BARS Blog

BARS Blog

News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

CFP – The Prospect of Improvement: A Bluestocking Landscape

A two-day conference at Hagley Hall, Worcestershire including a tour of the house and grounds supported by Elizabeth Montagu Correspondence Online [EMCO] and Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.

8-9th September 2020

Plenary speakers

Dr Stephen Bending (University of Southampton, author of Green Retreats. Women, gardens and eighteenth-century culture (2013)

Professor Markman Ellis (Queen Mary, University of London), author of The Coffee House: A Cultural History (2005)

Dr Joe Hawkins (Head of Landscape at Hagley)

Dr Steve Hindle (Huntington Library, CA) W.M. Keck Foundation Director of Research.

Our conference puts centre stage the patriotism and patronage of George Lyttelton first baron Lyttelton (1709-1773), a strangely shadowy figure yet a fascinating eminence grise behind the art and politics of his age. We will discuss the motivation behind his extensive remodelling of his grounds and the commissioning of local architect Sanderson Miller (1716-1780) in designing a new Hagley Hall. How can the ideas of other architects and landscape reformers from the midlands such as Sir Roger Newdigate (1719-1806), Sir Uvedale Price (1747-1829) and William Shenstone (1714-1763) be brought into dialogue with Miller’s project?

As EMCO is editing the correspondence of Lord Lyttelton’s friend and literary collaborator, critic Elizabeth Montagu (1718-1800), we will equally focus on eighteenth-century women’s management of estates, commissioning of art and architecture and writing associating rural retirement with moral improvement.

We invite delegates to participate in 3 panels on the following themes:

  • Concepts of Reform and Improvement in Architecture and Rural Life
  • Female Management of the Country Estate
  • The Symbolism of the Garden in Eighteenth-century Art and Literature

We also welcome papers on:

  • Whig Perceptions of the Country and the City
  • Portraiture, representations of the Country House and Landscape Painting
  • Domesticating the picturesque: creating the grotto, the wilderness and the waterfall.
  • Bluestocking Crafts and Collecting
  • Botany, Gardening and Girls’ Education
  • Agricultural Reform and the Rural Poor
  • The Lunar Society, Provincial Salons and Correspondence Networks
  • The Politics of Patronage
  • Philanthropy and the Religious Revival

Early career and unwaged researchers

We reach out especially to early career researchers by offering 6 bursaries funded by the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art to doctoral students and unwaged ECRs with promising proposals for papers relevant to the conference theme. Each bursary holder is invited to review 2 x panel sessions for a report on the conference to be published online on

http://www.elizabethmontagunetwork.co.uk/the-project/

  • Bursaries covering the conference fee and accommodation are available to 6 postgraduate students and unwaged early career researchers, who have papers accepted for presentation at the conference. ‘Unwaged’ scholars may be retired, unemployed or unable to access institutional support for conference attendance. They are invited to make a personal statement in support of their application.
  • Students’ bursary application forms must be accompanied by a statement from a supervisor which is signed on university headed paper and accompanied by the university stamp.
  • The bursary award will be paid as a refund following attendance at the conference.

Special Issue

A selection of delegates will be invited to extend their papers into scholarly articles for a book-length special issue of the journal Eighteenth-century Life, to be edited by Professor Markman Ellis.

Please send proposals for papers (no longer than 350 words) and requests for bursary application forms by 14th February 2020 to Jack Orchard by email [j.t.g.orchard@swansea.ac.uk] or by post to:

Dr. Jack Orchard, Department of English Literature and Creative Writing, Swansea University, Singleton Park, Swansea, SA2 8PP.

 

 

Keats Foundation Annual Lecture 2020

‘Between the Downs and the Sea: Romantics in Sussex’

By Alexandra Harris, author of Weatherlands: Writers and Artists under English Skies, and Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination, from Virginia Woolf to John Piper.

‘Nothing worth speaking of’ happened on Keats’s 1819 excursion over the South Downs to Chichester and then to Bedhampton – nothing except most of The Eve of St Agnes and The Eve of St Mark. William Blake referred to his Sussex years as a ‘slumber on the banks of the ocean’, but it was a fruitful sleep in which Chichester appeared as a version of Jerusalem. William Collins, who spent most of his life in Chichester, catches the music of his ‘native plains’ in some of his most influential odes. This lecture will consider Keats and his predecessors in this small part of Sussex, and will explore more broadly the relationship between place and poetry.

Alexandra Harris will speak on Saturday 7 March 2020 at 5 pm.

Booking here

Other selected Keats House events (several more, including Family Days and free poetry readings, can be found on their Eventbrite page).

All events listed below run 6.30-8pm in The Chester Room, Keats House

30 Jan Jennifer Wallace ‘”Digging Up Milton”. Keats, Milton and London 1790-1818: Writing Historical Fiction.’

6 Feb Jonathan Gonzalez ‘Keats and Wine’

20 Feb Damian Walford Davies ‘Keats’s Killing Breath: Poetry and Theories of Consumption’

5 March Drummond Bone ‘What is Poetry – thoughts by Byron (and Keats)’ – in partnership with the Byron Society

16 April Andrew Rudd ‘Charities in Keats’s London’

Romantic Reimaginings: Mapping Keats’s Progress

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, Suzie Grogan discusses the reimagining of Keats’s journey through the Mapping Keats’s Progress website.

