Stephen Copley Research Report: Charlotte Vallis on Women in Power and Kings’ Letter Books

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With the help of the Stephen Copley Award, I was able to spend several days in London, at the National Archives in Kew. This had a positive impact on my research in multiple different ways, some more obvious than others! My PhD, which I am undertaking part-time, focuses on Russia in the eighteenth century, analysing the reigns of Empress Elizabeth Petrovna, 1741-1761 and Empress Catherine II, 1762-1796. I am exploring what it meant for the two to be women in power: how they both incorporated masculinities into their rules; what Catherine owed to Elizabeth’s example and how the two were viewed both within and outside of Russia. Unsurprisingly, it is a real challenge to access relevant sources for this topic at the moment, thus the trip to the National Archives was especially helpful.

Previously, I have spent very little time in archives, so from a practical sense, I really learnt and experienced a lot simply by being able to go. From little things like reading room opening times, to the practicalities of ordering documents, I really felt that I benefited from just the experience of being physically in an archive. I also learnt that whilst my suitcase seems like it fits into one of the storage lockers in the cloakroom, it actually doesn’t. But this was also a nice experience in the end, as the staff were so helpful and not at all cross at having to help me!

Whilst at the archives, I was able to access a range of relevant documentation (and some not as relevant, but still interesting). It was such an exciting experience to be able to tangibly engage with primary materials- whilst my period is from the mid-eighteenth century onwards, some of the document bundles included materials from much earlier and even just charting how the nature handwriting styles and writing materials changed was fascinating. I focused particularly on accessing diplomatic materials such as the reports sent to England from ambassadors in Russia, and the King’s Letter Books, looking at letters exchanged between George II and III and Elizabeth Petrovna and Catherine II. I intend to use this material in a variety of ways. At the moment, I am looking particularly at balls and masquerades held at the two women’s courts. Taking Elizabeth Petrovna as an example, she is typically dismissed as someone who was overly frivolous: she liked to dance and enjoy herself more than the work of state, and more interested in the opportunity to show off a range of sumptuous dresses than anything else. Furthermore, Elizabeth is often criticised for enforcing “metamorphosis balls” on her court: balls where men were expected to dress and women and vice versa. My intent is to show the political purpose behind Elizabeth’s (and Catherine’s) grand balls. I was able to find several accounts that referred to significant political conversations taking place at the balls, which acts as very helpful evidence for my research.

Examining the Kings’ Letter Books was also particularly interesting. One of the reasons that Elizabeth Petrovna is comparatively under-researched is due to the limited amount of written sources she left behind. The Kings’ Letter Books contain transcripts of letters that are noted to have been signed by Elizabeth herself, which is an unusual source to find. It was interesting to examine the structure of the letters and observe that, often, the space expended on writing out the titles of each monarch was significantly longer than the content of the actual letter itself! It also made me smile when a scribe had clearly tired of writing out the same titles over and over again, instead simply writing things like “as in Page 144”. It was really nice to see the little human touches in these official documents.

I was also able to spend some time examining letters from the Russian ambassadors at the British court, although this was not a primary focus of my research. These were much more informally organised, as they were packed in sheaths of paper as opposed to collected books. Examining these documents felt like a real exploratory process: things were not always in date order, and you might jump from the 1740s back to the beginning of the century without warning. I stumbled across some letters dated after the death of Elizabeth Petrovna. At first glance I half thought these letters had been photocopied, as they had black edging, and then realised they were likely black-edged for official mourning purposes. This was fascinating to me as this was something I was aware of but had never seen before. Whilst not directly relevant to what I was researching, it was really exciting to see and is just another great example of the wider benefits of my trip.

I think a key takeaway from my trip is how accessible the National Archives actually is. It was a really intimidating prospect going- I even emailed the archives ahead of time to try and work out how everything worked!- but actually it was all really straightforward. I learnt a great deal from this trip and feel it went very successfully. The benefit it has had to my studies is immense and I am so grateful for the opportunity I was given by the Stephen Copley award. My gratitude is huge, thank you so much!

Charlotte Vallis

Charlotte Vallis is a part-time PhD student at the University of York. She is studying eighteenth-century Russian history, comparing the reigns of Elizabeth Petrovna and Catherine II. This research examines how the two women navigated the challenges of being women in power, analysing the incorporation of masculine characteristics into their portrayals. Charlotte’s research explores gender history, as well as considering the methodologies of the field of queer history in her work.

You can follow Charlotte on Twitter/X here.

