BARS/Wordsworth Trust Early Career Fellowships – the winners

We are delighted to announce that Dr Anna Burton and Connie Hamilton have been successful in their applications to the BARS/Wordsworth Trust Early Career Fellowship programme. Each will spend a month in residence at Wordsworth Trust at Grasmere over the next few weeks.

Focused on the Fellow’s own research interests, the residency provides an opportunity for them to become familiar with existing audience engagement work (both onsite and offsite, gaining experience of duties that are audience related) and to create a plan for an activity that will engage new audiences.  This can be for an audience of the Fellow’s choice and will use the collections to stimulate an interest and develop understanding of the poet’s work.  For more information on the Fellowship, please follow this link.

Anna has already begun her time in Grasmere and is researching an interest in the planting and caretaking of trees in the Lake District 200 years ago and the present day. Jeff Cowton, Principal Curator and Head of Learning, writes: ‘It is wonderful to welcome Anna and to explore with her how attitudes from the past (and especially Wordsworth’s interest in trees) will lead to interpretation that helps us examine our attitudes to trees today’.

Anna is pleased to have this opportunity: ‘It is particularly exciting to be exploring all things tree-related in the collection at the Jerwood Centre, and to have the opportunity to visit tree specimens and spaces of Wordsworthian interest in and around Dove Cottage.

Anna talking with Dove Cottage Gardener, Jane Roberts, whilst sitting in the re-imagined Moss Hut in the Sensory Garden at Wordsworth Grasmere.

Stephen Copley Research Report: Laura Blunsden on Ignatius Sancho

Follow Laura Blunsden on Twitter.

Thanks to the support of the BARS Stephen Copley Research Award, I was able to visit the manuscript archives at the British Library in London this month to conduct my research into the personal life of Ignatius Sancho. 

My PhD thesis focuses on mentoring relationships in eighteenth-century literary culture. Unlike other, more formal kinds of educational relationships, mentorship involves reciprocal learning and mutual involvement; I suggest that mentoring facilitates a complex, non-linear version of personal development through sustained dialogue. Mentoring often takes place outside of an institutional structure, so my research often requires me to draw on letters and diary entries to explore the personal experiences of authors. 

In the second chapter of my thesis, I explore the mentoring relationship between the novelist Laurence Sterne and Ignatius Sancho, the abolitionist writer and composer. Sancho’s self-deprecating manner towards members of London’s cultural elite; his apologies for his ignorance as a ‘thick-lipped son of Afric!’; comparisons of his ‘poor black brethren’ to dogs; and complaints of ‘worse than Negro barbarity’, have led critics to condemn him as a ‘ludicrous, preening traitor to his race’.[1] His posthumously published Letters of the late Ignatius Sancho, an African (1782) have been criticised as the most complete example of Black assimilation into white British nationalistic culture.[2] I argue that, in making such arguments, critics have misunderstood Sancho’s attempts to forge mentoring relationships with white patrons, who both accepted and disdained the advice offered by a poor, Black grocer. Further, I suggest that Sancho mentored several members of London’s cultural elite, including Sterne, to further his own abolitionist agenda. In my re-evaluation of Sancho’s role, I hope to acknowledge his intellectual, pedagogic and creative talents in a different way than has been offered by scholars of his work.

As this approach to Sancho’s Letters has not yet explored in great detail, many of the letters written by his friends and contemporaries regarding his private life and relationships remain unpublished. One letter, to the famous playwright Richard Cumberland from his brother George Cumberland, was of particular interest to me. The small amounts of George’s letter included in Vincent Carretta’s biography of Sancho[3] suggested that George was an aspiring author who became Sancho’s protégé and frequently bought household items from his grocery shop. As the letter was not quoted in full and has not yet been digitised, it was necessary for me to visit the British Library to read it in full to gain a better understanding of George and Sancho’s mentoring relationship.[4]

I was already attending a conference in Hampstead, but the Stephen Copley award enabled me to extend my stay in London by an extra day, which gave me time to read and transcribe all thirty-two of the Cumberland family letters. I found lots of evidence in the letters to support my argument that Sancho did provide essential critical advice to George. The letters made clear that their mentorship was founded on not just financial exchange but on a deeper emotional connection between the men.

The visit proved to be incredibly useful for my research, as I was finally able to access manuscript materials which would not have been otherwise available to me. My findings have deepened my understanding of not just Sancho’s mentoring relationship with George Cumberland, but also of mentorship more generally. I would like to express my gratitude to BARS and the Stephen Copley Research Bursary for their generous support of my research trip, and for providing me with this opportunity to work closely with such important manuscript sources. I strongly recommend anybody in need of support for upcoming conferences and research trips to apply. 