As students of Romantic poet John Keats we might sit, hushed, in a library surrounded by books. We may have open next to us the latest critical thinking, the biographies by Roe, Motion, Gittings, Bate. In our files we may have, printed off, the latest academic papers or edited collections of the same.  Or we could be trawling JSTOR or British Library sites, intent on ensuring we miss nothing, note everything.

Mapping Keats’s Progress website

But reimagine that scene. We could be sitting quietly at a computer, or in a café with our tablet, perusing the Mapping Keats’s Progress website at http://johnkeats.uvic.ca/ notebook beside us, finding and re-finding, reflecting and diverging and walking with Keats through his development as man and poet, using location and life events to associate and connect in a way that is more difficult when surrounded by the paper equivalent. Books are a wonderful thing, but referencing and cross referencing is a demanding and time consuming process for all scholars, and is exclusive of those with a general interest who have only the most minimal access to the work. Re-imagining the critical book – or indeed the book in general terms – is inclusionary and revolutionary. We must ensure the relevance of the Romantic is taken on into the 21st century. Widening access is a necessary part of this process.

Mapping Keats’s Progress  (MKP) is a project that, despite already having over 150 ‘micro-chapters’ is still developing alongside our knowledge and interpretation of Keats’s life and letters. The architect and main brain behind the project is Dr Kim Blank, Professor of English at the University of Victoria, Canada. His published work includes books on William Wordsworth and Percy Shelley, edited books of original essays on Shelley and 19th-century poetry and he is author of numerous papers and articles. His credentials are impeccable and his dedication to an understanding of Keats’s development is extraordinary. He says:

‘MKP is a critical work, biographical study, and a resource for Keats studies. I am also aware that, professionally, the site occupies the odd space of scholarly limbo-accomplishment: I didn’t want or need a grant (these days a grant is apparently some indicator of success and credibility), and neither is it refereed by peers, though continuing feedback from peers governs some of the site’s directions’

The website states three main aims:

  • To map some of Keats’s life in in London (in fact it maps Keats’s journeys around the British Isles)
  • To re-imagine the critical book
  • To account for Keats’s remarkable poetic development, mainly between 1816-1819.

If you are reading this whilst connected to the internet, flick backwards and forwards between this blog post and the MKP website. You will immediately notice just how much information there is available, taking us  through Keats’s life chronologically, but with opportunities to refer to previous pages, to articles of interest outside the main chapter and onwards into what is, as Blank says, the ‘never-ending story’. This infinite quest for what Jonathan Bate describes as the ‘holy grail’ of understanding Keats’s remarkable period of poetic development, most particularly in 1818/19 is partly due to the ‘Junkets’ factor, what Blank describes as ‘Keats’s complicated, unique, and ultimately unknowable capacities—his innate creative and imaginative potential, his unlearned emotional and intellectual nature, and his profound ability to fuse novel relationship with inductive thinking.’ We can never know or understand enough.

Blank challenges the ‘irresistible habit of hopping around online’ by working with it. The current need for speed and the endless searching, clicking on and clicking away from web sources can, in other circumstances, result in a loss of context, an habitual search and re-search for the original. Worse still, there is the possibility of the total loss of credibility that comes from an incorrect reference, a basic factual error or research that results in a generic reproduction of well-worn facts lacking in original thinking. Within the MKP website, Blank has utilised what he calls ‘progressive reduplication’ – the micro-chapters overlapping and repeating key facts thus offering a productive stay for any user, at whatever level and recognising that the needs of each user is different, their knowledge at a different stage.  There is much of general interest, but graduate study and scholarly article will most benefit from the myriad references, cross references and context that only a site such as MKP can achieve.  It offers discoveries unavailable on other websites and certainly difficult to replicate using a physical book.

In response to a suggestion that the site itself might encourage random roving at will, Blank says:

‘The purposeful structure of MKP does indeed encourage moving around. The difference between moving around within the site and non-discriminatory, attention-deficit research is, I hope, that something knowable about Keats’s story is gathered with most of the definable micro-chapters, that then begins to form the larger picture after not too many stops. That is, most of the parts (the 157 micro-chapters) are both parts and wholes.

The MKP site is the ultimate in ‘reimagining’ as it is a genuine experiment, examining the traditional critical model and working with it to come up with an alternative method of exploration. But can Blank’s approach ever change our relationship with the monograph? Can it replace the book? Blank again:

‘Digital media, and more specifically for us, the digital humanities, is after all, an uncontrollable, utterly diverse force of possibility that powerfully impacts how we do and see and use our work. But I admit that within the profession there remains something of a fetish relationship with The Book—that 3D object that physically surrounds us in our libraries and offices, offering the sight and weight (and with old books, the smell) of materialized tradition and rippling nostalgia; the book also represents metaphysical safekeeping…’

It is not an attempt to replace the book, Blank adores them as much as any of us, insisting they remain ‘a joy forever’, but MKP offers the opportunity to evolve, move, expand, correct, revise – all those things a book can’t do. ‘Thinking-through becomes an unending process, rather than the terminus that a published book offers’.

