The organisers have just released a slew of further details about BARS’ 2015 International Conference, Romantic Imprints, including the provisional programme, details of the costs and accommodation and information about the excursion and dinner. All this information is up on the conference website, http://bars2015.org. Registration will open on April 21st.
(We’re very glad to welcome Anna Mercer (University of York) to the BARS Blog – she’s the first of a number of new contributors who will be joining the blogging team over the coming weeks.)
(Image from the Shelley’s Ghost online exhibition , Bodleian Library, Oxford: http://shelleysghost.bodleian.ox.ac.uk)
On 13th April 2015 I visited Newcastle University to attend a Research Symposium in the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics (SELLL). This event, organised by Will Bowers, began with two panels of presentations by Newcastle researchers and a poetry reading, all of which paid specific attention to William Godwin, Percy and Mary Shelley and their circles. This was followed in the evening by the literature visiting speaker programme, with talks by Elizabeth Denlinger (New York Public Library) and Gregory Dart (University College London). Their talks focussed on ‘Editing Romantic-Period Writings in the 21st Century’.
Research symposiums like this are important in that they bring eighteenth century and Romantic studies together. It reminds us (and sometimes we do need reminding) why it is that Romanticism is more often connected to the ‘long eighteenth century’ rather than the Victorian period. Here specifically the symposium united eighteenth-century thought and Romantic writings by considering one celebrated family: the Godwins and the Shelleys. As they functioned as a familial group, the Godwins and the Shelleys are exemplary of the bridge between late eighteenth-century literature and the early nineteenth-century work of the second generation of Romantics. Of course, the symposium extended beyond this remit, and works by Charles Lamb, S T Coleridge and Adam Smith, for example, were also brought into the discussion. The diversity of authors discussed recalled how the Godwins and the Shelleys, although particularly recognisable because of their blood-family link, perpetually sought to extend their literary circles beyond their immediate contemporaries and relations.
Part I: Godwin, Shelley and their Circles: Presentations by SELLL Researchers
In the papers at the symposium there was an emphasis on intertextuality that functioned brilliantly alongside the tone of the event as a place of academic sharing and growth. The papers led to interesting discussions following each panel of speakers. On the first panel we heard from Laura Kirkley, who explored Mary Wollstonecraft as a cosmopolitan writer, concerned by what it means to be a patriot. Jonathan Quayle then discussed ‘Shelley’s Utopian Visions’: Percy Shelley’s preoccupation with a perfect society, his denouncement of tyranny, and how a tension between a distinct ideal of Utopia and the need to discourage a violent response to oppression manifests itself in his poetry. Matthew Grenby led the discussion onto William Godwin, discussing the Juvenile Library within the complex bibliographical history of children’s literature. This was exciting as it prefigures the publication of the next volume of Godwin letters edited by Grenby, and we were treated to slides showing some of Godwin’s letters in manuscript. The organiser of the event, Will Bowers, then presented on ‘”Newspaper Erudition” and the Pisan Circle’. This was about Percy Shelley’s engagement on another literary level – not with an author present in his circle, but with the newspapers he read in Italy, and the influence of this on Hellas. Finally, Margaret Wilkinson gave a fantastic sneak peak of an upcoming radio drama she is working on for the BBC about Mary Shelley. This section was completed by two atmospheric poetry readings. John Challis read poems written during a residence at the Keats-Shelley House, Rome. Bill Herbert talked about the dialogue between poets, and the influence of myth, science and literature on poetry as an art form, before reading a poem he had written, followed by a response in verse to this, composed by another poet.
The second panel began with Leanne Stokoe, whose paper discussed ‘Adam Smith and the Principle of Self in Percy Shelley’s Speculations on Morals and Metaphysics’. Intertextuality was a crucial element here, as her discussion considered Smith, Hume, Godwin, and the Shelleys. Michael Rossington followed with a fascinating discussion of his recent research in the Huntington Library, California. Having looked at a press copy of Percy Shelley’s Hellas (one of the last poems to be published in Shelley’s lifetime) in the hand of Edward Williams, he identified how editing (by an unknown compositor) has transformed words and phrases in Shelley’s original work, so as to affect the published texts we read today. This fascinating close discussion of the manuscript really emphasised the preciseness and importance of manuscript study, and alongside the consideration of digitisation elsewhere in the symposium, championed the necessity of examining manuscripts in person.
