Stephen Copley Research Report: Amanda Blake Davis on Percy Bysshe Shelley c.1817

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Here we have the latest report from Amanda Blake Davis, the most recent winner of the Stephen Copley research awards, for more information about how to apply, please see here.

In December 2021, I was grateful for the opportunity to return to the Bodleian Library in Oxford thanks to the support of a BARS Stephen Copley Research Award.

This research trip, much-delayed by the ongoing pandemic, was originally conceived in the summer of 2020 during conversations with Professor Jerrold E. Hogle for Jonathan Mulrooney and Emily Rohrbach’s ‘Romanticism in the Meantime’ series of online interviews and discussions. My interview with Professor Hogle on ‘Shelley’s Platonic Subtlety’ drew attention to Shelley’s translations of Plato beyond his crucial 1818 translation of the Symposium. I have previously written on Shelley’s translation of the Symposium and its significance to the Shelleys for BARS, [https://www.bars.ac.uk/blog/?p=2122], and my doctoral thesis, Shelley and Androgyny, traces a line of enquiry between the Symposium and androgynous language and images in Shelley’s poetry and poetical writings. In the summer of 2020, my interest in Shelley’s translations of Plato beyond the Symposium began to centre upon the Menexenus, which Shelley made a partial translation of in 1817.

Motivated by my interest in Shelley’s 1817 translation of the Menexenus, my visit to the Bodleian centred upon Shelley’s compositions c.1817, and expanded beyond the poet’s readings and translations of Plato to include my current project as Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Derby where I am working on Shelley’s manuscript drawings of trees and poetical depictions of trees and botanical figures. The Bodleian holds the world’s most significant Shelley archive, and the invaluable 23-volume facsimile Bodleian Shelley Manuscripts were also readily accessible alongside the manuscript notebooks I had arranged to consult. In particular, Nancy Moore Goslee’s editorial commentary on MS. Shelley adds. e. 12 in volume 18 of the Bodleian Shelley Manuscripts directed attention to Shelley’s drawings of trees and their representation of his compositional process in this notebook. Goslee writes: ‘A full-page sketch on 203 seems to comment on the double directions of the notebook—two clumps of trees mirror one another, as if in an unseen lake’ (p. liii).[i] The major aims of my postdoctoral project are to explore and identify the presence and influence of real, living trees on Shelley’s poetry, and to examine how manuscript drawings of trees and other botanical figures act as intermediaries in Shelley’s compositional process.

(c) Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.

An example of tree drawings in Shelley’s Laon and Cythna manuscripts, CMD 6231 [Uncatalogued Harcourt Additional Papers box 11/1], now MS. Eng. c. 7978, fol. 53. Image source: Shelley’s Ghost 2012 exhibition at the Bodleian Library, now archived by the WayBack Machine.

Two manuscript notebooks in particular were immensely useful to my research during this visit: MS. Shelley e. 4 and MS. Shelley adds. e. 16. Notably, both are landscape notebooks, and although drawings and sketches appear throughout Shelley’s manuscripts, there is a visual immediacy to these notebooks that is fostered by their landscape formats. The back pastedown of MS. e. 4 features an elaborate, full-page landscape drawing that appears to visually depict the final canto of Laon and Cythna (1817), where the eponymous pair sail across a lake, approaching the celestial Temple of the Spirit. Although manuscript material for Laon and Cythna does not appear in the extant pages of this notebook, ‘The Revolt of Islam’, Shelley’s revised title for Laon and Cythna, emerges amidst cancelled lines of ‘Ozymandias’ on the preceding page (folio 85v), suggesting the poem’s presence in Shelley’s mind at this time. The lines ‘Our bark hung there, as on a line suspended / Between two heavens, that windless waveless lake’ (12.40.356-357) seems to be visually imagined on this landscape page,[ii] where an island populated with a diverse array of trees shelters a celestial temple, overlooked by a mountain range. Being able to consult the original manuscripts revealed intricate details in this drawing and in others, such as the way in which the hanging branches of a willow tree are subtly reflected in the water of the lake, mirroring Laon and Cythna’s penultimate stanza’s emphasis upon intermediacy. I would like to extend my thanks to BARS, and to the Bodleian, for this most useful visit.

Amanda Blake Davis is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in English Literature at the University of Derby, Honorary Research Fellow in the School of English at the University of Sheffield, and a Postgraduate Representative for BARS. Follow her on Twitter at @ABDavis1816

[i] Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Bodleian Shelley Manuscripts, gen. ed. Donald H. Reiman, 23 vols to date (New York, NY: Garland and Routledge, 1986-), vol. 18: The Homeric Hymns and ‘Prometheus’ Draft Notebook, Bodleian MS. Shelley adds. e. 12, ed. Nancy Moore Goslee.

[ii] Percy Bysshe Shelley, Laon and Cythna; or, The Revolution of the Golden City: A Vision of the Nineteenth Century. In the Stanza of Spenser quoted in The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. Michael J. Neth, gen. eds. Donald H. Reiman, Neil Fraistat, and Nora Crook, 4 vols to date (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000-), vol. 3.