The Mapping Keats’s Progress site spent a significant amount of time in beta to identify bugs, ensure everything works and to get feedback from users, making sure it was launched in  a ‘robust and lasting form’.  It is a complex structure, already used regularly to support new critical works and student study alike.  There are 721 maps and images on the site, many of which will be new to the user. There are 157 micro chapters, 177 transcribed poems and the word count (not including those poems) is approaching 200,000. The site has received plaudits and unsolicited praise from respected colleagues that have justified the amount of work Blank has undertaken and the most important thing is that it respects and loves the life and work of John Keats himself, positioning him as a leading member of the vast Romantic circle the site features, and highlighting how remarkable is the poetry for which he is best known.

Suzie Grogan is a professional writer, researcher and editor.  She is published in the fields of social history and mental health, her most recent books being Shell Shocked Britain on the lasting legacy of the Great War health and Death Disease & Dissection on the life of a surgeon apothecary 1750-1850, inspired by her lifelong study of John Keats. John Keats: Poetry Life & Landscape is commissioned for the bicentenary of the poet’s death in 2021. See www.suziegrogan.co.uk for more details.

Oaths, Odes, and Orations 1789-1830

2020 Paris Symposium of the London-Paris Romanticism Seminar

Ecole Normale Supérieure, rue d’Ulm, Paris

Friday 3-Saturday 4 April 2020

The Tennis Court Oath of 20 June 1789 was the first overtly revolutionary act of the French Revolution and marked the beginning of an epoch in which public speech acts took on unprecedented political significance. The ceremonial odes and hymns of the fêtes de fédération were another manifestation of this renascence of orality, restoring the ancient Pindaric tradition of poetry as public performance and giving new meaning to odic conventions such as invocation, exhortation and apostrophe. In the work of André Chénier and others, this new lyric function produced major poetry. Meanwhile, in the halls of the political clubs, in the National Convention and revolutionary Committees, and from lecterns, pulpits and courtroom benches across France, oratory of all kinds shaped the course of history and decided the fate of individuals. Even on the executioner’s scaffold, rhetorical amplification became the preferred mode of address, a grim illustration of Baudelaire’s subsequent observation about ‘the grandiloquent truth of gestures on life’s great occasions’.

The revitalisation of performative language was not confined to the 1789 Revolution, nor to France. Britain experienced what many still consider a golden age of political eloquence, as orators of the calibre of Pitt, Burke, Fox and Sheridan jousted in parliament and extended their orations through the medium of print. Outside parliament, the growth of the corresponding societies, of other political clubs and associations, and of political lecturing created numerous opportunities for public address, the communicative practices and clandestine rituals of certain organisations attracting repressive measures such as the Unlawful Oaths Act of 1797. Radical writers mimicked French revolutionary styles in odes to Liberty and on the Bastille, while satirists parodied their efforts in mock-odes to the guillotine and pseudo-songs travestying revolutionary enthusiasm. Sermons, notably in the Nonconformist churches, were another front in the oral war of ideas, fusing religion and politics in provocative ways. Educational lecturing also underwent a remarkable boom, in the new Royal Institution and other fashionable lecturing institutions.

This two-day symposium will assess the literary significance of this mobilisation of orality and public utterance, and explore links between the speech acts of politicians, polemicists and educators and the writings of poets and other authors. How is the Romantic revaluation of the ode which produced the famous lyrics of Coleridge, Keats, Shelley and Victor Hugo – and of less well-known figures such as Southey, Hemans, Iolo Morganwg and Peter Pindar – connected with the revival of ceremonial ode-writing and public ritual? How are the ‘speech genres’ of everyday life integrated into the more complex genres of imaginative literature, as Bakhtin postulated? Can speech-writing, sermonising or toast-making be themselves a form of literary activity? What happens when legally, morally binding oaths and commitments are broken, forcing the swearer to recant, in public again – are such disavowals part of the culture of apostasy and disenchantment posited by literary historians of Romanticism? And to what extent do these purposive deployments of public speech enter the literary and rhetorical theory of the period?

We invite proposals on any aspect of the literary and verbal life of Britain and France from 1789 to 1830 that relates to this broad set of issues. Topics may include but are not confined to:

•       Oaths, affirmations and other verbal rituals
•       Toasts and toasting
•       Public lectures and lecturing
•       Denunciation, recantation and confession
•       Proclamations, declarations and vindications
•       Odes, hymns and songs
•       Apostrophe, personification and other poetic devices
•       Literature and public ceremony
•       Dialectic of publicness and privacy in Romantic lyric
•       Political, religious and forensic oratory
•       Illocutionary acts and performative language
•       Gendered eloquence
•       Dialogues and dialogism
•       Rhetorical theory of the Romantic period

Papers will be 25 to 30 minutes, followed by 10 minutes for questions.

