BARS Exchange

BARS Exchange

Aggregated blogs on Romantic Studies – please click through to read full posts.

London Nineteenth-Century Studies Seminar

By dustinfrazierwood

The Autumn programme of the London Nineteenth-Century Studies Seminar features two sessions of interest to scholars of illustration:

3rd November: Historical Fiction

Dr Brian H Murray (King’s College London) and Prof. Rosemary Mitchell (Leeds Trinity)

8th December: Nineteenth-Century Illustration

Prof. Julia Thomas (Cardiff) and Dr Mary Shannon (Roehampton)

Information, including details of how to book, are available on the …read more


Join us in the Big Wordsworth Bonanza

By Lynn Shepherd

RIww 2

by Jenny Uglow

I know it’s almost three years away – or only three years away – but 7 April 2020 is the 250th anniversary of Wordsworth’s birth, and the Wordsworth Trust want to celebrate it in style. There will be conferences, parties, walks on fells, radio and television programmes readings among daffodils, on Westminster Bridge – and wherever you can think of. We’ve even got hopes of ‘Romantics’ stamps, though nothing may come of this! So this is an invitation to all Wordsworth fans, and everyone interested in the Romantics, to join in looking ahead, planning, getting together with ideas world-wide.

No one ‘owns’ a great poet, and the Wordsworth Trust (where I’m a Trustee) is far from being the only group who want to mark this anniversary. However, it seemed a good idea to post something to tell you what we’re thinking. A small team has gathered, co-ordinated by Simon Bainbridge of Lancaster University, and including the Wordsworth family, the Wordsworth Trust, the team at Rydal Mount and the National Trust, who run Wordsworth’s House in Cockermouth. In time, there will be a separate website for Wordsworth 250, which will publicise all the events. Your ideas are welcome!

In …read more


Wordsworth Annual Lecture 2017: Byron and Wordsworth

By Anna Mercer


Please see below for details of the Wordsworth Annual Lecture 2017, to be held in London on Halloween.

Byron and Wordsworth: Art and Nature

Tuesday 31 October, 6.00 – 7.00pm

The 2017 London Lecture with Professor Sir Drummond Bone

Wordsworth and Byron fell out in a not very dignified way over politics, and there was heavy co-lateral damage in their opinion of each other’s poetry. But there was a fundamental intellectual difference too. Despite his flirtation with Wordsworthean pantheism at P B Shelley’s behest in 1816, Byron came to believe that moral and existential value could only be human constructs, whereas Wordsworth of course saw these very constructs as the barrier to an existential value inherent in Nature, the perception of which was the necessary ground of moral behaviour. Sir Drummond Bone will use this contrast as a way into reading their poetry, and spend some time specifically on their differing attitudes to city life and the nature of art.

Sir Drummond Bone graduated from Glasgow University, and was a Snell Exhibitioner at Balliol from 1968 to 1972. He is an acknowledged expert on the poetry of Byron and is President of the Scottish Byron Society. He became Professor of English Literature and Dean of …read more


Conference Report: The Shelley Conference 2017

By Anna Mercer

Delegates outside the mural dedicated to PBS (Poland Street)

Note from Anna Mercer, BARS Blog Editor:
The Shelley Conference 2017 was a two-day event sponsored by BARS. As the organiser I am very grateful to BARS for the support, and then also to Ana Stevenson for compiling the following detailed report. You can see the full programme including all the parallel sessions here, and I am hoping to work on a published collection of essays, or a special journal issue, of some of the wonderful papers I heard at the conference. The keynote speakers’ talks will be available online very soon. Without further comment from me, please enjoy Ana’s account of this gathering of Shelleyans:

The Shelley Conference 2017. 15-16 September. Institute for English Studies, London.

