Making, Breaking and Transgressing Boundaries: Europe in Romantic Writing, 1775-1830, which will take place in Newcastle on the 15th of July, has extended its Call for Papers until May 7th, so you now have a little longer to finagle your abstracts through the border posts…
On the bicentenary of the first defeat of Napoleon in 1814 and the arrival of ‘peace’ in Britain and Europe, Nicola Watson (Open University) and Ian Haywood (Roehampton University) are delighted to announce a BARS-supported two-day conference devoted to an exploration of the cultural impact and significance of this momentous year.
The programme in text is below, but for full details and to book, please visit the appropriate page on the IES website.
Friday 16th May – The Peninsular War: Triumphalism and Betrayal in Text and Image
10:00 – Registration
10:20 – Welcome from the new ‘Hispanic Horizons’ network
10:30 – Graciela Iglesias Rogers (Oxford): ‘A never-ending war: the events of 1814 from a Transatlantic perspective’
11:15 – Coffee
11:30 – Alicia Laspra Rodríguez (Oviedo): ‘From victory to retaliation: Echoes of Great Britain and Lord Wellington in Spanish poetry, 1813-1814’
12:15 – Agustín Coletes Blanco (Oviedo): ‘A sour victory: British poetical responses to the end of the Peninsular War (1813-1814)’
13:00 – Lunch; visit the free display of prints at the British Museum Prints & Drawings Room
14:30 – Susan Valladares (Oxford): ‘The Edinburgh vs the Quarterly: the ‘Spanish’ debate six years on’
15:15 – Ian Haywood (Roehampton): ‘ “Sad, sad reverse”: radical and caricature responses to the Peninsular victory’
16:00 – Coffee
16:15 – Diego Saglia (Parma): ‘Southey’s Scripting of Spain and the Shape of Europe in 1814’
17:00 – Respondent: Philip Shaw
17:20 – Final word from Sr. Fidel López Álvarez, Minister Counsellor for Cultural and Scientific Affairs, Spanish Embassy, London
17:30 – Wine reception/Vino español
Saturday 17th May – 1814: War, Peace and Publication
10:00 – Registration
10:20 – Welcome
10:30 – Philip Shaw (Leicester): ‘Between Two Deaths: Napoleon on Elba’
11:15 – Coffee
11:30 – Emma Clery (Southampton): ‘Speculation in 1814: The Gamble of Mansfield Park and the Economics of Defeating Napoleon’
12:15 – Kathryn Sutherland (Oxford): ‘Inhabiting the ruins: Austen, Scott, Burney’
13:00 – Lunch; and visit to British Museum Prints & Drawings
14:30 – Simon Bainbridge (Lancaster): ‘Excursions in 1814’
15:15 – Paul Hamilton (QMUL): ‘1814: The year of living dangerously’
16:00 – Coffee
16:15 – William St Clair (IES): ‘Inventing Romantic Byronism’
17:00 – Discussion on ‘War and Peace in 1814’ led by Nicola Watson and Ian Haywood
17:30 – Wine reception
Peter J. Kitson is currently Professor of English at the University of East Anglia; previous to this, he taught at the University of Dundee and the University of Wales, Bangor. His early research was on Samuel Taylor Coleridge, but in recent years he has focused particularly on Romantic-period encounters between Britain and the wider world, publishing monographs on Literature, Science and Exploration in the Romantic Period (with Tim Fulford and Debbie Lee; Cambridge University Press, 2004) and Romantic Literature, Race and Colonial Encounter, 1760-1840 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). He is an honorary member of BARS, having served for many years on the Executive, most recently as President between 2007 and 2011. His latest monograph, which we discuss below, is Forging Romantic China: Sino-British Cultural Encounters, 1760-1840, published last year by Cambridge University Press. He will be giving a plenary address on his work in this area at the Romantic Connections conference in Toyko this June.
1) How did you first become interested in the relationship between China and the West?