Send title of paper and abstract (300 words), with brief CV, to marc.poree@ens.fr and d.duff@qmul.ac.uk by 31 January 2020

Organised by Marc Porée (ENS), David Duff (QMUL) and the Paris Steering Group of the London-Paris Romanticism Seminar. For further information, see http://londonparisromantic.com/

Romantic Reimaginings: Tension in Coleridge’s ‘Fears in Solitude’

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, Mariyah Mandhu (University of Sheffield) discusses tension in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Fears in Solitude’.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Fears in Solitude (1798) is frequently considered as one of the poet’s most political works.[1] The volatility of this lyric has often been attributed to Coleridge’s political torment,[2] yet the implications of his experimentation with genre have largely been ignored. Sponsoring Carl Woodring’s observation that politics ‘agitated the body of [Coleridge’s] verse with severe but local storms’,[3] Coleridge uses the pastoral to inform his tale of nationalism. Rupturing the unified, idyllic landscape of pastoral, the poet darkens the natural world to a point of high anxiety, creating an insoluble tension in his poem. Reconsidering Fears in Solitude as an exercise in genre, this blog post will explore how the pastoral informs the political drive of this ‘Conversation Poem’.

Fears in Solitude opens with a typical scene of pastoral retreat in the Quantock Hills. A sight close to the poet’s heart, he tells us of a ‘green and silent spot, amid the hills’ (Fears in Solitude, l. 1) where ‘No singing sky-lark ever poised himself’ (Fears in Solitude, l. 3). The beauty of the scene is complemented by the fresh greenness, the soothing sibilance and the skylark, a joyous symbol of the divine spirit. There is a nostalgic overtone implied in the lushness of landscape as it embodies a ‘quiet spirit-healing nook’ (Fears in Solitude, l. 12). Erecting ‘a different kind of world to that of realism’,[4] Fears in Solitude begins in the conventional pastoral mode, instating physical and spiritual unity in the natural world.

Obliterating nature’s beauty almost immediately, the pastoral is suddenly upended in the next stanza. Contemplating the possibility of ‘What uproar and what strife may now be stirring / This way or that way o’er these silent hills—’ (Fears in Solitude, l. 34-35), there appears to be an inherent anxiety stirring in Coleridge’s mind. Where the hills previously denoted calm, their silence now operates as a perturbation that anticipates the impending French invasion. Registering a sense of immediacy, the use of ‘now’ draws this tension into the present, completely overturning the idyllic opening of the poem. The pastoral is suddenly overwhelmed by a cacophony of noise, ‘the thunder and the shout, / And all the crash of onset; fear and rage’ (Fears in Solitude, l. 36-37). Notwithstanding the obvious onomatopoeia, Coleridge rejects what Simon Jarvis terms a ‘nihilated theory of the living, healthy and whole’.[5] Pastoral degenerates into a threatening, alien and loud presence, representing the ‘groan’ (Fears in Solitude, l. 40) of political torment, an efficient expression of national fear.

The poem then descends into an admonition as Coleridge reprimands his countrymen for the gross offences they have perpetrated. Unlike Wordsworth who seems to criticise the urban commercial world, Coleridge draws attention to man’s offences as a nationwide, rural and urban, issue. Pastoral sheds its status as a pure genre, admitting that the rural sphere is just as polluted as the urban, weakening the genre’s typical city/country contrast. Highlighting the hypocrisy of man, Coleridge muses:

Forth from his dark and lonely hiding-place,

(Portentous sight!) the owlet Atheism,

Sailing on obscene wings athwart the noon,

Drops his blue-fringed lids, and holds them close,

And hooting at the glorious sun in Heaven,

Cries out, ‘Where is it?’

(Fears in Solitude, l. 81-86)

Adding a strong grain of satire to Fears in Solitude, Coleridge redirects the pastoral to criticise mankind. The ‘owlet Atheism’ holding its ‘blue-fringed lids’ close symbolises wilful, intellectual blindness. Mocking the type of person who would stare at the sun without seeing it, there is a genuine fear that the deluded countrymen will listen to such hooting blindness, and thence degenerate further. With pastoral now embodying Coleridge’s main fear in solitude—a fruitless future for his nation—the genre takes on a darkened aesthetic power in order to expose the consequences of man’s apathy.

Offering a solution to this great national issue, Coleridge calls out to God to ‘spare us ye awhile!’ (Fears in Solitude, l. 130) in order that his countrymen may redeem themselves. Suggesting collective action as the chief antidote to this ‘Alarm of an Invasion’,[6] the poet commands:

Stand we forth;

Render them back upon the insulted ocean,

And let them toss as idly on its waves

As the vile sea-weed,

(Fears in Solitude, l. 146-149)

Drawing the ocean into his pastoral, Coleridge affirms that the British must undertake the arduous task of defence. Reducing the enemy down to ‘vile sea-weed’ demonstrates Coleridge’s contempt of, and determination to defeat the French. That the opposition should ‘toss as idly on its waves’ suggests a lifelessness, allowing the pastoral to consider more sinister and hostile subject matter. Modifying nature, and particularly the ocean, to such an extent that ‘a person [becomes] unsure of his way around’,[7] pastoral becomes uncertain, cold and intimidating.

Having battled through such a brutal and unforgiving vista, Coleridge attempts to instil pastoral calm as he remembers the ‘green and silent dell’ (Fears in Solitude, l. 238). Grateful for ‘nature’s quietness / And solitary musings, all [his] heart / Is softened’ (Fears in Solitude, l. 239-241). Acknowledging the pastoral turmoil that we have just weathered, this retreat brings with it ‘a tension of values’ as we are asked to reconsider the efficacy of the serene bucolic against the backdrop of the chaotic, anxious darker pastoral.[8] Against William Empson’s view that Coleridge’s main business is ‘to reconcile nature to his tribe’,[9] Coleridge seems unreconciled with nature himself, as is reflected in the fracture and tensions of the poetry.