[1] S. S. Sandhu, ‘Ignatius Sancho and Laurence Sterne’, Research in African Literatures, 4: 29 (1998), 88-105 (p. 88).

[2] Norma Myers, Reconstructing The Black Past: Blacks in Britain 1780-1830 (London: Frank Cass, 1996), p. 133.

[3] Vincent Carretta, ‘Sancho, Ignatius (1729–1780), author’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004) <>.

[4] London, British Library, Add MS 36491-36522, vol II, fol. 204

New BARS Communications Assistants 2022-23

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We received a number of very high quality applications for the BARS Communications Assistant 2022-23 position. The Executive Committee are delighted to announce that there will be two new Assistants working on the BARS Blog and social media in the next academic year:

Francesca Killoran is a MPhil student at the University of York’s English Department where she also earned her BA and MA in Literature of the Romantic Period. Her research focuses on depictions of sex work across the eighteenth century and the Romantic Period. She was previously the BARS Digital Events Fellow. Follow Francesca on Twitter.

Amy Wilcockson is a PhD researcher at the University of Nottingham. Her research is concentrated on editing the letters of the neglected Scottish Romantic poet, Thomas Campbell (1777-1844). She has previously been a Keats-Shelley Association of America (K-SAA) Communications Fellow 2020-22. Her work has been published in the TLSHistory Today, and Studies in Scottish LiteratureFollow Amy on Twitter.

More on what they have planned very soon!

With huge thanks to our excellent outgoing Communications Assistant Jack Orchard.

Call for Papers: ‘Romanticism and Heavy Metal’ Anthology

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Editors: James Rovira and Julian Knox

The editors welcome chapter proposals for the forthcoming anthology Romanticism and Heavy Metal. Like the collections Rock and Romanticism: Blake, Wordsworth, and Rock from Dylan to U2 (Lexington 2018), Rock and Romanticism: Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms (Palgrave Macmillan 2018), David Bowie and Romanticism (forthcoming Palgrave Macmillan 2022), and Women in Rock/Women in Romanticism (forthcoming Routledge 2022), Romanticism and Heavy Metal seeks to interpret heavy metal as a cultural, artistic, and musical phenomenon using the historical insights and theoretical tools provided by the study of Romanticism. 

As in previous collections, “Romanticism” is broadly conceived as a cultural, literary, artistic, philosophical, and musical movement first identified and named in the late eighteenth century without being limited in scope to that period. As a result, the relationship between metal and Romanticism should not be considered only in terms of influence: metal is or can be Romanticism. “Heavy metal” is conceived as a late twentieth-century world musical phenomenon inclusive of a wide array of sub- and micro-genres that has its origins in the sonic and thematic innovations of 1960s and 70s bands such as Iron Butterfly, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Judas Priest that continues into the present.

Chapters considering historically significant heavy metal bands that engage with Romantic works and themes are welcome, as are analyses of Romanticism in relation to metal subgenres including, but not limited to, doom metal, black metal, death metal, thrash, grindcore, folk metal, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, power metal, and noise. Contributors seeking to define Romanticism outside of its usual eighteenth- to nineteenth- century periodization are encouraged, but not required, to consult Romanticism Against the Tide of Modernity by Robert Sayre and Michael Löwy (2001). Chapter topics might include, but are not limited to:

• Romantic Satanism and heavy metal
• Romantic paganism and heavy metal
• Green Romanticism and heavy metal
• Brown Romanticism and heavy metal
• Individual author / painter / musician / band / album / music video comparisons
• Nineteenth-century musical Romanticism and heavy metal
• Romantic folk traditions and folk metal
• Working class Romanticism and metal
• Romantic celebrity and heavy metal
• Adaptations of Romantic texts in heavy metal albums
• Romantic visual art as album art
• Romanticism, metal, and political/social/environmental action
• Reception studies and fan communities
• Representations of apocalypse, post-apocalypse, and the world without us

Chapter proposals should be approximately 500 words in length, demonstrate familiarity with
scholarship in both Romanticism and heavy metal, and should be accompanied by a one-page

Please email all proposal materials by December 31st, 2022 to both of the editors:
James Rovira,
Julian Knox,

Completed chapters will be expected Summer of 2023. If you need some flexibility with the chapter deadline, please describe your needs in your proposal.