I have always been fascinated by the historical and global contexts of the writing of the Romantic period and earlier and later periods, and my specific interest in China grew out of that more general concern. I suppose the key moment occurred when I collaborated with Tim Fulford in producing an eight volume edition of travel writings from the period, which was published by Pickering & Chatto in 2000-2001. As part of the division of labour for that series, I edited the materials on China and Japan, along with Oceania, and the Arctic and Antarctic. In particular, the accounts of the first embassy to China, that of Viscount Macartney in 1792-94, engrossed me, and I wanted to find out more about what Britons actually understood about China in the period. I was quite struck by the fact that while there existed a substantial amount of writing about China and the west in earlier and later periods, there was comparatively little cultural criticism in the period c. 1780-1840 and it seemed, I thought, rather hubristically, that this would make a manageable project. I was also intrigued by the comparative absence of China-centred discussions in contemporary orientalist discourse which has generally focused on India and the ‘Near East’ for obvious reasons. So I wondered what difference would it make when we restore China to the Romantic period, or, to put in in other words, when we sinicize Romantic period writing. When I researched my earlier book Romantic Literature, Race, and Colonial Encounter, I felt that I should problematize current accounts of race thinking by including chapters on understandings of China and ‘Tartary’ and their peoples in terms of racial discourse. Once that project was completed, I was free to work on China.
2) What new fields of knowledge did you need to familiarise yourself with in order to write this book?
As so often with these projects, we begin with the confidence of ignorance, which is a wonderfully enabling commodity, the capital of which, sadly, becomes quickly depleted. Fortunately, I was awarded a major Leverhulme fellowship for two years, without which I would never have completed the book as it stands. I needed to familiarise myself with Chinese history, as well as the historiographical debates about it, especially the move from the 1980s to produce a China centred focus. The book has chapters on visual art and Romantic period drama, so I needed to work on those areas as well. I had not worked extensively on drama, so I had to research the primary materials, involving a month in the Huntington Library reading scripts in the Larpent collection. I had to have a good sense of the leading aspects of chinoiserie in the period: architecture, design, porcelain etc, so needed to work on this as well as the various trades in these commodities. I had to find out a lot about tea and the tea trade. The book also contains discussions of the translations of Chinese texts, so I had to get up to speed on contemporary and period theories of translation, as well as achieve a good sense of the development of Chinese literature. A major subject in the book is the British debates about Confucianism. As well as reading the primary texts of the Confucian canon, I also had to get a grasp of the complex ways in which that canon was constructed and formed, and the debates between the different schools. It was all fascinating reading. Not quite as fascinating, but equally important, was gaining an understanding of the contributions and contexts of the British Protestant missionaries in China from 1806 onward – Robert Morrison, William Milne, W.H. Medhurst and so on – and their amazing life stories. So I had lots of archival work to do on their accounts and correspondence. Obviously, I had help from very generous Chinese scholars on matters relating to the language itself, but negotiating and referencing the various transliteration systems (Wade-Giles, Pinyin) and their implications was also a real challenge. I hope I got it right!
3) Forging Romantic China makes clear that viewing Britain as ‘a modern, technological, and industrial power’ encountering in the Qing empire ‘an older and now stagnating polity’ is inaccurate, stressing instead ‘the complexities and multipolarity of exchange between Britain and China in an already globalized world’. What implications does your recovery of the extent of Chinese economic and cultural influence in the period have for our conventional narratives regarding imperial expansion and the development of British Romanticisms?