Works cited:
[1] Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ‘Fears in Solitude (1798)’, in The Major Works including Biographia Literaria, Oxford World Classics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 92-98.
[2] See for example, Peter Larkin, ‘”Fears in Solitude:” Reading (from) the Dell’, The Wordsworth Circle, 22. 1 (1991) < https://www.jstor.org/stable/24042639> [Accessed 30 July 2019] and Paul Magnuson, ‘The Shaping of “Fears in Solitude”’, in Coleridge’s Theory of Imagination Today, ed. by Christine Gallant (New York: AMS Press, 1989).
[3] Carl Woodring, ‘The Language of Politics’, in Politics in the Poetry of Coleridge (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1961), pp. 33-44 (p. 33)
[4] Terry Gifford, ‘The Discourse of Retreat’, in Pastoral (London; New York: Routledge, 1999), pp. 45-80 (p. 45).
[5] Simon Jarvis, ‘Life’, in Wordsworth’s Philosophic Song (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 153-194 (p. 155).
[6] Coleridge, ‘Fears in Solitude (1798’), p. 92.
Sigmund Freud, ‘The Uncanny’, in The Uncanny: Translated by David McLintock with an Introduction by Hugh Houghton (London: Penguin, 2003), pp. 121-159 (p. 125).
[8] Stuart Curran, ‘Pastoral’, in British Form and Romanticism (New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 85-127 (p. 88).
[9] William Empson, ‘The Beggar’s Opera: Mock-pastoral as the Cult of Independence’, in Some Versions of Pastoral (London: Chatto & Windus, 1968), pp. 195-252 (p. 207).

Mariyah Mandhu is a PhD student in Romantic poetry at the University of Sheffield. Her project reinterprets the use of the pastoral genre in the poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge. Adapting Timothy Morton’s concept of ‘dark ecology’, she argues that in Romantic poetry there emerges an ambivalent, treacherous version of nature, unseen in such an extensive capacity until Coleridge’s ‘Conversation Poems’ in 1975. Revealing the existence of a Romantic subgenre entitled the dark pastoral, she explores its usage in poems that span the full length of Wordsworth and Coleridge’s careers.

Romantic Reimaginings: Adaptation and Convergence in Poe (Part 3 of 3)

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 our article is the final article in a 3 part series in which Jeff L. Wright (University of Arkansas) discusses adaptations of the works of Edgar Allen Poe. His first article (link below) examined Poe’s The Raven in the context of Halloween. Parts 2 and 3 examine Richard Corben’s comic book adaptations of Poe, tracing the evolution of these adaptations from the cultural ‘memeplex’ to the individual ‘selfplex’.

Part 1: bars.ac.uk/blog/?p=2721

Part 2: bars.ac.uk/blog/?p=2724

Part 3:

For this Romantic Reimagining, I would like to continue our exploration of the bio-evolutionary model of memes in Richard Corben’s comic book adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe’s, “The Raven”. In part one, I discussed the ways in which memes are transferred from the cultural memeplex into our own individual brains, called the selfplex. Richard Corben’s original adaptation of this poem incorporated a painterly, watercolor style of pen-and-ink to create an almost impressionistic version of Poe’s protagonist. Material items such as the room or the Colt-style revolver the man carried were heavily detailed, as if drawn, and the human figure was less detailed. Perhaps this was Corben’s attempt to hedge himself against the fact that there is no clear description of the character in the poem, and Corben’s rendition of the man leaves us with more of a visual impression of a character. I also discussed how some elements, such as the protagonist’s appearance, are more controversial in our own minds than other elements, such as what the raven, a gun, or the room would look like in this poem. Once rendered, Corben then regurgitates this new adaptation back into the cultural memeplex for a survival-of-the-fittest test to see if fans liked it or not.

I would like to continue with an exploration of another of Corben’s adaptations of “The Raven” roughly a decade later. Edgars Allen Poe’s The Raven and the Red Death (EAPRRD) was done with Darkhorse Comics. Like Haunt of Horror, EAPRRD is still mostly Corben doing the writing and the artwork, with some lettering done by Nate Piekos. I mention this because in the case of Corben’s work, he is handling both the writing and drawing duties, whereas most comics have separate writers and artists (even a whole team of them), which is another reason Corben’s work is good for this sort of memetic evolutionary analysis, as there is little question as to where the ideas originated from.
In the previous rendition of “The Raven,” Corben worked in black-and-white. However, in his later version he switches to color, but also steps the artwork back into what looks more like the retro/vintage horror comics of old, such as Tales from the Crypt or Vault of Horror. This style is somewhat “cartoony” in that the human form is often exaggerated into a caricature of sorts. Mag the Hag, a narrator in the vein of the Cryptkeeper, is somewhat of a cross between a hunchback and a witch with a round, bulbous nose, balding head, and sagging cleavage (fig. 1).

