BARS PG/ECR Conference, ‘Romantic Voices’: Conference Report

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Here is a report by Michael Falk (PhD Candidate at the University of Kent) on the Early Career and Postgraduate Conference for the British Association for Romantic Studies, ‘Romantic Voices 1760-1840’. The conference was held on the 22nd-23rd June 2016 at the Radcliffe Humanities Building, Oxford, in association with TORCH, the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities. The keynotes were Dr Freya Johnston (University of Oxford) and Professor Simon Kövesi (Oxford Brookes University). You can see the CFP here.


‘Romantic Voices 1760-1840’: Conference Report by Michael Falk

The steamy atmosphere of the referendum had descended, and we were all a little queasy. Few had escaped the national mood of uncertainty and division, even if for many it was offset by a frisson of hope and rebellion.

Well, there we were, a group of young researchers with uncertain prospects ourselves, come to rifle through the treasure-chest of British culture and uncover some new trinkets if we could. And many unexpected treasures there were. We were treated to an encomium of Jane Marcet’s dialogues, an analysis of Anna Barbauld’s childrens’ books, and a digital map of Romantic sounds in the Lake District. Yearsley was extolled as a great mystic, Clare as a protean and mischievous talker, and Southey as a bizarrely inaccurate (though politically rather interesting) writer of kangaroo poetry in newspapers. The old titans were all there too, and it was a welcome relief from some months of mendacity and ill-temper in the public sphere when Wordsworth, Blake or the Shelleys opened their mouths and some real English came out.

The ‘Voices’ theme, unlike so many conference themes, really set the tone. The keynotes and workshops were an opportunity for us young’uns to reflect on our academic voices. How to talk to bureaucracy? How to talk to our students? How to talk to the public? How to talk to each other?—these were the big questions posed by Watson, Kövesi and Johnston. The papers, meanwhile, explored voice as a formal structure (How did Byron’s notions of translation shape his voice in Don Juan? What are the ins-and-outs of the conversational form in didactic literature?) and voice as, well, the tool real people speak with (How did the Shelleys talk to one another about Mary’s prose and Percy’s poetry? Which women did Helen Maria Williams talk about?).

The conference dinner was also rather cacophonous, though the Turl Street Kitchen has a good acoustic and it wasn’t unpleasant. The Scotch Eggs were the big hit of the night, and next I’m in Oxford I’ll demand a truckload.

It was a strange thing to wake up the morning after, and feel a hangover despite my nocturnal sobriety. My phone informed me that my team had lost, and it filled the world with a hollowness it took some days to shatter. At the station, however, I saw a lady marvelling at the newsstand. She picked five or six different papers off the shelves, and as she queued to pay, she couldn’t help shuffling through them, drinking in the front pages with an irrepressible grin. People used to think the universe had a voice, and that the only real truth was whatever it happened to say. I think I’m more content to live in a world of many voices, even if it’s sometimes a rather difficult and frustrating place to be.

& some tweets from the conference…