A joint presentation by Helen Stark and Beatrice Turner then discussed the possibility of a digital edition of Godwin’s ‘Essay on Sepulchres’. Helen Stark gave a preview of her upcoming project on the role of the grave, and literary representations of the grave. Beatrice Turner discussed her work on ‘inheriting Romanticism 1820-1850’, and considered how authors use writing to explore what it means to be a family. Eliza O’Brien then spoke on the connections between Godwin’s fiction and his biographical and historical work, e.g. how in novels like Caleb Williams he used ‘fictional enquiries’ to explore the state of the individual. Callum Fraser, a creative writing PhD student, completed this panel with a talk on the Godwin circle and their creative practices. He discussed why, as a writer, he personally identified with this group of talented individuals, and why the study of them continues to be important. The Godwin circle frame their literary identity as something larger than themselves, he said, and a crossover of interest in different genres, philosophical thought, authors and modes of creativity was again evident in all of the papers here.
Throughout the symposium there was considerable interest in the idea of the physical text, both in terms of the original manuscript, and also in relation to the potential for producing digital versions of texts. The paper that stood out for me was Michael Rossington’s discussion of the Shelley manuscripts. As a research student I am attempting to incorporate manuscript study in my own thesis on the works of Percy and Mary Shelley, and here was a renowned Shelley expert’s experience of encountering the real thing, and unearthing previously unnoticed aspects of a manuscript. This manuscript of Hellas was a typical Shelleyan copy – written by an amanuensis, with spaces left for Percy Shelley’s completions, and corrections in Shelley’s hand. However, Rossington’s research demonstrated how it was also a unique document that deserves further study. Rossington (with Will Bowers) has also been working on Hellas for the upcoming Longman edition of the complete poems of Shelley Vol V.
Part II: Literature Visiting Speaker Programme
After a wine reception, Elizabeth Denlinger gave a talk on the birth and early growth of the Shelley-Godwin Archive, which launched in 2013. At the archive now (http://shelleygodwinarchive.org) you can see the Frankenstein manuscript drafts, with transcriptions and a clear distinction between the hand of Mary Shelley and Percy Shelley (using the online tool you can easily toggle between what is Mary Shelley’s hand and what are Percy Shelley’s additions and corrections). Denlinger is the curator of the Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle. She discussed the progress of the Shelley-Godwin archive as it moved towards the launch date, the obstacles they faced, and what is planned for its future. The Prometheus Unbound notebooks are the next selection of manuscripts to be digitised. This work on the Shelley-Godwin manuscripts is incredibly useful to scholars as the original Garland facsimiles of the Bodleian Shelley Manuscripts and the Manuscripts of the Younger Romantics are now expensive and difficult to obtain for libraries, let alone individuals.
Gregory Dart (Senior Lecturer at UCL and editor of the OUP collected works of Charles and Mary Lamb) gave the final, compelling paper on ‘Lamb, Godwin, and the Seventeenth Century 1795-1805’. Dart discussed Romantic friendships and considered how the Romantics were using Godwin in the late 1790s. He specifically discussed Rosamund Gray (1798) as being ‘like a Lyrical Ballad in prose’ and reflected on the purpose of Lamb’s Godwinian villain. Dart placed specific emphasis on the politics of friendship discussed in the letters of all young writers in the 1790s – and how this brought public issues into the private sphere.
The Godwins and the Shelleys were always attempting to explore their connections to other authors in writing, and thus their compositions function alongside an awareness of their contemporaries, precursors, and even the potential of their own legacies. The range and calibre of academic work presented at this symposium demonstrated a similar dynamic by which scholars engaged with each other’s work in order to build on their own knowledge, and it was a fantastic environment to be a part of.
It’s an exciting time for Romanticism in Japan at present, with last year’s excellent Romantic Connections conference being followed closely by Coleridge and Contemplation, which took place in Kyoto last month and for which BARS provided a donation in support. Below, we present a detailed account of the proceedings; this was written, compiled and kindly provided by Philip Aherne (KCL), Emily Holman (Oxford), Jin Lu (Chinese University of Hong Kong) and Dillon Struwig (York). The schedule and other details of the conference can be viewed on its website, and there are plans afoot for a collection of essays developed from the papers which were given.