There has been a great deal of work on the concept of world systems in historical terms. Most famously, Andre Gunder Frank posited the notion of a developed global economy led by China and India until c. 1800 and interrupted by northern European, then North American, industrial and technological hegemony in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Many other studies of Chinese history, science, and culture have made similar points. For Britons in particular, the crucial importance of the tea trade with China, managed by the English East India Company, made China a subject of major importance to many people. William and Dorothy Wordsworth’s brother John was engaged in the tea trade and visited China twice. Coleridge, apparently, considered Canton as a place where he might recuperate his health in 1804, before settling upon Malta. How would the course of British Romanticism have changed had he gone there? Jane Austen’s ‘sailor brother’ Frank also spent time in Canton. Lamb, and Peacock served in the offices of the East India Company in London. These are just a few examples of the many personal and family connections that the tea trade established. As such, it seems to me, China was a crucial topos in the minds of Britons. More and more, as I researched, I met China everywhere, but often in fugitive and unexpected references and places, for instance in the middle of Book 8 of the Prelude. So I think we do need to look at Romantic period writing afresh and account for the ways in which China features as a significant, if not always obvious, presence. We have tended to rely, too often, on De Quincey’s vehemently racist writings about China and the ‘Far East’ as if they were numinously metonymic for Romantic attitudes to China, but casting the net more widely to include, drama, translations, diplomatic accounts etc, we find a much more nuanced, conflicted, and complicated view of China emerging. My researches thus led me to argue that China featured as an important ‘other’ for Britons in the period in more profound ways than we have previously thought, acting almost as a kind of reflection of the emerging British imperial polity. In the earlier part of the period, the British were very much in awe of China and were negotiating from what they perceived as a position of cultural weakness, arguing for reciprocity. In fact, my research led me to believe that it was difficult to apply conventional notions of post-colonial othering to China given the power and prestige of the empire up until the 1830s. It is very clear that there were many important collaborations and negotiations with China in the period that belie any sense of a simple relation of colonial centre and periphery. Much of the key knowledge about China emerges not from London, but from Bengal, Serampore, and Canton. I also think we need to engage more fully with notions of civility, hospitality, and exchange in our understandings of encounters with other peoples.
4) Which works from among the corpus of Romantic Sinology you discuss and the productions informed by this corpus do you believe deserve a wider contemporary readership? Are there particular works that you think could be usefully taught on undergraduate or postgraduate programmes?
First, I think we do have to be prepared to look at the works we already teach afresh, especially texts such as Coleridge’s ‘Kubla Khan’, Wordsworth’s Prelude, and Austen’s Mansfield Park, to look for how representations of China are mediated. We have to be prepared to supplement our canonical readings of De Quincey with other texts from the period that present a different view of China; the many translations, for instance, of Chinese drama, fiction, and poetry. Certainly, I think dramas such as Arthur Murphy’s The Orphan of China (1759) and Andrew Cherry’s The Travellers; or, Music’s Fascination (1806) are important texts that deserve study. Murphy’s drama is a version of a frequently adapted thirteenth-century Chinese drama, Zhao shi guer, which Voltaire also had a go at. It’s a strong, well-written drama, performed throughout the period and well worth analysis. The hook of the drama is that the leading figure, the mandarin Zamti, must either sacrifice the life of the heir to the dynasty he is loyal to, or that of his own son. Oliver Goldsmith’s The Citizen of the World (1760) is rightfully receiving more and more of the attention it deserves as an important text about China and Britain. I am also a strong advocate for Charles Lamb’s essays ‘Old China’ and ‘Dissertation on Roast Pig’ (as for Lamb more widely) which are important in their views of China; when I taught them to undergraduates, they went down very well, like the newly-discovered roast pork. Leigh Hunt’s ‘The Subject of Breakfast—Tea Drinking’ is also pedagogically very palatable. Generally, when we look at Romantic period attitudes to nature we really should be referencing the crucial debate about the Anglo-Chinese garden, recently re-invigorated by William Chambers and Horace Walpole, as an informing context for the picturesque and the sublime. The accounts of the Macartney and Amherst embassies and some of the travel accounts of the missionaries also work well in period courses about travel writing.
5) What are you planning to do next?