Closing date: 31 December 2022

Five Questions: An Inventive Age: Writing of the Industrial Revolution, 1770–1830

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An Inventive Age: Writing of the Industrial Revolution, 1770–1830Studies in Romanticism, 61.2 (Summer 2022). Cover featuring a watercolour by Thomas Hornor, c. 1817, of the rolling mills at Merthyr Tydfil, from the National Museum of Wales.

Below, we discuss the Summer 2022 special issue of Studies in Romanticism, guest-edited by Jeremy Davies and entitled An Inventive Age: Writing of the Industrial Revolution, 1770–1830. The contributors are as follows:

Siobhan Carroll is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Delaware. Her first book was An Empire of Air and Wa­ter: Uncolonizable Space in the British Imagination, 1750–1850 (Pennsylvania, 2015), and her current book project is on improvement, agency, and Ro­mantic narrative form.

Jeremy Davies is an Associate Professor of English at the Uni­versity of Leeds. His last book was The Birth of the Anthropocene (California, 2016), and his next is provisionally called ‘The Altered Landscape, 1793–1830.’

Eric Gidal is Professor of English at the University of Iowa and the editor of Philological Quarterly. His recent work includes Ossi­anic Unconformities: Bardic Poetry in the Industrial Age (Virginia, 2015), and articles on Scottish and French Romanticism and environmental history.

Nigel Leask is Regius Professor of English Language and Lit­erature at the University of Glasgow, and a Fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. His latest monograph is Stepping Westward: Writing the Highland Tour 1720–1830 (Oxford, 2020).

Jon Mee is Professor of Eighteenth-Century Studies at the Univer­sity of York. His books include Print, Publicity, and Popular Radicalism in the 1790s (Cambridge, 2016); forthcoming projects include two co-edited collections of essays, Institutions of Literature, 1700–1900 (Cambridge, 2022) and Remediating the 1820s (Edinburgh, 2023). 

1) Why did you decide to produce a journal special issue on the Industrial Revolution?

Jeremy Davies: It began for me with trying to find a new direction for Romantic ecocriticism. That led me to want to reconnect Romantic literary studies with economic history – trusting that economics and ecology are as closely similar at root as their names suggest. The relationship between culture and economic transformation around 1800 is a classic scholarly problem, but modern Romantic studies has been strangely out of touch with the state of the art in economic historiography. (This isn’t to downplay all the good recent work on literature and economic thought in our period, let me say.) That aspiration to re-join two fields obviously meant a need to collaborate. Hence this special issue. Jon Mee contrasts theories of industrial innovation in the 1790s and 1830s. Siobhan Carroll writes about Walter Scott and the rise of coal. Eric Gidal looks at how Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine got on board with modern transport, and Nigel Leask considers the Highland economy in its Atlantic context. My own essay is about Anna Laetitia Barbauld and the role of land availability in economic development.

We’ve had a lot of Zoom meet-ups during the four (!) years that we’ve been working on this collection. It’s been the most genial shared academic enterprise I’ve known. We hope very much that others will want to respond to the arguments we’re putting forward. The aim is for wider collaborations in the future, so we’d all be glad to hear from any scholars interested in the questions we explore. The trope of the ‘Industrial Revolution’ is a key rubric for me personally, but it isn’t a shibboleth. I think that engaging with the latest work in economic history can help literary critics think more rigorously about empire, class, family life, nationhood, geography, improvement… all sorts of things. I’d love to make contact with anyone who finds this agenda promising.

2) How does an emphasis on economic history challenge or at least alter our accounts of the literature of this period? 

Eric Gidal: I see our contributions as providing an expansive and robust account of the role of print culture in economic and environmental history. Rather than confining our attention to early expressions of ecological thought or judging authors on the basis of ideological resistance or complicity, the contributions to this issue provide detailed descriptions of materials printed during a period of rapid economic and social transformation. John Aikin junior’s A Description of the Country from Thirty to Forty Miles round Manchester (1795); Thomas Garnett’s Observations on a Tour of the Highlands, and Part of the Western Isles of Scotland (1800); Anna Barbauld’s Eighteen Hundred and Eleven (1812); William Wordsworth’s The Excursion (1814); Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley (1814), The Bride of Lammermoor (1819), and Redgauntlet (1824); the first two decades of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (1817–34); and Edward Baines junior’s History of the Cotton Manufacture in Great Britain (1835): these publications offer a material record of enormous changes in the British economy that have had world-altering consequences. While we think through the arguments, ideas, and narratives forwarded in each of these volumes, we also recognize them as physical products of an expansive information and media infrastructure that facilitated many of the changes they record.  I think this special issue demonstrates that economic history can reveal not only how individual writers apprehended the structural transformations of their day, but how new modes of information management, knowledge production, and creative expression emerged from within increasingly complex economies.  Topographies, tours, prophetic and philosophical poems, historical novels, magazines, and economic histories themselves are all genres we recognize as assuming modern parameters during this period and it makes sense to me to view them as active elements of an industrializing world.   