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Coleridge and Contemplation | Kyoto Notre Dame University | March 2015
This ambitious and successful conference gathered Coleridgean and contemplative scholars from all over the world in one of the most beautiful cities in Japan to discuss literature and philosophy, particularly in relation to Coleridge and the theme of contemplation. Thirty-four speakers presented lectures and shorter papers, eleven Guest Chairs added to that number, and a total of 107 people attended the three-day international colloquium.
The Romantic poet-philosopher S. T. Coleridge presents a unique opportunity for considering the relationship between these two different, but related, branches of the humanities. A range of topics were discussed, among them ethics, aesthetics, psychology, biblical criticism and the nature of philosophic practice. Needless to say, such intellectual diversity provided propitious ground for further contemplation from all the delegates.
Day 1: Friday 27th March
Professor Jim Mays, the renowned Coleridge scholar and editor, began the conference with a keynote lecture exploring Coleridge’s conception of contemplation in relation to the process of reading and interpreting poetry, with a focus on how Coleridge’s poetry can be seen as an attempt to work through as-yet-unarticulated emotional and intellectual problems.
In the second session, the question of contemplation was approached from three different perspectives. Jerry Chia-Je Weng considered the ways in which Coleridge’s play Osorio critically engages with the moral philosophy of Hartley and Godwin. Saeko Yoshikawa, a leading Japanese Romanticist, offered an analysis of the traces of Coleridge’s influence in the contemplative nature poetry of Edward Thomas. Emily Holman, drawing on thinkers from Newman to Maritain, advocated contemplation as a mode of knowing, in the context of F. R. Leavis’ writings on the relationship between emotion and thought in composing and interpreting poetry.
The third session, focused on Coleridge’s social, political, and ethical philosophy. Kaz Oishi, another prominent Japan-based Romanticist, offered a detailed history of the personal and intellectual relationship between Robert Owen and Coleridge, particularly with reference to their differences on economic theory, education, and the moral problems posed by child labour. Andy Hamilton considered the status of Coleridge as a conservative political and social theorist, setting Coleridge, with his balance of permanence and progression, in clearly defined relief against the political philosophies of Burke and J. S. Mill. Philip Aherne explored Coleridge’s influence on a range of nineteenth-century British philosophers and theologians.
In the final session, the theme of contemplation was again approached in a variety of ways. Yoshiko Fuji considered the textual and thematic relations between Coleridge’s mysterious ‘Woman in White’ in the multiple versions of his ‘Allegoric Vision’ and the poems Rime of the Ancient Mariner and ‘Christabel’. Jin Lu offered a new account of some of the subtle and relatively unexplored parallels between Keats’ and Coleridge’s views on poetry and philosophy, in the context of their conceptions of imagination, sense-perception, and aesthetic experience. The conference co-ordinator Peter Cheyne ended the day with an analysis of Coleridge’s ‘Order of the Mental Powers’ and how what Coleridge characterised as the higher mind subordinates the lower as it approaches contemplation through an active cognitive process that gives a role to passive associating and ‘mechanical’ forces in what Cheyne calls ‘the ordination of thought’.
Day 2: Saturday 28th March
Douglas Hedley opened the second day of the conference with a keynote lecture on Coleridge’s relationship to Plotinus and the tradition of Neoplatonic metaphysics and theology more broadly, considering the influence of this tradition on the different approaches to contemplation in medieval and modern Christian religious thought.
Christopher Kluz opened the second session with an analysis of the role of the notions of contemplation and virtue in Aristotle’s ethics, and the ways in which Spinoza attempts to engage critically and expand upon Aristotle’s core insights. Dillon Struwig offered an account of Plotinus’s theory of productive contemplation on Coleridge’s philosophy of geometry and constructive imagination. Lucas Scripter presented a critical overview of the limitations of contemporary Neo-Aristotelian Virtue Ethics, focusing on the lack of any detailed discussion of the nature and function of contemplation in many influential works in this field, particularly the writings of Alisdair MacIntyre and Philippa Foot.
In the third session, Coleridge’s views on contemplation were considered in relation to the traditions of both ancient and postmodern philosophy. For the ancient, Joseph O’Leary considered the historical and theological contexts of Coleridge’s critical responses to the thought of Plotinus, also discussing the relation of Coleridge’s views to the positions of his German theological and philosophical contemporaries, such as Schelling, Hegel, and Schleiermacher. David Vallins then offered an account of Coleridge’s views on politics, language, and society in relation to the long eighteenth-century economic theory and to Derrida’s deconstructionist theories of subjectivity and linguistic form.