I am working on a sequel to Forging Romantic China at the moment. That book finishes in the late 1830s with the first Opium War looming and I would like to write something about the Opium trade and the war itself. There has been a lot of scholarship on the accounts of the Second Opium war of the 1859-60 and the sacking of the Summer Palace, but those of the first have largely escaped discussion except as source material for the standard histories. I was wondering about the ways in which this might be connected with contemporary discourses of opium: medical, aesthetic, and commercial. I also have a project titled Romanticism’s Other Asia in mind that would encompass period reflections on Japan, Mongolia, and Tibet. I am busy with Will Christie at Sydney and others in setting up a research network about China and nineteenth-century writing more widely, involving Chinese scholars. I am currently guest-editing a special number of the European Romantic Review on this subject with contributions from distinguished scholars, about which I am very excited.
A reminder that the deadline for BARS’ Stephen Copley Postgraduate Research Awards is May 1st. If you are a postgraduate scholar who needs to access research collections at a distance from your own institution, it may well be worth considering an application. More details can be viewed here.
A possible post of interest for people on the hunt for jobs which might not have appeared on the normal channels: Portfolio Manager for Research Careers and Training at the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
Jeremy Davies is Lecturer in English at the University of Leeds; prior to taking up this post in 2011, he studied and taught at Cambridge, Glasgow and Queen Mary. His research focuses principally on the intersections between Romantic poetry, medical thought, and ecology, and he has published essays and articles on Percy and Mary Shelley, Jeremy Bentham, and sustainability and nostalgia. Below, we discuss his first monograph, Bodily Pain in Romantic Literature, recently published by Routledge. The first thirty pages of this fascinating book can be viewed here.
1) How did you come to work on the history of bodily pain, and how did you select the four authors you concentrate on (Jeremy Bentham, the Marquis de Sade, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Percy Shelley)?
It probably goes back to the first time I opened Prometheus Unbound. I remember being fascinated and a bit revolted by the monologue with which Shelley’s drama begins. Prometheus describes in grisly detail the tortures to which he’s being subjected, and welcomes them as a glorious empire over which he has dominion. I wasn’t sure what to make of that rhetoric of martyrdom, and that puzzlement stayed with me in a productive way: the book ends with a reading of Prometheus Unbound.
When I was struggling to come up with a topic for a PhD thesis, pain occurred to me as a way of thinking about languages of the body in Romanticism. I soon realised that the Romantic period was the last one before the development of surgical anaesthesia, the most dramatic turn in the medical history of pain, and it all seemed to click into place.
Shelley was there from the start, then, but the rest of the quartet all made their way in through different doors. Sade was a characteristically mind-expanding suggestion from my doctoral supervisor. The discussion of Bentham was one of those things that starts off as a passing sentence, which requires another sentence of explanation, and then expands into a chapter. The early years of my thesis were those of the debate sparked by the revelations of the US treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Bentham’s writings on torture were being invoked very seriously as supposed proof that ‘Enlightenment values’ were compatible with the strategic deployment of torture. It seemed worthwhile to scrutinise what he’d had to say about inflicting bodily hurt more closely than others were doing. Coleridge came last. I’d known for a long time that I was going to write about him, but I decided not to confront him in my thesis, and I got down to work on him only after coming to Leeds. In a funny way – but perhaps inevitably – the chapter centred on him became in some respects the one holding the book together.
2) Were there other writers you considered but ultimately left out or reduced to cameo roles?
Intriguingly (to me) I’ve just dug out a piece of paper on which, on 23 January 2006, I was scribbling disconnected ideas for possible PhD projects. ‘Pain’ is underlined, and a bunch of ideas follow. Prometheus Unbound is there, but so too are Hyperion and Lamia. Keats isn’t in the book; I suppose I was thinking of Hyperion in his palace, and Lamia’s metamorphosis. Also on that first piece of paper are Thomas Lovell Beddoes and George Cannon, neither of whom got into the book in the end.