3) How do the essays in this special issue speak to your previous work?

Nigel Leask: My most recent book, Stepping Westward (2020), was a study of the Highland Tour. I found Jeremy’s invitation challenging and thought-provoking to the extent that the Highlands was a region of Britain that failed to industrialise, hence ‘the Highland problem.’ Unlike Jon’s Manchester, or Siobhan and Eric’s Lowland Scotland, ‘Britain’s farthest glens’ lacked coal or iron, and industrial development was dogged by their harsh natural environment, and problems of labour supply. But the essays in ‘An Inventive Age’ (Wordsworth’s words, remember!) challenge a retrospective notion of the industrial revolution ‘marked by the coal smoke of the later nineteenth century,’ as Siobhan puts it. A more complex and variegated sense of the meaning of ‘industry’ emerges here, which allows for more traction with literary romanticism.

Travel writers that I’d studied in Stepping Westward – e.g. Thomas Pennant, Thomas Garnett, even Dorothy Wordsworth – were concerned with how to unlock the ‘cornucopian promise of the north,’ as well as appreciating it as ‘romantic’ wilderness. Fisheries, moorland cultivation, spinning schools, and kelping were all proposed as hybrid schemes of improvement very different from the standard ‘industrial’ model. In my book I under-emphasised the dependence of such improvement schemes on colonial markets, to the extent that (for instance) herrings, cheap ‘Osnaburg’ linens, and jute sacking were exported to service the West Indian slave economy. In the end, as Andrew Mackillop has argued, the most successful branch of the Highland economy was the export of human capital, either as military or colonial service, or in the shape of forced emigration, leading to the tragic depopulation of the region that persists today.

As Fredrik Albritton Jonsson indicates in Enlightenment’s Frontier, the ‘highland problem’ resonates with current ecological interest in the ‘limits to economic growth’ impelled by our need for carbon discipline. These essays demonstrate the unevenness of industrial development across Britain, and the degree to which writers responded to the changing regional landscapes around them, rather than to a single heroic narrative of technological progress. My response underlines the extent to which local initiatives at regional and national level were dependent on Atlantic and global colonialism, fundamental to Britain’s economic paramountcy in the nineteenth century.

4) Did working on the issue alter your thinking about the Romantic period?

Siobhan Carroll: Personally, I was struck by how applying the lens of economic history to my corpus ended up reinforcing the utility of ‘the Romantic Period.’ In researching my contribution, for example, I spent a lot of time with Paul Warde’s research on British fuel use.  Seeing the decades we associate with Romanticism stand out in the tables as years experiencing dramatic changes in fuel use – marking, among other things, the high point of Britain’s pre-twenty-first century use of wind power – was really striking. There’s been a lot of debate among Victorianists as to whether periodization is intellectually useful in our current moment; and while I think one’s period should be determined by one’s research questions, seeing the Romantic Era ‘emerge’ (as it were) from the economic data was a significant moment.

The other element that stood out was the unexpected confluences in our research. When we originally talked about doing this issue, nobody mentioned Scotland in their essay pitches. But (as was pointed out to us in the BARS Economies and Ecologies roundtable) – Scotland and/or Scottish writers ended up playing a significant role in the special issue. Similarly, there were surprising moments of overlap in our essays’ concerns with infrastructure, transportation, and environmental change. My sense is that these connections aren’t accidental, but indicate places where something interesting was happening in the Romantic archive. Sites of future research, I hope!

5) Are you currently working on any related projects?

Jon Mee: Jeremy’s idea for this volume was very timely for me as I’ve been writing a book on the area around Manchester associated with the take-off phase of the Industrial Revolution. The matrix for the book is provided by John Aikin junior’s Description of the Country from Thirty to Forty Miles Round Manchester (1795) which takes up the opening section of my essay for ‘An Inventive Age.’ Having my head opened up to other voices considering related issues has been of real substantive – and therapeutic – value, especially when trying to work out issues like the relationship between the provincial and the global, the benefits or otherwise of network analysis, and questions about the determining power of socio-economic regimes. Part of the impulse for my book came from the feeling that the ideas that came tumbling out of the area have tended to be neglected because the Industrial Revolution has been cast as the embarrassing Other of romanticism rather than a complex part of what made up Wordsworth’s ‘inventive age.’ I’ve been trying to trace the ways that the darker strands mixed with liberal impulses hardened into something like the ‘historical mission’ described by Marx in Capital without taking that process to be pre-determined by totalised externalities. Less grandly and more locally that has also involved thinking about the fate of platypus and wombat specimens sent to the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne! In a period of lockdown, talking to others has been at a premium, but I’ve been lucky to have my way lit by Jon Klancher’s work on London arts and sciences institutions and Kevis Goodman’s generous act of lending me the manuscript of her Pathologies of Motion. ‘An Inventive Age’ has been an affirmation for me of collaboration and confirmation that every monograph is ultimately the product of a distributed agency.

BARS-UCSL Scottish Romanticism Research Award Report – Gerard McKeever on John Galt

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We are delighted to publish this report by Gerard Lee McKeever, the latest winner of the Scottish Romanticism Research Award. Postgraduates and postdoctoral scholars working in any area of Scottish literature (1740-1830) may apply for the jointly funded BARS-UCSL Scottish Romanticism Research Award.  The executive committees of the British Association for Romantic Studies (BARS) and the Universities Committee for Scottish Literature (UCSL) have established the award to help fund expenses incurred through travel to Scottish libraries and archives, including universities other than the applicant’s own, up to a maximum of £300. For information on how to apply see here

Sketch of John Galt by Daniel Maclise (1830)

In June 2022, the BARS-UCSL Scottish Romanticism Research Award enabled me to spend a week working on John Galt’s correspondence in the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh.

This research trip was in support of my forthcoming volume for the ‘Edinburgh Edition of the Works of John Galt’ (series editor: Angela Esterhammer). I am editing Galt’s twin autobiographies, published in back-to-back years: The Autobiography of John Galt (1833) and The Literary Life, and Miscellanies, of John Galt (1834). My volume will be the first scholarly edition of either text: indeed the Literary Life has never been reprinted, and this will be the first unabridged reprinting of the Autobiography since the 1830s. Collectively, these texts represent the extraordinary diversity of Galt’s experiences, taking in Britain, North America, continental Europe and the Middle East. They move from his early years in Greenock to his acquaintance with Lord Byron and attempt to hijack the Elgin Marbles, from his parliamentary wrangling to his colonial project in Canada, not forgetting a ground-breaking theorisation of his literary practice.

The scope of the autobiographies presents a formidable editorial challenge, which involves working with as much as possible of Galt’s voluminous correspondence. Galt’s letters are scattered in various repositories in Britain and North America, but the bulk is in the NLS in Edinburgh. Some of these – particularly letters to the publisher William Blackwood, and examples from Galt’s Canadian years – are available in PhD theses by George Spencer Beasley (1951) and Jessie Kennedy Herreshoff (1988). Equally, the team of volume editors on the EUP ‘Works of Galt’ have begun sharing their own individual transcriptions taken from letters in various archives, although the number of these has been limited by the COVID-19 pandemic.

I am very happy to report, then, that during my time in the NLS I was able to analyse, diplomatically transcribe and in some cases photograph well over one hundred letters to and from Galt. Correspondents include fellow authors such as Walter Scott, James Hogg, John Gibson Lockhart, David Macbeth Moir, Harriet Pigott and Allan Cunningham; publishers Archibald Constable, Thomas Cadell, William Davies, Thomas Oliver and George Boyd; and the painter David Wilkie. Subjects include the daily minutiae of visits and gossip; pitches and publisher rejections; wrangling over publishing deals; and details of Galt’s massive commercial concerns in Canada.

There are a number of particular highlights. For example, an 1830 letter to Hogg, written in a distinctively Blackwoodian register, in which Galt encourages Hogg to ‘add a few millions of years to your immortality’ by taking his muse to Canada, since: ‘The remarkable thing in the American Woods is, their entire freedom from fairies and all sorts of hobgoblins’. Equally, a series of letters to Moir in the early 1830s have proven enormously useful from the perspective of the autobiographies edition, since they cleared up burning questions about the publishing history of the texts.

The full significance of these letters will emerge over the coming years of editorial labour. I am working alongside a team of other volume editors on the EUP ‘Works of John Galt’ series, and am very well supported by Professor Esterhammer and her RAs at the University of Toronto. I have already shared the findings of this research trip with these colleagues and am sure that this leap forward in our understanding of Galt’s correspondence will be a significant boost to the series as a whole.

I am very grateful to both BARS and the Universities Committee for Scottish Literature for the generous award that made this trip possible.

Gerard Lee McKeever is Research Fellow on the AHRC-funded ‘Books and Borrowing 1750­–1830’ project at the University of Stirling, having been a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Glasgow between 2017 and 2020. He is the author of Dialectics of Improvement: Scottish Romanticism, 1786-1831 (Edinburgh University Press, 2020), which won the BARS First Book Prize 2021.

BARS President’s Fellowship 2023

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In June 2020, the British Association for Romantic Studies announced its unequivocal support of the Black community, its condemnation of all forms of racism and its commitment to practical action. In response to the enduring and systemic damage caused by racism, the BARS Executive commenced a programme of initiatives focused on the histories and literatures of People of Colour. Among these initiatives is the BARS President’s Fellowship, which was officially announced at last summer’s virtual conference, Romantic Disconnections/Reconnections 2021. Since the announcement, we have been finalising the technical details of the award, and are now delighted to be launching the first round for 2023. 

The President’s Fellowship is open to scholars from Black, indigenous and other minority ethnic backgrounds working on any aspect of Romantic Studies to support research, teaching and/or public outreach expenses up to £1,500. Expenses may include, but are not limited to, costs emerging from: travel and accommodation for research-focused or archival visits; photocopying and digitisation; caring commitments; producing and circulating teaching resources; organising and delivering public outreach activities; setting up and running networks or collaborations; set-up and maintenance costs for online platforms such as blogs and websites.

BARS invites applications from postgraduate, early career and independent scholars. Awards will be made on the significance and relevance of the project rather than on the career status or affiliation of the applicant. A postgraduate must be enrolled on a doctoral programme; an early career scholar is defined here as someone who holds a PhD but has not held a permanent academic post for more than five years by the application deadline. Application for the award is competitive and cannot be made retrospectively. Applicants are encouraged to consider applying for the maximum amount, if appropriate, although applications below the threshold will not adversely affect the judgement of the awarding panel. We anticipate awarding one President’s Fellowship in any given year; in exceptional circumstances, additional awards may be made. Successful applicants must be members of BARS before taking up the award.

Please download and complete the linked form when applying for this scheme. 

The name(s) of the recipient(s) will be announced on the BARS website and social media, and the awardee or awardees will be asked to submit a short report to the BARS Executive Committee within four weeks of the completion of all related activities and to acknowledge BARS in relevant publicity, including publications. Reports may also be published on the BARS Blog where this is appropriate. 

Applications and informal queries should be directed to the Bursaries Officer, Dr Daniel Cook ( at the University of Dundee. If you require further guidance about the funding aspects of the scheme, please feel free to contact the Treasurer, Dr Cassie Ulph ( There will be one round of the BARS Presidential Fellowship in each calendar year: the closing date for the 2023 round will be 5pm on Friday 11th November 2022. In usual circumstances, applicants will be informed of the panel’s decision within four weeks of this closing date. It is anticipated that the successful applicant(s) would take up their award as close to the commencement of 2023 as possible.

On This Day in 1822 – Percy Shelley’s Gothic Authorship

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The BARS ‘On This Day’ Blog series celebrates the 200th anniversary of literary and historical events of the Romantic period. Want to contribute a future post? Get in touch.

The BARS ‘On This Day’ series marks July 8 2022, 200 years to the day from the death of Percy Bysshe Shelley, with a fascinating look at some of his lesser explored literary works. Fitting for the anniversary of his death, we bring you Molly Watson’s discussion of Shelley’s Gothic fictions Zastrozzi and St Irvyne, and the echoes these texts left in his final work, The Triumph of Life, which was unfinished when he passed away.

Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle, The New York Public Library. “Wolfstein; or, The mysterious bandit…” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1822.

On 8 July 1822, Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned at the Bay of Spezia, leaving his final poem, The Triumph of Life (1822), unfinished. As such, questions about Shelley’s authorship remain unanswered; the poet is, in effect, a posthumous fragment. But the complexities of Shelley’s literary identity can be felt in his Gothic fiction a decade earlier.[i]

In a letter dated 1812 to his future father-in-law, William Godwin, Shelley declares that he is ‘no longer the votary of Romance’.[ii] In 1810 Shelley had published Zastrozzi: A Romance, a lurid Gothic tale which chronicles the self-destructive passions of its primary characters. The atheist Zastrozzi exercises his hatred upon the ‘hapless’ Verezzi, whose father had sexually dishonoured Zastrozzi’s mother. The following year, Shelley published St. Irvyne; or, the Rosicrucian: A Romance (1811), which details the self-centered obtainment of immortality; also embedded within the narrative is a plot concerning the sexual ruination of Eloise de St. Irvyne.[iii] Shelley was rather quick to dismiss the novellas as the product of a diseased sensibility, and as such laid the groundworks for the less-than-favourable critical response to Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne.[iv] Historically, Shelley’s Gothic fiction has not been well received; only recently have scholars like Stephen Behrendt pushed for Shelley’s ‘considerable’ literary output to be taken ‘seriously’.[v] And yet Shelley’s Gothic fiction is not entirely serious in the first place. Certainly, in his early correspondence with Godwin, Shelley conceives of it as a juvenile mode.

In the letter dated 10 January 1812 Shelley attempts to distance himself from his Gothic fiction. He justifies the production of Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne by proclaiming: ‘From a reader I became I [a] writer of Romances; before the age of seventeen I had published two ‘St. Irvyne’ and ‘Zastrozzi’ each of which tho quite uncharacteristic of me as now I am, yet serve to mark the state of my mind at the period of their composition’. According to Shelley, only by reading Godwin’s ‘inestimable book’ (Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793)) was he exposed to ‘fresh and more extensive views’. Shelley then continues to document his expulsion from Oxford—caused by Shelley and Thomas Jefferson Hogg’s notorious pamphlet, The Necessity of Atheism (1811)—and the ‘incoincident’ habits of his father.[vi] By positing himself as a Godwinian disciple eager to absorb the philosophical foundations of Political Justice, Shelley constructs not only his relationship with Godwin, but also the trajectory of his literary career.

This is not to say that Shelley fabricates his biography, nor is it a complete rejection of his poetical self-fashioning. Rather, as Shelley’s editor Frederick L. Jones states, the poet ‘is rather given to exaggerating his youthfulness’.[vii] While Shelley’s self-mythologizing needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, it is a core part of his authorship. Though Shelley told Godwin that Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne were published ‘before the age of seventeen’, he was in fact slightly older, and most certainly familiar with Godwin’s works before he read Political Justice. It is obvious that Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne are partially indebted to Godwin’s Gothic novels, Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794) and St. Leon: A Tale of the Sixteenth Century (1799), the latter of which, like St. Irvyne, recounts the pursuit of the philosopher’s stone; even the titles sound familiar. Shelley’s characterization of Zastrozzi as a man who believes that ‘revenge is sweeter than life’ is like that of the misanthropic Bethlem Gabor in St. Leon, who is ‘engendered [by] some new thought or passion: and it appeared probable that he would not yet quit the stage of existence till he had left behind him the remembrances of a terrible and desolating revenge’.[viii] The sheer rage evinced in Gabor and Zastrozzi anticipates both the Creature in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and Mandeville in Godwin’s 1817 historical novel of the same name.[ix]

Even though Shelley was already familiar with Godwin’s literary output, he was nonetheless keen to emphasise that he had intellectually and philosophically matured since the publication of Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne. Shelley admits to Godwin that he was ‘haunted with a passion for the wildest and most extravagant romances… ancient books of Chemistry and Magic were perused with an enthusiasm almost amounting to belief…external impediments were numerous, and strongly applied—their effects were merely temporary’.[x] Shelley here almost sounds like a Gothic character himself, a proto-Frankensteinian student desperate to acquire esoteric knowledge; it is certainly well documented that Shelley retained a life-long interest in scientific phenomenon.[xi] Throughout his early correspondence with Godwin, Shelley posits himself as a student vulnerable to the throes and passions of Gothic romance, but who is eventually rescued by the philosophically enlightened Godwin. Of course, the relationship between not only Shelley and Godwin but also Shelley and the Gothic is far more complex. Though Shelley tries to distance himself from Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne as much as possible, his literary career—including some of his later poetry—is haunted by the Gothic.

The Triumph of Life (1822) is Gothic in that it is testament to the contradictory nature of Shelley’s literary identity. As an incomplete manuscript, the Triumph invites readers to engage with not only its form and content but also Shelley’s authorial intentions.[xii] Shelley’s death in July 1822 means that the Triumph exists only as a fragment, and as such questions about Shelley’s authorship remain unanswered. Did Shelley intend to leave the Triumph as an incomplete manuscript, or was its construction cut short by his untimely death? The uncertainty of Shelley’s authorial intent can likewise be felt in Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne. After all, while Shelley maintained to Godwin that Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne were the products of intellectual disease, he still sent them for Godwin’s perusal. Moreover, just as the Triumph’s final couplet (‘Happy those for whom the fold/Of…’) complicates the sense of an ending, so does the conclusion of St. Irvyne confound Shelley’s authorial intent. The novella ends with the revelation that Eloise de St. Irvyne ‘is the sister of Wolfstein’, the primary character of the Gothic plot. The rather hasty finale of St. Irvyne is additional evidence of what Timothy Webb and Alan M. Weinberg have called Shelley’s ‘questioning’ and ‘somewhat puzzling’ methods of composition in his later works, that is, the rejection of poetic linearity.[xiii] Even a decade before the composition of the Triumph, then, there is a similar poetic contradiction at work in Shelley’s Gothic fiction. Shelley’s paradoxical poetics means that his work—and by extension his literary identity—evades straightforwardness.

 The complexities of Shelley’s later poetry has its antecedent in his early Gothic fiction. Shelley’s careful construction of his relationship with Godwin would lead one to believe that he dabbled in the Gothic and then abandoned it for the loftiness of philosophy and ‘true’ literature. Yet the trajectory of Shelley’s rather short literary career is far more nuanced. The Gothic consistently haunts his later poetry, and, by the time of his death, Shelley was a posthumous fragment of different ideas and identities.

Molly Watson (@diddykeats) is a PhD student at the University of Nottingham researching Motherhood, Children and Loss in the Works of Mary Shelley and Sara Coleridge, 1820-44. She is interested in second-generation and ‘late’ Romanticism (1820s-50s), children’s literature, women writers, and Gothic fiction. Her PhD is funded by the Midlands4Cities DTP (AHRC).

[i] The content of this post is inspired by my MRes thesis, ‘Arising from the state of intellectual sickliness and lethargy’: A Re-evaluation of Percy Shelley’s Gothic Fiction’ [University of Huddersfield, 2021]. For a discussion on Shelley’s indebtedness to Charlotte Dacre and William Godwin, see pp. 48-53 and pp. 83-6 respectively; see pp. 5-9 for Shelley’s ‘diseased’ intellect.

[ii] Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Vol. I: Shelley in England, ed. by Frederick L. Jones (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), I:27.

[iii] Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne, ed. by Stephen Behrendt (Peterborough, ONT: Broadview Press, 2002). Online editions of the novellas can be found here and here.

[iv] Madness and the Romantic Poet: A Critical History by James Whitehead (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2017), 118.

[v] Behrendt, ‘Introduction’ to Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne, 11.

[vi] Letters, I:227-8.

[vii] Letters, I:227n1.

[viii] Zastrozzi, 73; St. Leon: A Tale of the Sixteenth Century, ed. by William Brewer (Peterborough, ONT: Broadview Press, 2006), 383. An online edition of St. Leon can be found here.

[ix] Brewer, ‘Introduction’ to St. Leon, 22.

[x] Letters, I:227.

[xi] See ‘Shelley’s Knowledge of the ‘Science of Life’ in Shelley and Vitality by Sharon Ruston (NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 74-101.

[xii] For a discussion on the Triumph’s relationship to the Gothic, see Jerrold E. Hogle, ‘The “Gothic Complex” in Shelley: From Zastrozzi to The Triumph of LifeRomantic Circles (2015).

[xiii] The Unfamiliar Shelley, ed. by Timothy Webb and Alan M. Weinberg (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), 5.

Final Bars Digi Event: Poetic Form and Biological Form

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This roundtable, Poetic Form and Biological Form, addressed the explosion of experimental ideas about form in literature and the natural sciences in the Romantic period, seeking to generate insight and discussion on questions relating to poetics, biology, botany, epistemology and more. It explored questions of life, form, method, sensation, mind-world relations, and aim to establish connections with current models of emergent, enmeshed, and self-assembling forms to build on the wealth of recent scholarship relating to Romanticism and natural science. Our speakers included Tom Marshall (Queen Mary University of London), Merrilees Roberts (Independent Scholar), Nick Dodd (University of Leeds), Richard C. Sha (American University), Rowan Boyson (King’s College London), and Sharon Ruston (University of Lancaster).

Watch Poetic Form and Biological Form here.