Keats Euphoria: Punk Folk Album Inspired by Keats’s Life and Poems

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On February 23, Tom Anderson is releasing his album “Keats Euphoria” with eleven punk-folk songs inspired by Keats life and poems. It’s a homage to Keats, with some direct lifts and interpretations of some of his most famous poems, “La Belle Dame sans Merci,” “Lamia,” “Eve of St. Agnes,” “Isabella and the Pot of Basil.” There are deeper, more personal songs that pick up ideas from “Bright Star”, “Ode to a Nightingale,” and “Ode to a Grecian Urn.” The opening song, with Keats singing to Fanny Brawne from his grave in Rome, used the title of Keats’ epitaph, “Here Lies One Whose Name Was Writ in Water.” There are two songs that fictionalize some real events and people in Keats life – one that imagines he had a thing for Mary Shelley, one that imagines a break-up song to his married love-interest, Isabella Jones. The final song, “A Little More,” a lament by Keats, for his brother George, his fiancé Fanny Brawne, his health, his poetic aspirations. 

Artwork used with permission ©Cynthia White

Tom noted: “I’ve always been enamored of Keats and his poetry, and studied his work in depth in college (along with chemistry). I started writing songs ten years ago, and have released some short EPs, but had this notion of a Keats concept album, and roughly mapped it out a year ago, with eight songs. Things changed, more ideas came, some ideas died, and here it is. I wanted to release it on the anniversary of Keats death in 1821.”

The sound is unique. Tom’s music has been described as punk folk – a story-telling, driving beat, in-your-face, attitude sound. He works with a classical violinist, a jazz drummer, a poetry-slamming bass guitarist, and there is tension in the music, with the percussion countering the melodic violin. Tom tells the story and plays punk acoustic. There is some interesting harmony voice work in three of the songs. 

Death and Monsters

The songs that leverage the titles of some of Keats most famous poems jump into the underlying myth and story, and then modern life. “Eve of St. Agnes,” a dream song, has Keats and St. Agnes as lovers, in Rome, who encounter Caesar, Moses, Elon Musk, Hamlet, Lear. “Isabella and the Pot of Basil,” focuses on the 15th century story, and then takes it to Cambridge, Massachusetts with a porch full of head-hiding urns. “New Lamia” has the illusion and deception theme of Keats poem, and then a “red wedding” climatic revelation. In “No Mercy” we have the knight and La Belle, and then we’re transported (with a key change) to old knights on a subway, riding away forever. 

“Slow Time” makes the “Ode to a Grecian Urn” an ode to a high school yearbook, with the singer looking at a photo of a woman he’d rejected. “Tender Night” is a riff on “Ode to a Nightingale, and “Sweet Unrest” plays off of “Bright Star.”

There is no evidence that Keats had a thing for Mary Shelley, but that song imagines it so. He sees himself as Frankenstein, and Mary becomes a monster, too. “Love Begone”: did Keats have a hard time leaving a married woman he was enamored with? Possibly. This is a ska-like song. Mona Lisa makes a debut. 

Time, death, regret, despair – you can hear this in the first and last book-ending songs, in the first Keats is singing to Fanny Brawne, and in the last song, Keats is singing to all of us.

Making it Happen

“I got help from so many people on this idea. The musicians were wonderful and talented: Yulia Price, a concert violinist trained at the New England Conservatory; Patrick Guilin, a jazz drummer who studied at Berklee College of Music; Ethan Mackler, a bassist who also studied at Berklee. Almost weekly I had my ideas challenged, delineated and enhanced by Catherine Capozzi, a brilliant guitarist and performer who’s played all over the world. Tali Freed, my patient voice coach, added harmonies to several songs.  The master engineer, Ethan Dussault, made the songs come alive with his recording, mixing, and insightful ears. Nick Zampiello did the mastering, wonderfully. 

The cover art, always key, is from Cynthia White, a Boston-based visual artist.  I got assistance on music videos from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, US, and the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery in Bristol, UK. And I had help from some new AI imaging tools for music videos.”

Tom noted: “Keats. I read more about him. I learned more about him. I know friends with preview of the songs have re-read him and have been inspired by him. And I hope more do with this album.”

Tom is looking to perform the album in April in the U.S. and is pursuing UK venues for May/June, 2024. 

You can find out more about Tom by checking out his website here, Instagram here, and YouTube channel here. Listen to Tom’s album “Keats Euphoria” here.

Thanks to Tom for telling us about his new album!

CfP: Devils and Justified Sinners

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An ONLINE conference on 24th and 25th August 2024 marking the 200th anniversary of James Hogg’s Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

The conference is entirely online and is open to scholars and experts from around the world.

In 1824, the Ettrick Shepherd, James Hogg, wrote his The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Its intricate narrative structure, complex interrogation of theological extremism, and unforgettable depiction of the demonic made it a pivotal novel in the development of the British Gothic and a distinct Scottish Gothic tradition. This year’s conference seeks to mark the anniversary of the novel’s publication with a conference exploring three key themes:

1) The theological in the Gothic and horror
2) The demonic in literature, folklore and film
3) Scottish Gothic and horror traditions

We welcome papers focusing on demonic and theological traditions globally. We are particularly interested in increasing the number of papers by speakers from the Global South. We define theology broadly in relation to all religious, spiritual and belief systems across the globe. We also welcome approaches which explore practices merging different religious traditions and elements. We particularly encourage papers which engage with historic theologies, religions and spiritual practices. The demonic should, similarly, be understood broadly and interrogated in relation to evil spirits, entities or forces as defined by and within the religious, spiritual and belief systems with which the speakers are engaging.