The fourth session approached contemplation from a diverse range of intellectual and historical perspectives. Leesa Davis offered a critical overview of some of the limitations inherent in the conceptions of contemplation prevalent in the Western philosophical tradition, considering the possibilities for overcoming such limitations presented in the work of Bertrand Russell and others. Susan Warley discussed the relationship between the psychology of metaphor and the nature of sensory experience in Coleridge’s thought, placing it in the context of contemporary cognitive theory and philosophical analyses of metaphor. Fiona Tomkinson closed the session with an analysis of the role of Coleridgean literary allusions as plot devices in the novels of Iris Murdoch, considering also the influence of Coleridge’s poetry on Murdoch’s handling of the themes of contemplation and violence.
The day’s final session began with Matthew Sharpe’s consideration of Camus and Pierre Hadot as unique voices in twentieth-century French literature, with each exploring, in different ways, a form of philosophia as grounded in formative experience, and calling, insistently, for contemplation. Keren Mock investigated contemplation through Hebrew Scriptures as manifested in Spinoza’s translation of the Bible in Hebrew, and Coleridge’s linguistically grounded experience of contemplation through the act of translating the scriptural language. Finally, Noriko Naohara, in an Augustinian paper, considered the role of will in Coleridge’s faith and his understanding of justification, claiming that his definition of reason with regard to spiritual truths should be understood as informed by faith rather than critical epistemology.
Day 3: Palm Sunday, 29th March
The third and final day began with a subtle consideration of the implication of walking outdoors on modes of philosophical meditation by Professor David E. Cooper. After assessing a range of meditative behaviours that require movement, Cooper went on to consider a range of examples from, among others, Rousseau and Thoreau, before concluding that meditative walkers develop an integrated perspective of their place in the world.
This theme of the environmental implications of contemplation governed all the papers on the following panel. Ve-Yin Tee provided a political perspective on landscape contemplation, arguing that the urban elite, including, for example, Coleridge, have been distanced from the land, and that this led to a crisis of aesthetics; this was contrasted by James Woodhouse and his design of Leasowes Park, which was designed to induce reflection. Jonathan Parker discussed conflicting approaches to environmental aesthetics – one creative and the other governed by concepts – arguing that whilst they are arguably incommensurable, both have contemplative value and enhance an appreciation of the world. Lastly, the poet-scholar Eamonn Wall discussed how walking importantly provided Coleridge the appropriate conditions for deep contemplation alongside considering contemporary writers such as Tim Robinson and Patrick Leigh Fermor.
Mark Lussier began the third panel by considering the implications of Buddhist perspectives on mental operations alongside neuro-scientific theories of the mind that arose for Romanticism and analysed these in relation to Coleridge’s poetic practices. Setsuko Wake-Naota discussed the influence of Coleridge’s philosophical contemplation of Schelling and Wedgwood on his perception of Shakespeare’s genial psychological method in poetic creation. Coleridge’s spiritual, contemplative aesthetics was then brought to an interesting comparison with the Buddhist aesthetics of Japanese philosopher Kukai.
The discussion of Coleridge’s aesthetics extended to the next panel, from both contextual and textual angles. James Kirwan considered Coleridge’s critical attitude to eighteenth-century aesthetics by rethinking his criticism of Associationism, which Coleridge adapted for reasserting the transcendental aspect in the contemplation of beauty. Osmond Chien-Ming Chang explored Coleridge’s theory of polarity and magnetism along Todorovian lines in the enigmatic Christabel. Masako Fujie placed Coleridge’s contemplative aesthetics in the context of his collaboration with Wordsworth in searching for a genuine ‘philosophical poem’.
The final session, in engaging and inspiring ways, developed the previous aesthetic focus to a grounded contemplation of Coleridge’s broader legacy in worlds West and East. Elaine Sponholtz explored an impressive parallel between the mythopoetic dreamworlds shown in Coleridge’s imaginary ‘Kubla Khan’ and William Bertram’s contemporary travelogue of Florida. Shifting the locality to twenty-first-century Fukushima, Jonathan Britten contemplated the significance of Coleridge’s poetry in providing emotional and intellectual metaphor and framework to understand modern environmental catastrophe. Mikako Nonaka’s talk, closing the conference, discussed Coleridge’s influence on Japanese late-Meiji Romantic poet Tokoku Kitamura, drawing a beautiful, fitting conclusion to the panel and the three-day intense, fruitful contemplation on poetry, philosophy, beauty and nature.