Figure 1: The Slime Effect

Whereas the first version of “The Raven” featured an impression of a man in the story/poem, Corben’s second adaptation creates a very distinct idea of what the character looks like. We are shown two things in the first few frames that set a clearly different visual tone than his first adaptation. First is the man himself, with muttonchops and details that make the character look older or at least more haggard than in the first adaptation. The second element we see is what I usually just refer to as the “slime effect” in horror comics. Rain on a window sill, and in the next frame on Mag the Hag’s nose, is drawn to look more like globs of spit or slime oozing down these things rather than raindrops (fig. 1). This slime-visual alone is a clear link to horror comics and serves as a sort of signal that this will likely be grotesque in some way.

Figure 2: Lenore and Arnold

Corben has also created more detailed imagery in this adaptation of both the man and Lenore, as the use of a flashback sequence is employed early in the story in the man’s pondering over “forgotten lore.” The lore, in this case, being thoughts of his Lenore, who is shown to be an attractive woman in his memories of their lovemaking. This is a major departure from his previous adaptation of this poem in that he is now drawing these characters with very distinct details, but also employing visual elements that were not part of the original poem’s story. Lenore, like the man in the poem, is never described. Corben is taking artistic license regarding this, essentially having to add these romantic memories to visually represent lines in the poem that read as inner dialogue or that Poe never fleshed out for the reader. Corben even goes so far as to name the originally unnamed man, Arnold (fig. 2).

Figure 3: Death at the beak of The Raven

In Corben’s previous adaptation he worked more as an impressionist doing, for lack of a better term, an “artistic” comic. Now, he is switching styles, which almost feels a bit like a genre shift from arthouse-comic to good ole’ fashioned worm-and-guts, pre-CCA, horror comics. Which brings us to the raven itself. In his former adaptation, Corben chose to go with a fairly realistic version of a raven, at least as realistic as a talking antagonist raven can be made to look. In this version, Corben has chosen to get a little more horrific with the raven, and honestly this is the first time this poem actually came across as remotely scary or horrifying to me. After goring Arnold with its beak, the raven is depicted as some sort of demonic-undead bird hovering over the fallen body of Arnold, now laying before Lenore’s gravemarker.

In this version, Corben adds more than just visuals to this poem, he also has to create new, additional elements of the story to turn this into a 10-page comic book story. While visual elements will always be seen as addition to a textual story, the visual additon of the blood and gore into this version seem to amplify the horror aspects of this poem or contemporize the graphicness of these elements to sell to modern horror audiences that may be used to much more violent or grotesque depictions. In terms of Convergence Culture and Adaptation Studies, Corben’s work on “The Raven” serves as a good source for analyzing the way that, in this case, this has grown from an impressionistic visual adaptation of the poem, to that of a full blown horror story using the poem as a foundation for other horror elements, especially visual elements, to be added to it.

Jeff L. Wright is currently working on PhD in Cultural Studies and as a writing instructor at the University of Arkansas. He has a BA and MA in interdisciplinary studies in the fields of Anthropology, Rhetoric-Composition, Gender Studies, Film Studies, and Theatre. Jeff’s writing ranges from academic research to playwrighting, and he is currently working as one of the official bloggers for the Sam Walton College of Business. His current research is focused on “Bitch-Rhetoric” in comic books and tattoos.

 

Romantic Reimaginings: Adaptation and Convergence in Poe (Part 2 of 3)

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 our article is Part 2 in a 3 part series in which Jeff L. Wright (University of Arkansas) discusses adaptations of the works of Edgar Allen Poe. His first article (link below) examined Poe’s The Raven in the context of Halloween. Parts 2 and 3 examine Richard Corben’s comic book adaptations of Poe, tracing the evolution of these adaptations from the cultural ‘memeplex’ to the individual ‘selfplex’.

Part 1: bars.ac.uk/blog/?p=2721

Part 2:

My childhood fascination with horror comics would eventually come full circle as I conducted my research in grad school where, amongst many other interdisciplinary interests, the Dawkins/Bartolotti/Hutcheon evolutionary concepts of memes became a prime ingredient in most of my research. In terms of Romantic Reimaginings, I would like to take a look at the ways in which the bio-evolutionary theory of memes and adaptation work using adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”, in the comic books of Richard Corben.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary/Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore… tapping… on my tablet I came across some contemporary horror comics I had been meaning to get around to reading. There has always been a place in comics for good ole fashioned worm-and-guts horror, and famed underground comic book artist, Richard Corben, is probably one of the most creative Eisner Inductees to ever put pen to paper in this genre. In the days of Marvel’s “adult” label, Max, Corben penned several issues for the Haunt of Horror series that adapted stories and poems to great effect. Haunt of Horror: Edgar Allen Poe #1 (2006) featured one of Corben’s earlier adaptations of “The Raven” and “The Conqueror Worm,” both of which are re-imagined again by Corben in later works.

In my work, I prefer Susan Blackmore’s terms from The Meme Machine in referring to the world where art and literature live in our culture (memes) as the memeplex, and when those memes enter our minds it is entering the selfplex. The concept is simple. Memes from the memeplex, such as the poem “The Raven”, are absorbed into the mind/selfplex, via visual transmission of signs and images that represent the thoughts contained in the brain cells of someone else. Once absorbed into our brains, those signs are interpreted and become transmissions between our own brain cells, and if we deem it worthy, or if it is just too memorable to forget, or too forgettable to remember, it may get stored in our own selfplex/brain as memory. Following this bio-evolutionary model of memes, the meme/thoughts, can either stay relatively fidelitous to the original meme or it can mutate, either by accident because human memory is very fallible, or because we consciously mutate it. The meme is then regurgitated back into the memeplex where it will undergo a sort of survival of the fittest test, being accepted or rejected by the culture as a whole, or some degree in between, where it can then go through the whole process again as it enters and is regurgitated by numerous other selfplexes. This is an evolutionary process that can take place in a matter of seconds, rather than hundreds of thousands of years of biological evolution.