By Ana Stevenson

Delegates outside the mural dedicated to PBS (Poland Street)

It took almost the length of Shelley’s lifetime for another event celebrating his life and work to be organised – the last one took place on the bicentennial of his birth, in 1992. For this and other reasons, Anna Mercer was determined to organise this exceptional two-days conference. After realising that most of PBS’s contemporaries enjoy various symposiums, Mercer took it upon herself to side with Harrie Neal and organised The Shelley Conference 2017, …read more


Letter #30: To Benjamin Bailey, 8 October 1817

By The Keats Letters Project Keats is now back in London, after his productive stay at Oxford with Benjamin Bailey for all of September 1817. Keats completed Book III of Endymion while there. Over the coming weeks he’d finish the poem, then start getting to the work of copying and revising as he readied the poem for publication with his… Letter #30: To Benjamin Bailey, 8 October 1817 …read more


What the Victorians made of Romanticism

By Lynn Shepherd

Mole 6

by Tom Mole

My new book What the Victorians Made of Romanticism offers a new way of understanding the reception history of Romantic writers and their works in Victorian Britain. Other scholars have told this story before, of course. But they have mostly focussed on the ways in which Romantic writers influenced their Victorian successors. They tell us about how Alfred Tennyson responded to Byron, or how Matthew Arnold responded to Wordsworth. I’m interested in a different kind of story. The story I tell is about the material artefacts and cultural practices that remediated Romantic writers and their works amid shifting understandings of history, memory, and media. I pay attention to the things Victorians made – including illustrated books, anthologies, statues, postcards and memorial plaques – as well as to what they did with Romantic writers – citing and reciting them, including them in sermons, placing busts of them on their mantelpieces, and a host of other practices. These artefacts and practices made sure that the Romantics were renovated for new generations of readers – and non-readers – while recruiting them to address new cultural concerns in the process.

For a while, it seemed that the Romantics would not be …read more


International Women’s Day 2017: My talk on Mary Shelley

By annamercer90


Lord Byron by Richard Westall, 1813. National Portrait Gallery.

We have no painted image of MWS when she was actually that age. In Rome in 1819 MWS sat for the same amateur artist that painted PBS’s likeness (above). It has not survived, and anyway, MWS disliked it, saying it made her ‘a great dowdy’. So she’d probably be glad we only have her approved image produced many years later!

A lack of a true image of the young MWS – the author of Frankenstein – makes her even more elusive. Her life was so carefully documented in writings including letters, journals, and her fictional works, which sometimes reflect her personal experiences.

The literary family

MWS came from a very literary family – sometimes described as England’s ‘first family of writers’. Her parents Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin were both political novelists and social commentators. Wollstonecraft died a few days after giving birth to MWS.

Wollstonecraft’s most famous work is A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. It was a treatise on the right to education and her understanding of women’s social status. As well as his other works such as Political Justice and Caleb Williams, William Godwin wrote a memoir of his wife after her death. The book was met with hostility because of its frank depiction of her unconventional life.

MWS’s step-sister, Claire Clairmont, recalled her upbringing in the household of William Godwin as having high intellectual standards. She wrote, rather disdainfully:

if you cannot write an epic poem or a novel that by its originality knocks all other novels on the head , you are a despicable creature not worth acknowledging.


Claire Clairmont, image based on portrait by Amelia Curran, 1819. Newstead Abbey.

After all, William Godwin knew pretty much everybody who as anyone in literary London, and MWS met many illustrious literary visitors as a child, including the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

However, she was prone to seek solitude. Mary Wollstonecraft’s grave is in Old St Pancras Churchyard in London (you can visit it a short walk from the British Library). This is where the young MWS (then still called Mary Godwin) would go to read and meditate. When the young (and married) poet PBS, a disciple of her father, came into her life, it was at her mother’s graveside that they would meet and eventually declare their love for one another.

A timeline

MWS was born in London, and eloped with PBS in 1814 when she was just 16. Claire went with them. In 1815 her premature baby dies and this was one of the many tragedies the Shelleys had to endure. It is in 1816 that they travelled to Geneva and MWS began writing Frankenstein. Just before this trip, Claire had become Lord Byron’s mistress.

1816 continued with more tragedy as MWS’s half-sister Fanny, Wollstonecraft’s other daughter, committed suicide, as did Percy Shelley’s wife Harriet. Claire would have a child by Byron the following year but this child would not make it to adulthood. In 1818 the Shelleys move to Italy. Not long after the deaths of two more of their children, PBS drowned off the coast of Tuscany in 1822. In her widowhood MWS returned to London and continuted to write. She died in 1851, aged 53 years old. It is suspected she died of a brain tumour of long standing.