Romancing the Gothic seeks to encourage innovative conversations across barriers, bringing together scholarship and research from different countries, traditions, sub-fields and perspectives.

We welcome scholars, researchers and experts from all stages of their career and from every background

What are we looking for?
We welcome:

20 minute papers

10 minute lightning talks

Panels (3-4 papers of 20 minutes with or without a suggested panel chair)

Workshops (cooking, writing, art, music, craft, drama, dance) related to the key themes of the conference

Potential Topics
We welcome papers on a range of topics. The below are suggested areas but we welcome papers from outside these themes.

References to the ‘demonic’ refer to any religious tradition, belief or spiritual practice. We wish to include many different faiths.

The demonic in literature

The demonic in film

The demonic in art

Scottish traditions of the demonic

Histories of the devil

Histories of the demonic

Folklores of the demonic

Representations of the demonic and sexuality

Comparative religious studies of the demonic

Competing conceptions of the demonic

Demonologies (within any religious tradition)

Demonic dreams and other demonic activities


Eblis in literature, folklore and belief


Satanic panics

Gothic theologies

Vampiric theologies

‘Perverse’ theologies in Gothic and horror

Religion in Gothic and horror

Evil angels

Temptation narratives

Salvation narratives in Gothic and horror

Cults and sects in literature, film, and history

Religious extremism in the Gothic/horror

Religion and supernatural literature

Misrepresentation of religion in Gothic and horror literature

The Scottish Gothic and theology

Theologies of horror

Scottish traditions of the Gothic

Modern Scottish horror

The wider work of James Hogg

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

An abstract of 150-250 words should be sent to before 1st March 2024. If you have not written an abstract before, I will be running workshops on abstract writing. Please enquire at the email above. Your abstract should function as a short summary of your paper and demonstrate your expertise in the area. You can also include a short biography (<100 words) but all submissions will be judged solely on the abstract and a biography is not required at this stage.

Accessibility Notes

We want to work with all contributors to make sure that the conference is fully accessible for them. We work entirely online. Subtitles are auto-generated during the conference. Information is provided with alt-text where required and accessibility training is offered to all speakers. For the conference itself, clear information on the timetable, running of the event and what to expect is provided ahead of time. We have a clear code of conduct which is used to maintain a welcoming atmosphere and a comfortable space for all participants. We are explicitly queer friendly and aim to be an inclusive conference for all. If you have any questions, queries or requests at this stage or at a later stage, please do not hesitate to contact me at

BARS Digital Event: Gothic Monstrosity and Romanticism

Thursday, April 11 · 5 – 6:30pm GMT+1

Get your tickets at the link:

To what extent are Romanticism and monstrosity intertwined? In Romanticism and the Gothic, Michael Gamer points out that “the late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century writers we now associate with ‘romanticism’ exploited the vogues for gothic fiction and drama in vexed and complex ways” (2). Gamer’s research has pointed to the fallacy of dividing the Gothic mode and the Romantic movement. Just as Romantic frameworks can be found in texts published after the mid-nineteenth century, so too can the Gothic. Both carry a new appreciation of space, selfhood, and sublimity. Gamer’s choice of language here, of the “vexed” and “complex” relationship between Romantic poetics and Gothic fiction, speaks to the theme of this panel on monstrosity.

Although the role of terror in aesthetic experiences is a commonplace in Romantic criticism, the problematic nature of monstrosity itself beyond narratives of anxiety remains to be explored systematically. This panel considers the intersections between the emergence of monster literature proper – through figures such as Lord Ruthven in John Polidori’s ‘The Vampyre’ (1819) and the creature in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) – and the ways in which monstrous constructions inform the Romantic Gothic. Moving beyond the premise that the monsters of the early Gothic are Romantic figures, this panel seeks to interrogate how Romantic monstrosity translates into depictions of space – and what this means for negotiations of agency. While the sublime is linked to human experience and hence to an anthropocentric vision, this panel seeks to locate monstrosity as a mechanism by which the non-human undermines the human. Surveying a range of texts by Ann Radcliffe, Anne Bannerman, Mary Robinson, Mary Shelley, and John Polidori, the panel explores the depiction and performance of monstrosity in the Romantic Gothic with a view to highlighting its centrality and its distinction from sublime terror. Finally, looking forward, through an analysis of Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things (2023), which draws on Shelley’s Frankenstein, we suggest a genealogy of constructions of monstrosity rooted in Romanticism, considering what this means for contemporary narratives of liminality.