As someone focused on visual rhetoric/theories in adaptation studies and convergence culture, I am always either enamored or repulsed by another person’s idea of what a character looks like. It used to drive me bonkers the way an artist would render Frodo to look like a cherub with pants or made Strider look too clean-cut in the Tolkien calendars. In visual adaptations of “The Raven”, we often see a Poe-like caricature portraying the narrator, who we are never given any description of by Poe whatsoever. I think this is partly to blame for why so many people think Poe himself was an alcoholic and drug addict. We know the character is tired and lonely and that’s about it. So, any visual elements added to this poetic story are going to be coming mostly from the mind of the artist.

Figure 1

In this case, Corben is taking the poem from the memeplex, rolling it around in his own brain, Corben’s selfplex, and then he draws the comic book and puts it back out into the memeplex as a new adaptation, which is also a prime example of aspects of Convergence Culture phenomenon. We get to see a visual representation of his thoughts manifested into a material reality.

Corben’s artwork in this story is painterly, using what appears to be ink-and-paper in a more watercolor-styled fashion. You can see that the protagonist is fairly generic, while details abound in material objects like the revolver the character carries (fig. 1). It’s almost as if Corben doesn’t want to give too much detail to the character, instead creating the impression of the character, while the room around him and material objects are detailed. There is really only one controversial element of this poem’s imagery; what does the guy look like? We’re less likely to get hung up on what the room and objects should look like. Even an artistic expression of a raven would still be relatively fidelitous so long as we recognize it as the raven. But the protagonist’s appearance is the only element our minds are likely to find debatable. If you try to substitute a Pomeranian for a St. Bernard in Cujo, our minds are going to reject it. But changing the car in that story from a Ford Pinto to a Ford Fiesta; they are almost the same economy car, so who cares.

From a Convergence Culture standpoint, analysis such as this becomes a useful tool in looking at the adaptation process. Richard Corben’s work is a great piece of data, because as I mentioned before, he creates other renditions of this and other Poe stories, so one could analyze his visual adaptations of Poe on a specific textual meme in the same way art critics have analyzed Monet’s numerous water lily paintings. In Part 3, I will continue discussing Corben with one of his more recent adaptations of “The Raven”, where we see a shift in his visual style and color, as well as how he is approaching the written adaptations of Poe, specifically what elements are being added to this otherwise sparse story from one of Poe’s most famous poems.

Jeff L. Wright is currently working on PhD in Cultural Studies and as a writing instructor at the University of Arkansas. He has a BA and MA in interdisciplinary studies in the fields of Anthropology, Rhetoric-Composition, Gender Studies, Film Studies, and Theatre. Jeff’s writing ranges from academic research to playwrighting, and he is currently working as one of the official bloggers for the Sam Walton College of Business. His current research is focused on “Bitch-Rhetoric” in comic books and tattoos.

 

 

 

Romantic Reimaginings: Adaptation and Convergence in Poe (Part 1 of 3)

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, in the inaugural article of a three part series, Jeff L. Wright (University of Arkansas) discusses adaptations of the works of Edgar Allen Poe. His first article examines Poe’s The Raven in the context of Halloween. Parts 2 and 3 examine Richard Corben’s comic book adaptations of Poe, tracing the evolution of these adaptations from the cultural ‘memeplex’ to the individual ‘selfplex’.

Part 1

Growing up in the woods of Sherwood may seem like some sort of magical childhood full of secret gardens and talking lions, but in reality, Sherwood, Arkansas was your typical run-of-the-mill suburban, U.S. town in the “South.” Every year there were fireworks on the 4th of July, pastel suits and Easter egg hunting, and of course lights and parades to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. The holidays were always a lot of fun; they broke up the monotony of school with guaranteed days off and the hope of material goods in the form of presents. But of course, we always had to dress up in our “Sunday clothes” to eat what was otherwise an ordinary meal with the same people you ate with yesterday, or in the case of the 4th, you had to plan to weather what was usually a 36 degree day by slathering on tons of sunscreen and bug repellent to fend off the pinky sized mosquitoes coming out of the nearby creek. Of all the holidays to dress up for, though, Halloween was always my favorite. Costume planning went from weeks before to a full year of prep time by the time I was nearing the end of my Trick-or-Treating days (I think somewhere around the age of 40).

As Halloween approached again this year, I was reflecting upon my early school days when we were allowed to wear our costumes to school and we would all have a parade of classes, and Suzy was lying about getting to see Alien (1979), and the teachers and staff would hand out candy, and there was that one year that Johnny’s single, low-income mom “forgot” it was costume day and Johnny tore rips in his school clothes and said he was “a punker” and the teacher chastised him in front of everybody for it, and… well, there are always a lot of tangled memories tied up in childhood. But, the one thing that always stood out in my mind was when they would take large groups of costumed students to the library where the school librarian would be dressed up looking exactly like the Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz (1939), which wickedly scared the pants off the really little kids. Scaredy-cat babies! There was more candy and we always got to watch the Bing Crosby narrated The Legend of Sleep Hollow (1949), which in the days before VCRs was a big deal to get to see a Disney cartoon in the library.