This was an engaging, lively, and successful conference that not only stimulated profound scholarly discussions on Coleridge, but also significantly enhanced local and international scholarly exchange for Humanities research in Japan.
Reports written and collated by:
Philip Aherne, Ph.D. (King’s College, London)
Emily Holman (D. Phil. cand., University of Oxford)
Jin Lu (Ph.D. cand., Chinese University of Hong Kong)
Dillon Struwig (Ph.D. cand., University of York)
A reminder that the deadline for sending applications for Chawton House Library Visiting Fellowships this year is April 10th. BARS is sponsoring a new two-month fellowship for a mid-career or senior scholar, but there are also a large number of other fellowships available. The library has some great collections, so worth taking a look at the catalogue if you’re working in the areas which it covers.
BARS members might be interested in this year’s postgraduate conference at De Montfort University, Texts in Times of Conflict. The Call for Papers is below and the organisers are actively seeking to include scholars with a wide range of interests and specialisms.
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Texts in Times of Conflict (8 September 2015)
Keynote speakers: Dr Natasha Alden (Aberystwyth University) and Prof. Ian Gadd (Bath Spa University).
Reflecting on the seismic cultural and political shifts of his own time, Francis Bacon pinpointed ‘printing, gunpowder, and the compass’ as the technological drivers which had ‘changed the appearance and state of the whole world’. Bacon’s identification of communicative (print), violent (gunpowder) and technological (compass) forms of cultural expression and exchange as world-shaping continues to resonate, shaping the production and interpretation of texts.
We welcome papers of between 15 and 20 minutes’ length on topics including but not limited to:
- Textual and visual representations, interpretations of and responses to conflict
- Adaptations which respond to past and/or present conflicts (including conflicts within academic disciplines)
- Conflictual relationships between artistic, critical and intellectual movements
- Processes and agents shaping the design, production, dissemination and consumption of texts
- Theoretical and bibliographical methodologies
- Intellectual conflicts surrounding the emergence of new media and technologies
- Competing or contradictory representations of conflict through identical or different expressive forms
- State involvement in the production, dissemination and consumption of texts in times of conflict
- The evolution of media forms and their impact on conflict-based studies
Bursaries are available. See https://gradcats.wordpress.com/ for details.
This conference is jointly hosted by De Montfort’s Centre for Textual Studies and Centre for Adaptations.
The Charles Brockden Brown Society is inviting paper proposals for its tenth biennial conference, ‘Recording Nature in the Early Atlantic World, 1750-1830’, which will take place between October the 8th and 10th this year in Ybor City, Tampa, Florida. The full Call for Papers can be viewed here. There are some generous travel awards available for graduate students. The deadline for proposals for individual papers and for panels is May 1st.
BARS members might be interested in the culminating conference of the AHRC Voices and Books project, which will take place in Newcastle in July (details below). Be aware, however, that the dates clash with Romantic Imprints, so if you’re planning on joining us in Cardiff, you may have to sit this one out.
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VOICES AND BOOKS, 1500-1800
July 16th-18th 2015
Newcastle University and City Library, Newcastle
Organiser: Jennifer Richards (Newcastle University) with Helen Stark, (Newcastle University) and Richard Wistreich (Royal College of Music)
Heidi Brayman Hackel (University of California, Riverside)
Anne Karpf (London Metropolitan University)
Christopher Marsh (Queen’s University, Belfast) with The Carnival Band
Perry Mills, Director of Edward’s Boys (King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon)
Although it is often acknowledged that early modern books were routinely read aloud we know relatively little about this. Oral reading is not embedded as an assumption in existing scholarship. On the contrary, over the last two decades it is the studious and usually silent reader, pen in hand, who has been placed centre stage. This conference aims to: explore the kind of evidence and research methods that might help us to recover this lost history; think about how reading/singing aloud relates to other kinds of orality; recover the civic and/or social life of the performed book in early modern culture; and reflect on how the performance of the scripted word might inform our reading of early modern writing today.
REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN: https://research.ncl.ac.uk/voicesandbooks/newcastleconference/
Thanks to generous support from the AHRC we have managed to keep the cost of attending the conference low. For the whole conference it is a mere £80 for those with salaries and only £50 for those without salaries. Please note that this is the EARLY BIRD cost (available until May 26th). Thereafter the cost goes up quite considerably.