Of the writers who play cameo roles, Adam Smith stands out as one who could have taken up a lot more room: his attitude to pain in The Theory of Moral Sentiments is fascinatingly ambivalent. Southey is another, and Harriet Martineau’s Life in the Sick-Room is a compelling text but a bit late for my purposes. The book could have developed into a history of Romantic-period medical ideas about pain. In that case I’d have said more about people like John Brown and Erasmus Darwin, and I might have been tempted back in time to deal with the extraordinary archive of consultation letters that passed between the Edinburgh physician William Cullen and his patients. But I didn’t take that path. I did write about the fierce mid-eighteenth-century debate among medical theorists as to whether freshly dissected organs were capable of feeling pain, and about the key role played by pain in David Hartley’s vibrationist theory of how the mind works. In both those cases, though, I’m most interested in how the issues raised play out later on, in Romantic texts that have a less direct relationship with the history of medicine.
3) What’s so interesting about pain in the Romantic period?
For me, that mostly depends on which individual writer you’re thinking about. There are some general factors, though. Surgical anaesthesia finally emerged in 1846, so the preceding couple of generations are the last ones on the far side of that transformative change. By then, the technology required for anaesthesia had been in place for decades or more (Humphry Davy suggested the possibility of nitrous oxide anaesthesia in 1800, for instance), but nobody had joined the dots. Historians of medicine have puzzled over the question of why that was so. This ‘anaesthesia problem’ makes the Romantic period a loaded site for thinking about attitudes to pain.
Then there’s Foucault’s account of the development of clinical medicine after the French Revolution. He suggests that an epistemic shift is captured by a change in doctors’ characteristic opening question to their patients: from asking them ‘What is the matter with you?’ (an invitation to narrative) to asking ‘Where does it hurt?’ (a decoding of internal signs). That too gives Romantic-period pain a particular resonance. Thirdly, you could look to Romantic aesthetics. What’s the relationship between bodily pain and the culture of the sublime, especially given that many of the canonical Romantics were chronic pain sufferers? I dwell on Coleridge and Shelley, but you might also think about Byron’s club foot, Dorothy Wordsworth’s migraines, and much else.
I’m most interested, though, in how bodily pain became intellectually productive for a series of individual writers. As a starkly exceptional and extreme state of life, pain confronted certain thinkers with particular challenges for their idiosyncratic views of the world. I look at how some writers’ characteristic agendas and preoccupations – which might not obviously have anything to do with physical hurt – ran up against problems raised by pain, and at how they struggled creatively with those problems. Hence the kind of questions I concentrate on. Does Bentham believe that sufficiently intense torture is bound to overcome its victim’s ability to resist interrogation, and what does his answer tell us about his psychological theory? How do Sade’s depraved anti-heroes experience pain differently from the victims of their cruelty, and what does that mean for the relationship between Sade’s characters and their sensations? Why did Coleridge suggest that he’d achieved an intellectual breakthrough by ‘metaphysicizing on Pain’, or – much later – argue that pain helps knit together the great chain of being by reinforcing a polarity between the subjective and the objective? What’s with that first act of Prometheus Unbound? And so on.
4) How have modern medical discourses helped you to reconsider earlier modes of representing pain?
In recent decades there’s been a lot of great work investigating the nature and significance of pain. Scholars have reinterpreted pain not as the product of impulses flowing along specific pain pathways in the nervous system, but instead as an embodied experience that’s necessarily constituted partly by ideas, emotions, and cultural entanglements. That’s helped to undermine the clinically disastrous opposition between ‘authentic’ and ‘psychogenic’ pain, and to bring about more thoughtful and efficacious – because more holistic – methods of treatment for the enormous number of people who suffer from chronic pain. Within medical institutions, that humanist project still has much more ground to win.
For all that, I think that on a still more basic level the cultural study of bodily pain has run into a bit of an impasse. I argue in the book that we can divide recent pain studies in the humanities into two broad schools. There’s a currently dominant tradition arising from the medical humanities, concerned with pain experience as acculturated and meaning-laden. There’s also a relatively subordinated one, best represented by Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain, that discerns an inescapable negativity or resistance to language within the feeling of pain. The two traditions have been at cross purposes lately. Though Scarry’s work continues to generate much discussion, it’s often read rather selectively by medical humanists, and without attention to some important precursors (Frederik Buytendjk, David Bakan). I argue that Scarry’s analysis still has more to offer than has fully been recognised. Part of the problem, I think, has been some very imprecise use of the word ‘pain’ by historians of culture.