But before that, every time, we had to sit through a reading of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven. It was like they had to get it out of the way first. Teachers would scurry around hushing and shushing the fidgety ones while the Wicked Witch read the poem out loud to us… from a book that didn’t even have any pictures in it! Why oh why would anybody think that little kids would be fascinated by this poem is beyond me. We whispered to each other, pulled our neighbors cape, popped the elastic string on the back of a mask; fidgeters every last one of us! Getting to watch cartoons and eat candy was fun, having to listen to someone drone on and on about a stupid raven tapping on a window sill??? “More like crapping on the window sill!” The wit and wisdom of the juvenile mind.

As a result, I was conditioned at an early age to be weary of “one of the U.S.’s greatest authors,” and like those awful, bottom-of-the-bag, all-that’s-left Halloween licorices or star mints, it put a bad taste in my mouth whenever it came to Poe for years afterwards. One of our few “canonical” U.S. authors, a good ole’ red blooded patriotic ‘Merican for crying out loud, and we were taught as schoolchildren to hate him, or at least note him to be the most boring aspect of Halloween, which to a kid is pretty much the same as saying “you’re the old lady coffee candy someone fished out of their old lady purse and put it in your Trick-or-Treat bag.” Realistically, in the eyes of a 7 or 8yo child, how was some ancient poet ever going to compete with It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966). And even though it was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, it was still an era in which the Universal Monster Movies were considered “G-rated” and family friendly. So, a poem that harkens back to middle-English about a dead girlfriend and a raven were about as scary or creepy to me then as when my little sister went as the Looney Toon, Tweety Bird, for Halloween. I’ll pit The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) against any Poe antagonist any day, any time.

In truth, looking back, I realized this was my first foray into the controversy of canonical literature. “Why do they get to say who we read?!” And as the Wicked Witch read the poem out loud, I remember a girl, maybe a grade lower than me, interrupting with “Who’s Lenore?” Unfortunately, I do not recall the witch’s response, but it had to be something to the effect of “Well, that’s his dead wife and the man is sad about it.” Which you can just imagine the slew of questions that is going to follow that: “Why’s she dead? How do you know he’s sad? Why do people drink when someone dies? Can you make my mommy stop drinking? Will a raven come and peck my eyes out?” What the hell were those educators thinking?

It’s an example of how easily we can (please tell me it was inadvertently) warp the minds of young readers and turn them away from authors by trying to introduce them at too early an age. In all fairness, it was also the same public school district that taught us that Frankenstein was about “not playing God because it’s a sin.” Unfortunately, it would not be until years later that my opinion of Poe would change. At this point, Edgar Allen Poe’s, The Raven, still stands out in my mind as one of the worst aspects of Halloween and those witchly open-mic readings were an epic fail.

Jeff L. Wright is currently working on PhD in Cultural Studies and as a writing instructor at the University of Arkansas. He has a BA and MA in interdisciplinary studies in the fields of Anthropology, Rhetoric-Composition, Gender Studies, Film Studies, and Theatre. Jeff’s writing ranges from academic research to playwrighting, and he is currently working as one of the official bloggers for the Sam Walton College of Business. His current research is focused on “Bitch-Rhetoric” in comic books and tattoos.

The Maureen Crisp Young Scholars Fund – Byron Conference Bursaries

The Maureen Crisp Young Scholars Fund invites applications for funding from  post-graduate scholars intending to present an academic paper at an approved Byron conference or a paper mainly on Byron at any other approved conference in or outside the United Kingdom.

The student (irrespective of nationality) should be studying at a University in the United Kingdom. Applications may be submitted at any time and should include a CV and the names of one, preferably two referees. An abstract of the paper to be read will be required, and details of the conference including its approximate total costs.

The candidate will be notified as soon as possible whether they will  be granted a fund or otherwise but actual funding will only be provided once there is confirmation that the candidate’s paper has been accepted.

In the event of the scholar being unable to attend the conference for whatever reason after a grant has be made, then the grant will be repayable in full forthwith to the Maureen Crisp Young Scholars Fund.        An application for funding to the trustees does not mean a grant will automatically be given

In the first instance please contact: www.newsteadabbeybyronsociety.org/contact

The Censorship of British Theatre, 1737-1843

New web resource on theatre censorship: https://tobeomitted.tcd.ie 

The website explores the topic of theatre censorship in Britain 1737-1843. It hosts 40 carefully selected play manuscripts submitted to the Examiner of Plays who had the primary responsibility of safeguarding the morals of theatre audiences after the passage of the Stage Licensing Act of 1737.

The manuscripts are drawn from the Larpent Collection (Huntington Library, Los Angeles) and the Lord Chamberlain’s Plays (British Library, London) and have been carefully selected to show the variety of reasons a play might be deemed inappropriate through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Each manuscript is accompanied by an author bio, plot synopsis, reception history, and commentary on the censorship. The editorial apparatus amounts to 95,000 words in total.