You can find the full schedule for the conference on the web link above, plus maps and information about booking accommodation. We have reserved rooms in a range of hotels that should suit different budgets.
We look forward to welcoming speakers and delegates to Newcastle in July!
Walter Scott, by Charles Picart, published by T. Cadell & W. Davies, after William Evans, after Sir Henry Raeburn; stipple engraving, published 21 December 1811; NPG D16117; used under a Creative Commons licence (CC-BY-NC-ND)
Alison Lumsden holds a Chair in English at the University of Aberdeen. She has published widely on authors including Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Robert Louis Stevenson, Alasdair Gray, Nan Shepherd, Jackie Kay, and Robert Burns, but Walter Scott is the writer who lies at the heart of her research. Her monograph Walter Scott and the Limits of Language was published by Edinburgh University Press in 2010 and she has edited or co-edited five volumes of the Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels (EEWN): The Pirate; The Heart of Mid-Lothian; Reliquiae Trotcosienses: or The Gabions of the Late Jonathan Oldbuck Esq. of Monkbarns; Peveril of the Peak and Woodstock. She is currently building on this research through her role as Series Editor for the new Edinburgh Edition of Walter Scott’s Poetry, which we discuss below.
1) How did you first become interested in Walter Scott’s poetry, and what made you want to embark on a new edition?
I first became interested in Walter Scott when I began a PhD in Scottish literature in the 1980s. It was the novels that really interested me then though, and I was looking at parallels between the ‘post-modernism’ of later twentieth century Scottish literature and the self-consciousness of the nineteenth century Scottish novel. However, I have also had a more personal interest in ballads, traditional Scottish culture and folklore since childhood and so I was fascinated by Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border and Scott’s poetry. When I completed the PhD I was immediately employed as a research assistant with the Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels team and quickly realised that I loved working on manuscripts and thinking about the ways in which a text evolved during the creative process. When the Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels was complete it seemed a natural next step to go back and edit Scott’s poetry. I don’t think anyone could have imagined that there would be a market for this when EEWN was initially proposed, but in the last thirty years our ideas about Scott and Romantic poetry more generally have evolved and the time now seems right to edit Scott’s poetry.
2) How did you go about securing a publisher and putting together a team of editors for the ten volumes?
The Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels is published by Edinburgh University Press and they also publish the Stirling/ South Carolina Edition of the Works of James Hogg and the New Edinburgh Edition of the Works of Robert Louis Stevenson. As such they are the foremost publisher of Scottish scholarly texts and seem the natural home for the Edinburgh Edition of Walter Scott’s Poetry. The Poetry Edition is envisaged very much as a sister edition to EEWN and we hope that people will feel that it will complete their set of Scott’s creative works, so we were delighted when EUP agreed to publish the poetry in a similar format.
Putting together a good team is one of the key aspects of any scholarly edition, as the process is a collaborative one and one that does not suit all literary scholars. We had gathered a huge amount of expertise while editing the novels and I was keen to capture it and also to pass it onto a new generation. I was therefore delighted that Professor David Hewitt, Editor in Chief of the EEWN was willing to come on board as part of the team along with Professor Peter Garside who has vast experience as an editor for both the Waverley Novels and the Hogg edition. Dr Gillian Hughes of the Hogg edition was also keen to be involved and we were also extremely pleased to have her join us with the experience she could bring. In addition Dr Ainsley McIntosh had completed a scholarly edition of Marmion as her PhD thesis at Aberdeen and as a pilot for the edition and she joined our team for the preliminary investigation and for the development of the early volumes. Not all volume editors have been assigned yet and we very much hope that once we have published some of the edition new editors will get involved so that we can pass on some of the expertise we have here.
3) How different has the process of editing Scott’s poetry been from your previous work editing and co-editing volumes for the Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels?
There are many similarities and our methodologies build on those of the EEWN but there are also sufficient differences to make this new project interesting. One of the most significant differences is that while Scott published the majority of his novels anonymously this was not the case with the poetry. As a result the creative evolution of the poems takes a very different form as readers engage in a dialogue with Scott about the poems both before and after publication and Scott at times responds to this when he writes or makes changes between editions. This presents new challenges when editing them. In addition, while the majority of notes were added to the novels as part of the 1829–32 Magnum Opus Edition, the notes are intrinsic to the poetry from the outset. The status and meaning of the notes thus has to be addressed, along with the fact that these tend to expand as the narrative poems go through later editions.