I try to develop a new account of pain that draws on both recent traditions, and to argue that physical pain is indeed intrinsically mediated by culture, and yet not identifiable with any positive meaning that it carries. I think that the most economical and most serviceable way to characterise bodily pain is as a demand to pay attention to the otherwise diffuse, background sense of sensing the world that arises simply from the fact of embodied existence. Pain is a more or less intense compulsion to notice what Daniel Heller-Roazen calls the ‘inner touch’: the sense of one’s own body that normally hovers on the edge of perception. Characterising physical hurt in this way – as an experience that summons up the feeling of having feelings, in a nutshell – makes it a distinctively reflexive and ironic phenomenon. It neither belongs to language nor is merely opposed to it. That ironic dividedness, I argue, is at the root of its importance for the Romantic-period writers I discuss.
5) What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on a short book called The Birth of the Anthropocene. It begins from the fact that talking about the present environmental crisis often involves references to extremely long-ago times: ‘CO2 levels are at their highest for at least three million years,’ or whatever. That doesn’t really happen in other kinds of political discussion. It seems that ecological politics needs to be able to tell a story about the deep past in order to explain its concerns and its aims – but it’s not very good at telling stories like that at the moment. I think that we might find such a story, a kind of origin myth for green politics, in the idea of the Anthropocene epoch. Over the last decade, many Earth scientists have concluded that the Earth is entering a new geological epoch, one in which human activities are a principal influence on the planet’s geology. That is, after nearly 12,000 years of the Holocene epoch, we’re witnessing the birth of the Anthropocene.
All this might sound a bit remote from Romantic literature. But geology itself emerged as a science in the Romantic era, and the most widely accepted start date for the Anthropocene is precisely our period: the ‘base’ of the Anthropocene is most often associated with industrialisation in late eighteenth-century Britain.
I think the Anthropocene gives us a vantage-point from which to think our way back into deep time, geological time. Recognising industrial civilization as a geologic force allows us to see it in a fresh light, as the source of a new epoch within a series of epochs that stretches back many millions of years. If the idea of the Anthropocene helps us to narrate the long historical context of the present crisis, it might serve – I hope – to nourish and revivify the ecological movement. As the poet Don McKay puts it, the Anthropocene can enable us to recognise human beings as ‘members of deep time, along with trilobites and Ediacaran organisms … one expression of the ever-evolving planet.’
In the second of our pieces following on from Romantic Locations, Anna Fleming, of the University of Leeds, reflects on the conference and its aftermath.
– – – – – – –
Over three days, thoughts on the Romantic conception of place were explored from within perhaps the most Romantic of locations: Dove Cottage, in the heart of the Lake District. Papers addressed the relationship between different authors and particular locations. From the Wordsworths’ process of making Grasmere a home, to continental tours, literary tourism, and the history of mountaineering, the papers were wide-ranging and probing. Alongside the stimulating discussions, the place itself provided the opportunity to directly experience a location in which Romantic ideas and poems were composed. (A candlelit drinks reception in the cottage itself certainly added to my sense of how the Wordsworths inhabited that space!) Jeff Cowton, curator of the Wordsworth Trust, treated us to a glimpse of some physical treasures from the archive, including manuscripts by Dorothy Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I then found many of the ideas raised in the conference were played out in the wider ‘Romantic location’ when I left the conference to explore another part of the Lake District with some mountaineering friends.
The walks we did on Saturday and Sunday elaborated upon the difference between the sublime and picturesque which emerged as a debate during the conference. On Saturday, icy winds brought frequent batterings of snow and hail as we headed to the summit of Dale Head. This was far from a picturesque experience. Visibility was reduced to a few metres in the cold damp clouds, and one was guarded, watching each step whilst cautiously navigating and guzzling snatches of flapjack for sustenance. Yet during this onslaught there were stunning moments – times when the cloud shifted, sunshine appeared and you became aware of neighbouring mountains, suggesting the immense region you were part of even whilst all was obscured within the clouds’ embrace.