MWS travelled to and lived in so many places, including…

  • Dundee
  • London, incl. Pimlico, Holburn, Regents Park
  • Devon
  • Clifton

    (Note that she was not a Lake District Romantic, and never visited there. Although her father was friends with the lake poet Coleridge, and PBS spent time there before he met her)

  • France (e.g. Calais, Paris, Chamonix, Nice)
  • Italy (e.g. Pisa, Florence, Rome, Milan, Venice, Lake Como, Tuscany countryside)
  • & Germany, Switzerland, Holland

MWS was very well travelled and well read. From 1814 onwards she would record all the texts she had studied and enjoyed, as well as those read by PBS.

Here is a list of MWS’s publications, showing her considerable creative output. (This does not include her short stories, plays, or unpublished works including much of her poetry). This list is just to demonstrate the amount that she did publish, steadily across the years.

1817 History of a Six Weeks’ Tour (travelogue)

1818 Frankenstein 1st edn

1823 Valperga

1824 Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley (editor)

1826 The Last Man

1830 The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck

1831 Frankenstein revised edition

1831 Proserpine (drama)

1835 Lodore

1837 Falkner

1839 Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley (editor), Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Essays, Letters from Abroad, Translations and Fragments (editor)

1844 Rambles in Germany and Italy (travelogue)

I will come back to Frankenstein – but it might be worth explaining here what some of those other works contain. The Last Man is set in the future, and Lodore and Falkner are settled in MWS’s own time. But Valperga is a historical novel, and I’d like to do a spotlight on this book, her second novel to be published, which is very engaging read and well worth seeking out. Valperga was written a few years after the Shelleys’ first meeting, when they were married and living in Italy.

Valperga: a spotlight

This novel took a long time to write. Conceived in 1817, MWS began reading for the historical background of the novel in 1818, but did not start writing until 1820. The novel was completed and sent first to the publishers by PBS in 1821, and then to Godwin for publication in January 1822 under the name of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca, but it was not actually published until 1823. MWS described the novel as ‘a child of mighty slow growth’. She explained in a letter ‘it has indeed been a work of some labour since I have read and consulted a great many books’.

But what is this novel about, and why should we read it? The tale is set in 14th century Italy and the protagonist Castruccio is a warrior and leader. He is based on a real historical figure, and her extensive research of Italian political history and literature is evident.

But the name Valperga comes from the Tuscan city of Valperga and the city’s countess, Euthanasia. The two characters, both powerful, are on opposing sides, and though they are in love they reject their feelings to follow their political allegiances. The female character is undoubtedly the main protagonist, as she becomes the one who comforts those hurt by Castruccio’s tyranny. One of the many reasons that I love this novel is another female character, Beatrice, who is also formidable, but in a completely different way.

Beatrice is an orphaned prophetess, young, beautiful and seduced by Castruccio. His desertion of her is the visceral revelation of his cruelty and selfishness. Her tragic end – this is not a comic novel, but a highly dramatic one – is the most powerful section of the book. The character of Beatrice, as described in the words of the Shelley critic Barbara Jane O’Sullivan, is ‘a religious prophetess who is hunted, haunted, raped, imprisoned, and deceived until she is utterly destroyed. Beatrice is an extraordinary character, whose very talents alienate her from the society in which she lives.’

Today I am sharing my talk from earlier this year: an introduction to Mary Shelley. Enjoy! (Apologies for the referencing being less robust than I’d usually endeavour to carry out – if you have questions you can always get in touch with me on Twitter, or send an email).

Beyond Frankenstein: the writings of Mary Shelley

A talk for International Women’s Day, 8 March 2017, Humanities Research Centre, University of York

My aim with this talk is to give a run-through of the author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, her life, and her writings. If I can do anything today I hope I can encourage some of you to go and read another MWS novel that isn’t about a reanimated corpse! I’d also like to focus on the fact that it is Frankenstein‘s birthday in the years 2016-2017. Exactly 200 years ago MWS was writing her masterpiece, to be published on the 1st January 1818.

Some of the things I will discuss in this talk are as follows: