Report from BARS 2015: Romantic Imprints – Anna Mercer

      Comments Off on Report from BARS 2015: Romantic Imprints – Anna Mercer

I enjoyed three fantastic days at ‘BARS 2015: Romantic Imprints’, which was organised by Dr Anthony Mandal and Dr Jane Moore of Cardiff University. A convivial and inspiring atmosphere, a great location and even the Welsh weather on good form all made this really entertaining and stimulating conference experience. In this blog I’d like to document some of the highlights I experienced from the panels and plenary talks across the Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I only wish I could have had time to go to more! The full programme is online here.

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 10.46.53

Parallel Panel Highlights Day 1: Thursday

On the Thursday I attended the panel ‘Philosophical Imprints: Experimentation and Empiricism’. Tim Milnes gave a paper on ‘Socialized Epistemology and the Essay’, considering Hume, Lamb and ‘socialised empiricism’. He considered how intersubjectivity emerged as a counterpart to scientific empiricism, and how Hume unpacks the idea of the polite culture of the essayist in his ‘Of Essay-Writing’. Mary Fairclough followed with a paper on ‘Electricity, Experiment and Faith in the 1790s’: this was fascinating, especially as I knew nothing about the history of electricity beyond the very basic facts. She discussed Adam Walker’s A System of Familiar Philosophy, and the prevalence of small-scale, not very powerful yet entertaining experiments in the eighteenth century. Between the 1740s and the 1790s there were many important philosophical reflections stimulated by meditations on the power of electricity.

I chaired the panel on Thursday evening entitled ‘Imprinting the Private and Public’. Four very rich papers were given here, with topics ranging from objects and collections to the more traditional imprint of text – including poetry in the public sphere and the private aspects of a journal. Chiara Rolli discussed Sarah Sophia Banks’s collections, Emma Curran discussed Helen Maria Williams’ A Farewell, for Two Years, to England and Robert Jones’s paper considered Sheridan’s legacy in Byron and Moore (the complications of Sheridan’s life and his decline were very interesting as well as Byron’s writings on him). Lucy Johnson discussed the Shelleys’ elopement journal, the way in which physical intimacy is represented in the eroticised writing of this shared work, and how this initially private text was then worked into a publication in 1817 (part of History of a Six Weeks’ Tour). The panel as a whole brought up interesting questions about the concept of longevity: such as traditional and non-traditional forms of committing an artists legacy to the eternal. Thursday ended with a great wine reception (and whisky-tasting!).

Parallel Panel Highlights Day 2: Friday

Friday morning began with my favourite panel of BARS 2015 (although I am somewhat biased considering I am currently very engaged in manuscript work). The Wordsworth Trust sponsored a panel entitled ‘“Mimicking the texture of thought”: What Can We Learn from Manuscripts of an Author at the Wordsworth Trust?’, chaired by Michael Rossington. Jeff Cowton of the Trust spoke about all the amazing work the organisation does, both in the academic field and in terms of reaching out to local communities in Cumbria and beyond. It really captured what an awe-inspiring place Dove Cottage, Grasmere can be (once the venue for a BARS PG/ECR conference, my first BARS conference… if you haven’t yet been to visit, go! And give yourself plenty of time to take in the museum’s relics as well as the beautiful surrounding landscape).

Jeff’s talk also emphasised the power of being able to view a real manuscript from one of the great Romantic writers in person, for both the public and academics: this can be a tricky argument to make in today’s digitalised world, and Jeff and the rest of his panel carried this sentiment in a very persuasive way, one in which even the most sceptical listener would find hard to disagree with. Beatrice Turner followed with a paper on Sara Coleridge’s manuscripts, comparing a manuscript written by the 17-year-old Sara to one she wrote as she was dying decades later.


This paper was prompted by her personal interaction with manuscripts and archives in the Harry Ransom Center, and framed by the theories of Hazlitt and Derrida. Dove Cottage is another valuable place where interaction with manuscripts like this can happen. Ruth Abbott continued the panel with a case study on Wordsworth’s notebooks, considering each notebook as a ‘full document’ and Nick Mason gave an engaging talk on technology and manuscript research, emphasising the testimonies by students that explained how affected they were by being able to hold a first edition of Lyrical Ballads. Please consider donating to the Wordsworth Trust Catalyst Fund if you like the work that the Trust does.

The panel ‘Transnational Thomas Moore’ on Friday afternoon discussed the oriental romance Lalla Rookh, music, and the author’s reactions to Byron (especially Cain) as an author ‘unwilling to offend’ – unlike Byron himself. Three excellent papers by Sarah McCleave, Justin Tonra and Jim Watt placed Moore in context. It was interesting to hear how the links to Byron are complicated by the fact that Byron dedicated The Corsair to Moore, and the paper by Jim Watt discussed how Moore provided a template for Byron.

My Parallel Panel on Day 3: Saturday, and the Plenary Talks

The panel I presented on took place on Saturday morning and was entitled ‘Coleridge’s Afterlives’. I’d like to give a massive thank you to Philip Aherne and Jo Taylor for inviting me to join this panel, and thank you also to Maximiliaan van Woudenberg for chairing. Philip Aherne discussed T. H. Green and the Coleridgean Vocation, and Jo Taylor gave a paper on Edith Coleridge, S. T. Coleridge’s granddaughter: although almost all of her poetical compositions are unpublished, Edith’s verses engage with STC and also Hartley and Sara Coleridge, and often takes a swipe at poetical conventions in its mocking tone. We had a wide range of questions that gave us almost half an hour of interesting discussion on Coleridge and those influenced by him.

Now for the plenary talks: Twitter was very active during these (see the hashtag #BARS2015 (although with the caution that this has also been used for other things since the conference ended – Ed.)), which featured some really great images and quotes. John Barrell’s talk on the first day focused on ‘The Meeting of the Waters’, a phrase from poetry and folklore, songs and geographical locations. Barrell discussed his own experiences of finding such locations in the UK, Ireland and abroad. This confluence of location and poetry was a fascinating subject – the two things harmoniously mingle.

JMW Turner, 'The Junction of the Greta & the Tees'

JMW Turner, ‘The Junction of the Greta and the Tees’

The plenary on Friday was given by Claire Connolly on ‘Sea Crossings, Scale and the Imprint of Colonial Infrastructure from Swift to Edgeworth’. Connolly discussed Swift’s two famous poems from Holyhead, written on account of him being stuck there, unable to cross to Ireland. Her talk emphasised the significance of the sea crossing between Britain and Ireland at this time, including Irish history and the social ‘pull’ to London. Edgeworth’s letters from Holyhead showed another perspective on this, including her accounts of sublime scenery and her comparisons of the many different sea crossings she experienced in her lifetime.

Saturday’s plenary also had a focus on the female Romantic author: Devoney Looser gave a talk on ‘Jane Austen Matters’, considering Austen’s legacy and analysing the debates that occur around Austen’s image and her fiction through the ages. The complicated legacy of Austen is evident in the many attempts to illustrate her novels and what this tells us about the particular audience of that age: for example, different interpretations of scenes in Pride and Prejudice would lead to very different Elizabeth Bennetts being depicted in the accompanying illustrations. Looser’s talk then focused on Ferdinand Pickering’s Austen designs.

circa 1815:  A scene from Jane Austen's novel 'Emma', (1815) illustrated by Pickering.  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A scene from Jane Austen’s novel ‘Emma’, (1815) illustrated by Pickering

Overall, a great meeting of like-minded Romanticists!

– Anna Mercer (University of York)