4) What can we expect to find when we open the first volumes of the new edition?
Our first volume will be Marmion and the format of the edition will very much follow that of the Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels. Scott’s poem and his own notes will take priority and this will be followed by an essay on the text explaining the evolution of the poem and how it has been emended for this edition. We will also provide an emendation list. An historical note and explanatory notes will follow that. One of the significant changes from earlier editions will be the inclusion of Scott’s notes in a form that makes them readable; in the past they have often been lacking completely or in a font so small that they are virtually illegible. The new edition will make the significance of Scott’s notes far more visible as they are clearly part of the longer narrative poems and not simply adjuncts to them. The Shorter Poems will also be one of the volumes to come out early in the edition and this will, I think, significantly revise our understanding of Scott’s role as a poet and put paid to the idea that he stopped writing poetry when he began to write novels.
5) While there has been a recent revival of interest in Scott’s verse, it’s still relatively unfamiliar territory for many scholars and students of the Romantic period. Which poems would you particularly recommend to those wanting to begin an exploration of Scott’s poetic oeuvre?
I would always encourage students to start with The Lay of the Last Minstrel. It is the only one of the long narrative poems that you can read at one sitting and it engages with many concerns that we now recognise as central to Romanticism: the idea of the bard is at the heart of it and is linked to ideas of nationhood and the poem also incorporates elements of the supernatural along with wonderfully associative descriptions of landscape. Over the years I have taught it many times and students have always loved it. Marmion is perhaps a more intellectually challenging poem and The Lady of the Lake deals with the role of landscape and questions of political authority in truly innovative ways but as an entry poem into Scott’s oeuvre I would recommend The Lay.
Ted Underwood is a Professor and the LAS Centennial Scholar of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His graduate work was in the field of Romanticism and led, among other places, to his first monograph, The Work of the Sun: Literature, Science, and Political Economy, 1760-1860. His current research explores the possibilities opened up by digital technologies for working on large collections of texts written over considerable periods of time; some of his recent progress in this area is detailed in his interim report Understanding Genre in a Collection of a Million Volumes. Below, we discuss his fascinating book Why Literary Periods Mattered, first published by Stanford University Press in 2013 and now available in paperback. Ted blogs at The Stone and the Shell and can be found on Twitter @Ted_Underwood.
1) How did you first become interested in the importance of periodisation to the identity of literary studies?
It’s interesting, because the book project started out with a different goal — more about writers’ emotional investment in historical difference as a paradoxical model of the afterlife. In 2002, when I published an early draft of a chapter in PMLA, that was what I expected the book to be about.
But I also wanted to flesh that intellectual thesis out with a more institutional, social story, and to get that material I did about a month of archival research at the University of London. It was there that I realized this could also be a story about disciplinary history, because period survey courses and the historicist afterlife seemed to work in very similar ways. And then, frankly, my editor (Emily-Jane Cohen) and Adam Potkay (one of my readers) encouraged me to keep moving in the direction of disciplinary history. So I ended up dropping a whole chapter on the later nineteenth-century novel and writing a new one on twentieth-century curricula. It improved the book.
2) When Romanticists think about our predecessors in the period which we classify ourselves as studying, we tend to jump first to writers who are recognisably critical, such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Hazlitt. Your book makes clear that in fact the shape of literary studies has drawn considerably on discourses derived from popular histories (in numerous forms, including charts created by Joseph Priestley) and from the historical novel, most notably the works of Walter Scott, which developed the kinds of contrastive histories which inspired the first periodised English courses. How do you think reclaiming these antecedents helps us better to understand the natures of what we do and what those we study did?
I think you’ve phrased this very well. Scholars always like to trace academic genealogies that are internal to their own discipline. We play down the influence of other disciplines, and of broader trends in social and cultural history. You see the same thing in digital humanities right now: there’s a huge pressure to find ancestor figures who were “pioneering humanists.” We play down connections to the social sciences, and to popular enthusiasm about the internet; those genealogies are embarrassing. For me the lesson is to be wary of the power disciplines exert over our imagination.
3) Why do you think that periodisation has proved to be such a resilient organising principle for English curricula?