Madeline Potter, PhD: Madeline is an early career teaching and research fellow in the long 19th century (Romanticism and Victorianism) at the University of Edinburgh. Her work explores the intersections of Gothic literature and theology, with a focus on monstrosity. Her first academic monograph, Theological Monsters: Religion and Irish Gothic, is forthcoming with University of Wales Press.

Rachael Eleanor Murray, MLitt: Rachael is a Carnegie PhD Scholar at the University of Glasgow with an interest in all things dark, deathly, and disconcertingly liminal. Her thesis project, ‘Dead Water: The Aqueous “Beyond” in Romantic and Victorian Gothic’, focusses on watery imagery in articulations of death across 18th and 19th-century women’s Gothic writing, and was awarded the Robertson Medal for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences by the Carnegie Trust in 2022. Her EcoGothic reading of Eliza Cook’s poetry is forthcoming in Litteraria Pragensia in 2024.

Cecilia Fabaro, MA: Cecilia studied Comparative Literature at the University of Torino, Italy, and is currently a PhD candidate in English Literature at Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz. Her research focuses on British short story collections published between 1880 and 1910. Her research interests include short fiction, fin-de-siècle and Modernist literature, media studies, narratology, and stylistics.

Roslyn Joy Irving, PhD: Roslyn completed her PhD with the University of Liverpool and Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in 2023 and works as a researcher and lecturer at the Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz. She specialises in 18th-century literature, the Gothic, and Romanticism. Her recent and upcoming publications can be found in Litteraria Pragensia, and the Polish Journal of English Studies.

Call for Essays: Slavery, Abolitionism and Poetic Form

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One of the first decisions made by the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade when it was established in 1787 was to commission new works of poetry from three writers: William Cowper, Hannah More, and William Roscoe. Abolitionist poetry was already a fledgling genre, but the success of those ‘official’ poems led to an explosion in antislavery verse across the latter years of the eighteenth century and well past the Slave Trade act of 1807. Poetry played a major role both in communicating and formulating abolitionist ideas and arguments, but the sheer popularity of abolitionist verse also made it potentially lucrative. What began as a critique of commercial culture rapidly led to the commodification of antislavery forms.

                What followed for poetry was formal experimentation and innovation. Poets with genuine political and ethical agendas sought ever new ways to outpace the commodification of abolitionist forms. The hegemony of the heroic couplet, which had lasted some 150 years, gave way to the flourishing of formal types we associate with Romanticism: sonnets, songs, ballads, blank verse, odes, eclogues, hymns. The shift from a monolithic culture of epic in the eighteenth century to discrete, varied, and fragmentary lyric forms was accelerated by the politicization of poetry in the 1780s and 90s — a politicization that stemmed from history’s first major humanitarian movement, the movement to abolish slavery.

                Essays are being sought that concern British abolitionist poetry and poetic form in the period 1770–1830. Especially desirable are essays that address one or more of the following: individual forms or genres and their roles within antislavery verse cultures (lyric, sonnet, epic, ballad, hymn, eclogue, ‘complaint’); the role of formal features (including meter, rhythm, rhyme, line) in the workings of antislavery poetry; antislavery poetry’s role in shaping the history of poetic form or forms; considerations of the relation of Romantic verse practices to discourses of slavery and abolition; considerations of form’s role in the poetry of the Black Atlantic, particularly where it has bearings on British poetry; theoretical discussions of form/formalism in relation to slavery.

                The volume has been pitched to Liverpool University Press, and a full proposal will be submitted for their series ‘Romantic Reconfigurations’. Essays will ideally be between 5,000-9,000 words; if accepted, they will be due in early 2025. Please send abstracts of around 300 words, plus a short bio, to: Please feel free to get in touch with any questions or suggestions.

Call for Papers: Depicting the Eighteenth Century in Media Entertainment

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From BBC dramas and Netflix series to luxurious cinematic blockbusters and Bollywood period films, public audiences continue to engage with fascinating eighteenth-century figures, both real and fictional. Such depictions are often the first encounter many will have with the eighteenth century. While some eighteenth-century enthusiasts’ recoil at historical inaccuracies, many see this as an opportunity to engage public audiences, supplying an entrance into discussions of the eighteenth century. Indeed, media entertainment in itself can be a vehicle to both explore and imagine gaps surviving historical documentation cannot fill. As discussed by Richard V. Francaviglia (2007: viii), who focused his study on historical film, ‘… film’s power to emotionalize by engaging the viewer offers the potential to tell stories–that is, interpret the historical record–in new and exciting ways like no other medium.’ The same can be said of television dramas, musicals, novels, plays, trade books and a myriad of other media entertainment that permits the interpreter the opportunity to go beyond evidence and into the realm of imagination.

What new ideas and discoveries emerge from such interpretations? Is there a best practice standard for researchers and media entertainment professionals working together? If not, what steps can be taken to establish such practices? How are twenty-first century concerns reflected and discussed against these eighteenth-century backdrops? How has such media entertainment influenced pedagogy on the eighteenth century? How has research into the more intangible elements, such as emotions, relationships, and life behind closed doors shaped our understanding of the eighteenth century? How far is an interpreter permitted to go before their interpretation is too fantastical?

These are the key questions we would like to explore through this proposed special issue. We would like to bring together researchers from different disciplines to consider the impact media entertainment has had on their research and pedagogy. This is a rich area that covers multiple disciplines including art history, environmental studies, theatre, literature, history, music, and slavery to name a few.

We invite short abstracts of c.250 words for proposed articles for a Special Issue on Depicting the Eighteenth Century in Media Entertainment. We particularly welcome abstracts which engage with non-Western media productions and outputs. Thereafter, we will hold a 1-day symposium that will allow us to share our ideas together and identify key strands for discussion, thus allowing opportunities for cross-referencing. We intend to submit the Special Issue to the Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies for consideration.

The deadline for abstracts is 30th April 2024. Please email all abstracts and queries to Rachel Bynoth at

Five Questions: James Armstrong on Romantic Actors, Romantic Dramas

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James Armstrong is an adjunct assistant professor at City College of the City University of New York. He has published extensively on drama in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, contributing articles to journals including European Stages, Theatre Notebook, Shaw, The Keats-Shelley Journal and Dickens Quarterly. He is a practicing playwright and a member of the Dramatists Guild of America. His first monograph, Romantic Actors, Romantic Dramas: British Tragedy on the Regency Stage, which we discuss below, was published by Palgrave in 2022.

1) How did you first become interested in Romantic-period theatre?

I was familiar with the story of Shelley’s The Cenci through Antonin Artaud’s adaptation of the play, which he staged in 1935, shocking Parisian audiences. I initially wasn’t very interested in Shelley’s version, though, since I had heard it described as a closet drama. One day, I was browsing the stacks at the New York Public Library, and I saw Shelley’s work up there on the shelf, and I decided to give it a try. As I read the play, it didn’t feel like a closet drama at all. It’s filled with action, and seems imminently playable. I got to the end, and then read Mary Shelley’s note on The Cenci, in which she stated that her husband had wanted the play to be acted, and that he had seen an actress named Miss O’Neil, and she was often in his thoughts as he was writing. Immediately, I wanted to know who this O’Neil was, and why I’d never heard of her.

After some digging, I discovered that Mary Shelley had misspelled the last name of Eliza O’Neill, a performer who had dominated the London stage for a while, but was later largely forgotten. I wanted to recover the work of this person who had inspired such an amazing play, and as I did, I found these other connections between Romantic-period actors and writers. Joanna Baillie’s De Monfort has Sarah Siddons written all over it, and Lord Byron’s Manfred clearly shows the influence of Edmund Kean, even if he never acted in it. When I looked into Remorse by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, I discovered that early reviewers had credited its success to an actress named Julia Glover, who again, I’d never heard of before, as she’s almost entirely unknown today.

It seemed unfair to me that Coleridge and Shelley are household names, while Glover and O’Neill are forgotten. Moreover, as a playwright myself, I was baffled by critics who seemed to think these writers had created their works for a reading public and not for the stage. Actors are central to the work of most dramatists today, who frequently tailor their words for individual performers. Why did some people act like the Romantic era was so different? If anything, the Regency period was even more star-mad than our own day.

2) Your introduction describes your book as aiming to place key dramas of the Regency era ‘squarely within the context of the era’s system of star performers’. What are the most important insights we gain by restoring this context?

First of all, understanding the context of an original production can prevent you from making certain mistakes. There have been some pretty bizarre interpretations of De Monfort, for instance, that don’t make any sense if you understand the particular aura Siddons had, and the roles she tended to play. Similarly, a lot of Romanticists will privilege Coleridge’s Osorio, an early version of Remorse, perhaps because it is nearer to the author’s original inspiration for the piece. This ignores how many of the rewrites Coleridge did on the play make it a much more streamlined and stage-worthy script. Staging the work had always been Coleridge’s intention, and all those rewrites helped him do what he’d wanted all along, which was to put the play on for an audience.

With Byron, things get a bit more complicated, since he said he didn’t want his plays performed, even though he made other statements that seem to contradict this. His relationship with Kean, the biggest superstar of his day, influenced not just Manfred, but other works by Byron, and even Byron’s posturing in his own life. The more you learn about Kean, the more you understand so much of what Byron did and wrote, whether in dramatic form or not. Just as Kean influenced Byron’s writing, O’Neill influenced Shelley’s. By writing The Cenci specifically for O’Neill, Shelley made discoveries that continued over into his later poetry. I don’t think he could have written some of his more mature work without having first challenged himself by writing for a particular star actor.

3) Which qualities of spoken verse tragedy led you to place this form at the centre of your study?

I love some of the melodramas of the period, and there’s a reason why audiences back then flocked to see them, but so much about these early melodramas rings hollow today. First of all, the dialogue just sounds ridiculous, in spite of being in prose. The verse dramas of the period are written in a different form from what we speak every day, but this actually helps them, since the blank verse distances the dialogue from quotidian reality. As with the work of Bertolt Brecht, we encounter thoughts and actions that are de-familiarized, allowing us to see them anew. The moral world of melodrama also seeks a black-and-white view of everything, which can be attractive, but isn’t very honest in its over-simplicity. What’s best about these verse tragedies, though, are the characters. The heroes and villains of melodrama are interchangeable, whereas some of the characters in the tragedies of the period are unforgettable.

4) Many of your chapters pair particular actors and writers: Sarah Siddons with Joanna Baillie; Julia Glover with Samuel Taylor Coleridge; Edmund Kean with Lord Byron; and Eliza O’Neill with Percy Bysshe Shelley.  How did you come to settle on this structure?

It took a while! I knew I wanted to pair O’Neill and Shelley, and Siddons and Baillie were a natural fit. I went to Alan Vardy for advice on Coleridge, and he put me on the right track to eventually identifying Glover as a driving force behind Coleridge’s success with Remorse in 1813. The big question was what to do with Kean, who looms so large over Romantic drama. For a while, I wanted to explore Kean’s influence on Otho the Great, the rejected tragedy that John Keats penned in collaboration with Charles Brown. Keats was a great fan of Kean, but I think the actor ultimately had a greater impact on Byron. Once I had those four pairings, the rest of the book fell into place.

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

I’m particularly interested in the toy theatres that were marketed to the public during the Regency era. The book includes an illustration of a sheet of characters from Remorse that was published by J.H. Jameson, a woman who supplied prints that could be cut out and assembled into toy theatres. These toy theatres provide some of the best visual evidence of what the Romantic stage actually looked like, and the more you examine them, the more you can see how hot-button issues of the era, including slavery, racism, and the ever-expanding Empire, got played out on stage. My next book will probably deal with toy theatres, and what they can tell us about the preoccupations of Romantic dramatists and their audiences. Many of the prints used to construct these toy theatres have thankfully survived and can be examined in various archives, including at the New York Public Library, where I first fell in love with Romantic drama!

A Rehearsed Reading of Joanna Baillie’s The Tryal

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By Chris Bundock

In October 2024, I’m planning to host a rehearsed reading of Joanna Baillie’s The Tryal at the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds. At this time, I am inviting anyone interested in contributing to this event to come forward.

By “contributing to the event”, I mean anything from discussing the play and Romantic theatre more broadly to attending the event as an audience member to auditioning to read a part. Depending on the level of interest, my thought is to hold 2-3 Zoom meetings with members of the working group in the lead-up to October. The aim of these meetings would be to help shape the event into something interesting and attractive and useful for both scholars and members of the general public. (While anyone, globally, is welcome to join the group, it is not clear whether the event itself will be hybrid; it would be great to record it—even if merely the audio—but this is something yet to be sorted.)

I have British Academy funding to hire the venue for two nights: 23 and 24 October have been agreed with the Theatre Royal. (NB: tickets to attend would be free for all). I am also able to hire a professional director (I have approached an excellent, experienced individual and have a verbal agreement with him). However, I don’t have funding beyond this. As a result, participation in the working group and/or in the event itself would have to be undertaken voluntarily.

The Tryal (1798), from the first volume of Baillie’s larger Series of Plays on the Passions, is a comedy focused on the passion of love in which two young women, Agnes and Mariane, trade places. Portionless Mariane acts the part of her wealthy cousin and gleefully torments suitors interested in Agnes only for her wealth. In turn, Agnes pretends to relative poverty. She also deliberately behaves obnoxiously in hopes of ascertaining the authenticity of one Mr Harwood’s attentions. The self-awareness of the play has been noted by critics such as Catherine Burroughs: at one level, this is a play about amateur theatre performed in domestic spaces. But it is also a play about scientific experimentation: the women submit several men to various tests or indeed “tryals” in the medical-scientific sense in order to separate pure from adulterated love. My own interest in the play stems from this latter aspect. It is one text I explore in my current book project Sense and Morbid Sensibility: Pathologies of Sympathy in Romanticism and the Long 18th Century. Holding a rehearsed reading offers a valuable way to think through this play while also sharing Romantic theatre with a wider public.

If you are interested in being involved in the working group, please email me at before 1 March 2024. Feel free to share this invitation with postgraduate students, non-academics, or any others whom you think may be interested.

Ralph Hoyte on Christabel Released

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In Greek tragedy, ‘hubris’ is defined as “excessive pride towards or defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis(Oxford Languages). I have had much the same sort of feeling since I decided – well, ‘decided’ sounds too, er, decisive (?), when what really happened was that my resistance to ‘taking on Coleridge’ was gradually chipped away, seemingly by some hand other than my own, until that fateful day during a residency with the Quantocks AONB more than 10 years ago on which it became evident to me that I was ‘going to finish Christabel’, the great man – the epitome of a non-completer-finisher (Porlock!) – never having managed to do so himself.

Yes, ‘hubris’ – who, or what was I calling out? The literature on Coleridge (and his Romantic poet companion wanderers in halcyon landscapes) is probably enough to sink hundreds of Titanics multiple times over. Every work, every sentence, every word, every comma, every obscure reference in Greek, Latin – or Coleridgean – has been pored over by people who have invested their lives in The Quest … then along comes some Bristol poet or the other who ‘finishes’ one of Coleridge’s opuses: Christabel. Derision is to be expected. Praise, perhaps. More likely to be ignored, which no artist much likes. 

Yet – and this undoubtedly opens me out to further derision – I tried to resist the necessity to release Christabel and the whole cast of protagonists (her sire, Sir Leoline; her nemesis, Geraldine – is she the daughter of Sir Roland de Vaux of Tryermaine Castle in the Scottish Borders, “that castle good / which stands and threatens Scotland’s wastes”, as she purports to be, or could she be someone else’s daughter?) from their over 200 years in limbo – but they insisted someone had to do it, none more so than Christabel herself. 

Sir, you say, pshaw! But if you’re up on top of the Quantock Hills of Somerset at midnight on the winter equinox at Lady Fountain ‘neath ancient Dowsborough and the Lady herself appeareth and spake, ‘Release Christabel! Release … Christabel….’, then what to do? Release her, evidently, or stop pretending to be ‘a poet’.

Brighter then, and brighter as it seemed,

Shone the spectre, as Geraldine screamed:

‘Mercy, have mercy upon me, mother mild,

‘T was not my wish to besiege thy child!’

‘Then whose, demon-stock?’ Set forth the mother

‘Doth the succubus have father, sister, brother?

Art thou witch, warlock, devil’s sporn?

In which measureless cavern wast thou born?

In which savage place, devil haunted?

Out of which hag’s unclean womb wast enchanted?


The process, which unwound naturally over most of the rest of a year – with major chunks written at Treowen, a 17th century manor house in Monmouthshire, Wales – was uncomplicated: let the cast of Christabel work out their own destinies though me. Write – in longhand – until I come to a stop, then refer back to Coleridge: who was Geraldine (‘dine’, not ‘deen’)? Why was she trying to seduce Sir Leoline and destroy all his seed? That seduction scene – was Christabel really innocent? Was Geraldine also under some form of compulsion? Why had Sir Leoline and Sir Roland de Vaux argued bitterly all those years ago and would now have nothing to do with each other? What’s with the green snake demonesses (common enough in the Quantocks, rare elsewhere)? I’d intended Christabel, at the beginning, to ‘do an Ophelia’, id est, go mad, float downstream with flowers in her hair, and drown. But she point blank refused. What to do?

I decided at the beginning that I would ‘bolt on’ my voice to that of Coleridge’s: Christabel Released contains all of STC’s original (split into 4 parts rather than 2), bar his ridiculous coda (‘a little child, a limber elf’ … ‘a fairy thing with red round cheeks’, ‘singing, dancing to itself’??? Camille Paglia is correct – he calls up these atavistic apparitions, then can’t deal with them!). The other 16 parts are all mine, making Christabel Released 18% Coleridge, 72% Hoyte. When I didn’t know where the story was going, I’d ask Coleridge. I am a declamatory poet (‘the poetry is in the voice’), so Christabel Released takes 3 to 4 hours to declaim (it’s fun doing a performance and then asking people who didn’t know Christabel where they thought Coleridge ended and Hoyte took over!). The premiere was a perambulation through the various rooms of Halsway Manor in the Quantocks over a long weekend, with a period banquet, comments including, ‘was that really nearly 4 hours? I never wanted it to end!’ and ‘we found this event by chance, yet it was a highpoint to our Summer, a night of magic and mysterious intrigues in a peerless setting.’

Is Christabel Released ‘a reimagining of Romanticism’? Well, not so much ‘a reimagining’ as an extension, perhaps – it takes the tropes of Romanticism (the uniqueness of the human spirit, reflected in and deeply connected to the untamed wildness of nature; emotion over reason; freedom of form; and an exploration of the Gothic and unknown, etc.) and adds a 21st century twist, noting the passing of the Old Order and the individual choices which may be possible today, but not in the 18th century; it appropriates Coleridge and makes him, terrible phrase, ‘21st century – relevant’ (bonus: no ‘limber elves’). Is that ‘an escape’ from the realities of our age? Just as William and Dorothy Wordsworth and ST Coleridge sought a new way of doing poetry, of living, in the closing years of the 18th century after the disillusionment of the French Revolution, so perhaps we can also reimagine our lives set against ‘the untamed wildness of nature and the uniqueness of the human spirit’?