There were also weirdly disorienting experiences. As a blizzard blew across the ridge, I looked ahead and saw two black birds, perhaps crows or ravens, hopping along side by side. I thought how strange it was for birds to move like that, together, but perhaps the severity of the conditions had caught them. I then realised they were not birds nearby, but humans far away. The authority of vision was suddenly subverted, giving me an appreciation of the way in which knowledge is based on perception – and that it can be entirely misled. This felt like a version of the threshold experience, outlined in a conference paper on Keats’ poetry, as I crossed into a new suspicion of the things I assumed I know.
Sunday, on the other hand, was a beautiful day of blue skies and sunshine, untroubled by bewildering experiences. The cold air and snow on higher fells made distant peaks stand out in a panorama of clear scenery. This was certainly closer to the picturesque version of the Lakes, yet the prevailing wind and the patches of deep, wet, cold bog on our route once again impeded a purely luxurious pleasure in the surroundings. These bogs gave rise to a more performative use of mountain space, demanding some bold leaps to avoid a foot drenching before the long journey back to the city.
Underlying many different reflections at the conference on the Romantic engagement with place was the role of a guide: a person or a text that introduces you to unknown surroundings and helps you to find your way in that physical or intellectual terrain. In my explorations this weekend, I found myself indebted to the maps I was carrying, one from the Ordnance Survey and others in the process of being charted by a new generation of Romantic scholars.
All members of BARS will have been very sad to hear of the death of Professor Marilyn Butler on 11 March 2014 after a long illness. There will be a memorial service held on Thursday April 24th at 3.30 pm in Exeter College Chapel, Oxford.
Those of us who were lucky enough to be taught by her at Oxford, Cambridge and elsewhere will remember her with great affection, but her influence in the field was far more widely felt. Her scholarly work was always remarkable for its originality and sweep, from her early biographical work on Maria Edgeworth (which reinvigorated the idea of looking at women novelists of the period other than Austen), and her ground-breaking and controversial account of Jane Austen as a politically-engaged writer in Jane Austen and the War of Idea (1975), to her remarkable monograph on Thomas Love Peacock, Peacock Displayed (1979). Her survey of the literature of the period, Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries (1981) remains a standard work even today. She was a key figure in the resurgence of left-wing historicist criticism in the period, not least because she replaced Bloomian ideas of romantic genealogies with a practice of intensive contextualisation of canonical romantic texts with the non-canonical, illuminating thereby the political and formal choices being made. To her is largely attributable current interest in the once-celebrated – Southey, Campbell and Moore, amongst others.
– – – – – – –
If you’d like to leave your own tribute to Professor Butler, please feel free to use the Comments field here – we’d be very grateful for any memories you’d like to share.
Thomas Tyrrell, of Cardiff University (pictured above), has very kindly written up his impressions of the Romantic Locations conference for the blog (below). Enjoy reliving the conference if you were there; get a flavour of what you missed if not!
– – – – – – –
I had not even started my PhD when I first saw the call for papers for the BARS early career and postgraduate conference on Romantic Locations, but I had come away from an internal postgraduate conference at York brimful of misplaced confidence, and that very week I was hitch-hiking into Keswick for a few nights free board at the youth hostel where my friend worked. I took a copy of Wordsworth’s Guide to the District of the Lakes with me, and in the meditative moments between the rambles and the wild swims, an idea took root. It grew slowly – I sent my final abstract from a public library in Christchurch, New Zealand, in the three month interregnum, and I received my invitation to present a paper just before I moved into Cardiff for my PhD.
As the conference approached, I was filled with nervousness. I was after all a PhD of only three months seniority, and my research area wasn’t even properly in Romantic Studies. Would the others sniff me out as a romantic imposter: the Dr. Polidori amidst the Byrons, Clairmonts and Shelleys around me?
