coleridge and the Charles Lamb Society.

Proposals for 20 minute papers on Coleridge and related authors/topics are now invited (Charles Lamb especially welcome): send a maximum of 200 words to stcconference2020@gmail.com by the end of November.  Please put your name, email address and affiliation at the top of the email and at the top of the attached proposal.

We look forward to seeing you.

Tim Fulford, Kerri Andrews and Jo Taylor