Ralph Hoyte will be next declaiming Christabel Released (abridged) as part of the Words in Watchet literary festival on 17 February 2024. Christabel Released is available as print-on-demand/eBook on Amazon; and as an audio book on Bandcamp. Anyone up for making Christabel Released into a graphic novel?

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Stephen Copley Research Report: Will Sherwood on the Romantic Echoes in the Manuscripts of J.R.R Tolkien

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As I write this, the smoothly carved Oxfordshire countryside ripples by, the deep green grass ablaze under the gleaming sun after what has been a rather moody winter in Oxford. Over the past week I have been slowly losing my eyesight deciphering J.R.R. Tolkien’s (1892-1973) handwriting at the Bodleian. The last time I consulted his unpublished manuscripts was in 2019 for my Masters by Research on Tolkien and John Keats. This time, I sought to broaden my scope to excavate Tolkien’s inclusion of the Romantics into his essays, lectures, and notes. Prompted by my initial research in 2019, there were already a couple of manuscripts and books that I intended to peruse more thoroughly. Unsurprisingly, I soon had a list of further references, comments, and criticisms of the Romantics across a vast set of texts.

Figure 1: Outside the Weston Library, the home of Tolkien’s manuscripts

Dominant narratives and impressions surrounding Tolkien have traditionally centred on either his Medievalism or Roman Catholicism. However, twenty-first century scholarship has branched out to include his reading and familiarity with post-Medieval authors and texts. This is where my work comes in; British Romanticism has been of peripheral interest to Tolkien scholarship and Tolkien has been (at a stretch) marginal to Romantic studies. By unearthing Tolkien’s understanding of the British Romantics, both fields can begin to better examine the intersections between Middle-earth and Romanticism in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The global consumption of Middle-earth (whether Tolkien’s original texts or their adaptations) allows for Tolkien’s own legacy to become intertwined with Romanticism’s own – but that is for me to investigate over the next few years. See you at future conferences!

My research trip to Oxford has chiefly been concerned with locating Tolkien’s references, (mis)quotations, and criticism of the Romantics throughout his life. I started with his undergraduate notebooks and library loans. Underacknowledged goldmines, these texts (including Sidney Colvin’s Everyman biography Keats, 1886 and A.C. Bradley’s Oxford Lectures on Poetry, 1909) house not only Tolkien’s lecture notes pertaining to the Romantics (partly published in my previous article ‘Tolkien and the Age of Forgery’, 2020), but also his marginalia in library loans from Exeter College – a heinous offence that prompted a gasp from the Tolkien Archivist, Catherine McIlwaine, and a gleeful, demonic smile from myself. Please do not interpret this as me condoning the graffitiing of library books!

Figure 2: Exeter College Oxford, Cohen Quadrangle

Although the argument can be made that undergraduate notes and reading does not equate to interest or investment (a line I have heard on several occasions), it cannot be overstressed that Tolkien’s critical reading of the Romantics and Romantic scholarship coincided with the birth of his mythology’s first iteration: The Book of Lost Tales. As Tolkien rewrote The Book of Lost Tales throughout the 1910s to 1930s, he consistently showed his aptitude for employing cultural and textual references from nineteenth-century and contemporary sources to communicate ideas pertaining to Medievalism and philology in his university and public-facing lectures.

Figure 3: Skyline view of Oxford from the University Church of St Mary the Virgin

What also became apparent the more I read Tolkien’s quoting from Romantic texts is that he predominantly relies on his memory. Although his quoting does not change the meaning of the original text, Tolkien frequently misquotes Romantic texts and sometimes mistitles them. Although this should not be a surprise given the British education system’s emphasis on the memorisation and recitation of poetry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, I think it underlines Tolkien’s vast reading and assimilation of British literature. He quotes the Romantics in texts meant for private contemplation as much as he does in public-facing lectures or publications. The former are remediations of Romantic literature that are folded into Tolkien’s broader theoretical thinking about the role of the author and fairy tale tropes. For Tolkien, his engagement with the Romantics opens new avenues of thinking about the literature, genres, and forms that he is most familiar with.

I would like to conclude by thanking BARS for awarding me the Stephen Copley Research Award, it has been instrumental in enabling me to visit Oxford and consult Tolkien’s manuscripts.


Will Sherwood is a PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow researching the intersections of J.R.R Tolkien and British Romanticism. The Education Secretary for The Tolkien Society, Will has presented at conferences on Tolkien, Romanticism, and Object-Oriented Ontology; his articles and reviews feature in various journals and he has edited several books, including Adapting Tolkien, Tolkien and Diversity, and The Romantic Spirit in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien (co-edited with Dr Julian Eilmann).

Twitter (X): @MrWillSherwood