Such was the gloomy tenor of my thoughts, but as the train left Oxenholme and began to rumble towards Windermere, I found myself uplifted by the sublimity of the scenes around me. Arriving in Grasmere, I followed the hum of mighty workings into the Jerwood Centre, and over a reviving cup of tea I was reassured to discover that more than a few of my peers had cudgeled their brains, ransacked their notes and creatively re-interpreted their research plans in order to attend a conference in so splendid a location as Wordsworth’s own Grasmere; furthermore, I was the only one who would be talking about Romanticism and cartography, and would have a wide field in which to range. Feeling much more confident, I sat down to the first panel.
Highlights of the first day included Kate Ingle’s paper on ‘Personal Place-names and Dorothy Wordsworth’s Writing of Grasmere’, which immediately made me want to run out and find all the places mentioned; Daniel Eltringham’s on upland enclosure and Wordsworth’s ‘Michael’, which read more critical theory into the practice of sheep-farming than I thought it ever could hold; and the final panel of the day, where Alexis Wolf, Honor Rieley and George Stringer introduced us to the impact of Romanticism in places as diverse as France, Canada and India. The concluding plenary lecture was given by Professor Simon Bainbridge of Lancaster, whose paper on Romanticism and the history of mountaineering made every postgraduate with a pair of muddy boots in their luggage wish they had thought of the idea first. The wine reception, held by candlelight in Dove Cottage, was an experience I am sure that none of us will forget.
Next morning dawned bright and early, and in despite of having drunk an inadvisable amount of wine the night before, the fresh air and change of location wrought wonders. This was a good thing too, as my paper on ‘The map, the territory, and the small cloud between Scafell and Great Gavel’ opened the first panel of the day, at 9:30 in the morning. Other highlights included Philip Aherne’s ‘Incomplete Communion: The Reception of the Conversation Poem’ and Leanne Stokoe, whose paper on Jeremy Bentham, Adam Smith and Shelley’s prose I had secretly been dreading, but which turned out to be absolutely fascinating. The day was varied by a talk from Jeff Cowton, curator of the Wordsworth Trust’s collection (pictured below), who passed around plenty of original manuscripts for us to coo over and sent us home with our very own love letters – from Mary to William – and a seminar with Jeremy Davies on Percy Shelley’s time in Tremadoc, North Wales.
After the last panel of the day, we adjourned to the Traveller’s Rest for dinner. Last orders was called at eleven o’clock, but by a combination of special pleading and skilful flirting, we kept the drinks coming until well after midnight, and it was a little after two in the morning before this bleary postgraduate scrambled into his bunk. Nonetheless, Shoshannah Bryn Jones Square, Hannah Britton and Joanna Taylor had clearly eaten their Shreddies the next morning, and their panel on Romantic Borderlands was one of the best of the conference. It left me eager not only to discover Mary Shelley’s Matilda, but to reread The Eve of St Agnes and the poems of Hartley Coleridge with the benefit of their insights.
Interesting papers on Byron’s closet dramas, Mary Tighe’s sonnets and the layout of Hardwick Park followed, alongside a film by MA students from Newcastle University, who took on the challenge of presenting Wordsworth to a new audience with fortitude and invention. Sadly, after two nights of wine and revelry, not even the combined brilliance of Craig Lamont, Tristan Burke and Mary Shannon could keep my head from nodding a little during the final panel. I was, however, much refreshed by the second plenary lecture, where Professor Nicola Watson, president of BARS (below), entertained us all with her tales of fell walking with Jonathan Bate and Duncan Wu, and the wizard-like way in which she transformed a block of wood from a thing, to an object, to a literary artifact before our very eyes.
With that, the conference concluded. Some were whisked off by minibus to Windermere to begin their journey home, while others (myself among them) remained for a weekend of walking the fells and communing with nature. As Wordsworth said,
Enough of science and of art;
Close up these barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.