Here again I’m inclined to emphasize a disciplinary raison d’état. By the twentieth century, a vision of literary history organized around discrete schools and movements had become a really central part of the cultural capital that literature departments were empowered to distribute. Social scientists could argue about causes, and historians could trace continuities, but we had a lock on the discrete quiddities of classicism, romanticism, and so on. I frankly think periodisation endured for what you might call marketing reasons.
We haven’t always acknowledged this rationale overtly. In the early twentieth century, for instance, the debate played out as a question about “cultivation.” Movements like comparative literature and the history of ideas that tended to weaken emphasis on periodisation were portrayed as too intellectual; they threatened to undermine the cultivation of character that literary education was supposed to produce. But in my view this was, in effect, a high-minded way of saying “You’re diluting our disciplinary brand.”
4) How do you think that reducing the emphasis which we place on contrasting periods might benefit English Studies?
I’m not at all opposed to teaching period surveys. That kind of focus has value, and it’s something we’re already trained to do well.
But I do think there are also other things we could be doing. I’m sympathetic to the argument Jo Guldi and David Armitage have been making in The History Manifesto, to the effect that history needs to reclaim its public significance by embracing a longue durée. I suspect that’s also true for literary studies. But I have to admit, I’m not sure I know yet what the public significance of a literary longue durée would look like — because frankly, I don’t think we understand our longue durée very well yet. This may be a case where we have to do more research before we’ll know what we could be teaching.
5) Since the book’s publication, how have you been using digital methods to address the ‘blind spots of literary scholarship’ to which periodising models contribute?
As a grad student, I thought we basically understood the broad contours of nineteenth-century literary history. You know, romanticism, realism, modernism; the big outlines at least were going to be stable.
But as digital libraries and quantitative methods make it possible to actually look at a picture composed of thousands of volumes, I and other researchers keep stumbling over broad, continuous trends that don’t line up well with existing periodising concepts. These larger trends don’t necessarily displace a concept like “romanticism”: that’s still a word with real uses. But it’s becoming clear that there are also other scales of literary change that we don’t understand, and may not even have glimpsed.
In the book I gave one example of a big trend we’ve been blind to — a linguistic differentiation of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction prose from the late eighteenth century to the early twentieth. I just looked at one aspect of that trend in the book, but I’ve gotten more evidence since then which suggests that the diction of these genres really became more dissimilar overall. It’s quite opposite to the notion I was taught — that romanticism ended specialized poetic diction, and poetry thereafter became more like other forms of writing.
But that’s just one example; there are a lot of people making similar arguments. Ryan Heuser and Long Le-Khac have a brilliant pamphlet about a gradual shift from abstract to concrete language in nineteenth-century fiction. In a recent ALH article, Matthew Wilkens has shown that geographical emphases in American literature changed more gradually than scholars have thought. Hoyt Long, Richard So, and I recently collaborated on a piece for Slate that traces some long slow changes in the rhetorical function of money in fiction. Jordan Sellers and I are at work right now on a piece about the history of literary evaluation, which argues that the literary standards embodied in reviews of poetry remained remarkably stable from 1820 through 1920 — and when they changed, changed in a direction that remains remarkably consistent over the whole century. This will be coming out in a special issue of MLQ that I’m organizing with James English.
I realize this is all going to be controversial, and sometimes our specific claims will turn out to be wrong. But I’m increasingly confident at least about the negative premise of these arguments — the notion that we don’t already understand literary history at the century-long scale. I am pretty sure we don’t.
There’s potentially a huge opportunity here for grad students, but it’s also unfortunately difficult for students to develop a research project at this scale. It takes interdisciplinary training, and it may also just take more than one pair of hands. The Stanford Literary Lab has done a good job of solving these problems; that’s the model I’d like to reproduce at Illinois.
BARS members might be interested in an upcoming conference on ‘The Uses of ‘Religion’ in 19th Century Studies’, which will be hosted by the Armstrong Browning Library at Baylor University from the 16th to the 19th of March 2016.
The conference will engage with questions being asked ever more frequently among scholars of the nineteenth-century in a variety of disciplines concerning the category, “religion.” Scholars have recently noted the uniquely modern, Western character of “religion,” which grew up alongside notions of “the secular” and was deeply entangled with the historic realities of the formation of state power, imperial expansion, and discriminatory portrayals of non-Europeans. The conference will feature 15 select presentations that will extend our understanding of the uses of “religion” and inform future academic conversation.
Further details, including the full Call for Papers, can be found on the Browning Library website.