Emily Paterson-MorganComments Off on Unknown Tongues: Symposium on Romanticism’s Minor and Marginal Languages
24 September 2021
Registration (for free) is now open for ‘Unknown Tongues: Romanticism’s Minor and Marginal Languages’, a symposium to be held in September 2021. An international body of researchers will gather online on September 24th to discuss the Romantic significance of a range of “minor” linguistic traditions—from Romanian to Māori, Finnish to Gaelic—exploring their cultural contributions during the Romantic era, their continuing Romanticised relevance today, and the necessity of considering linguistic variety in diversifying the Romantic canon.
Papers will be recorded and distributed online to delegates via our website in early September, with panellists coming together to discuss their ideas live on September 24th, and a closing plenary response from Prof. Joep Leerssen (Amsterdam). Please see our website for further details.
The EHU Nineteen Fellowship has been created by Edge Hill University’s EHU Nineteen Research Centre to support new research in nineteenth-century studies. Its primary purpose is to enable the appointed Fellow to continue with an affiliation and remain part of the academic community, and to create a platform for an ECR researcher to promote their work and build their profile.
The fellowship will provide a bursary of up to £700 to support the cost of research for a project on any aspect of nineteenth-century studies. We are particularly keen to support innovative interdisciplinary projects which fit within the broad research specialism of EHU Nineteen Research Centre.
The appointed Fellow will become a visiting researcher at Edge Hill University and an affiliate member of EHU Nineteen. They will have access to library resources (physical and online) and, if they choose to work on our Ormskirk campus, access to a work station. There is no requirement for the Fellow to live near the host institution.
Other benefits include:
A mentor from EHU Nineteen who can offer advice on research, careers and impact/public engagement.
Access to EHU Nineteen events and research community, including Virtual Speaker Series and research networking events.
The option (if desired) to host a virtual event related to your research for up to 100 attendees and supported by EHU Nineteen.
To be eligible to apply for the EHU Nineteen Fellowship (with bursary), an individual must:
Have completed a PhD and been awarded the PhD before the fellowship is due to begin.
Hold no permanent teaching or research post at Edge Hill University or any other HEI.
Propose a programme of research work in the field of nineteenth-century studies, broadly defined.
Ready to apply?
For full information and to apply, please visit: Full information available here.Deadline: Monday 16th August 2021 at 5pm. Please use ‘EHU Nineteen Fellowship’ as the header on your application email.
Elizabeth Inchbald passed away on 1 August 1821. Today we mark the bicentennial of her death with a blog post on her works by Rose Hilton. Rose is an English Literature PhD Student funded by the Vice Chancellor’s Studentship at Sheffield Hallam University. Her research focuses on the works of eighteenth-century British female playwrights, and the constructions and presentations of selfhood in their plays. Using a selection of four playwrights spanning the mid-late eighteenth century (Griffith, More, Inchbald, and Baillie), her research applies close reading to the play texts and contextualises contemporary ideas of self using medical and philosophical writing from the same period. She is vice-president and secretary of the SHU postgraduate society and co-organiser of the annual Earth(ly) Matters conference taking place this year 6th/13th/20th August (free registration now open!). She would love to share memes with you on Twitter @RoseMHilton.
I stumbled onto the work of Elizabeth Inchbald (née Simpson) about three years ago when selecting female playwrights for inclusion in my thesis. Inchbald stood out because of the tone of her writing and the political, personal, and social themes that she draws on in her work. These features quickly made her one of my favourite eighteenth-century authors. Inchbald’s work has given me plenty to sink my teeth into, both in its successes and its limitations. On the bicentenary of her death, I invite you to join me in considering and celebrating Elizabeth Inchbald’s career.
Inchbald was an actor, author, playwright, critic, and translator. Throughout this varied career she had many connections to the world of the theatre. Born into a Roman Catholic family, she moved to London in 1772 with aspirations of becoming an actress. She also had familial ties to the theatre as her brother George started acting at the Norwich Company in 1770. Inchbald was 17 and unmarried when she moved to London, and it was under these circumstances that she faced sexual harassment from theatre managers including James Dodd in whose face she threw a basin of hot water. Thomas Gilliland, in The Dramatic Mirror (1808), reports the story of Inchbald’s encounter with Dodd in this way: “Indignant at his proposals, and not being perfect mistress of her temper, she availed herself of the tea equipage which lay on the table, and discharged the contents of a bason[HR(1] of scalding water in his face. This spoke sufficiently plain her resentment”. Elizabeth married the actor Joseph Inchbald in 1772, possibly as a way to gain “a protected entrance into her chosen profession”. However, her experiences within, and contributions to, the theatrical world were not limited to personal connections or onstage performances.
Inchbald became a successful playwright, and “she wrote twenty plays, ten of which were adaptation, and ten of which were original”. Inchbald not only wrote a lot, she wrote with a complexity that, as Betsy Bolton wrote, “deserves and repays attention”. In my own work I give Inchbald’s dramas this attention through close reading as well as a thematic analysis of her plays alongside prominent medical and philosophical writing from the eighteenth-century.
Annibel Jenkins characterises Inchbald as “beautiful, witty, and independent”. Inchbald’s wit and dialogue often has a modern feel with lines like the following from her play Wives as they Were, Maids as they Are (1797):
Lady M: “Why don’t you marry, and throw all misfortunes upon your husband?”
Miss Dor: “Why don’t you marry? For you have as many to throw”.
Despite this modern feel to her writing, Inchbald’s work is rooted in the climate in which she wrote. Inchbald’s desire to criticise and reveal the hypocrisy of the forms of power prevalent in British society in this time has led critics like Anna Lott to claim that “Inchbald’s entire corpus of work was boldly radical”.
Although Inchbald used her dramas to express her opinions on a range of topics including social behaviour, her success as a playwright was not the pinnacle of her career. The financial success of her dramas enabled her to continue writing. This writing included two novels – A Simple Story (1791) and Nature and Art (1796). A Simple Story broadly centres on the romantic relationship between Miss Milner, and her guardian, a Roman Catholic priest called Dorriforth. Nature and Art tells the story of Henry Norwynne, a boy born and raised on a fictitious island off the coast of West Africa, later living in England.
The radicalism noted in Inchbald’s writing was restricted in the London theatre scene as “when she did use drama to explore current controversy, the theatre managers refused to stage it”. However, her novels express social and political opinions in a less-censored way. As Kaley Kramer explains “A Simple Story is not that simple. Under the guise of genre fiction, Inchbald unravels a deep tension in the political climate of her England”. Referring to Inchbald’s treatment of the English Catholic experience in this novel, Kramer’s reading of A Simple Story highlights Inchbald’s engagement with political topics. This social criticism is further seen in Nature and Art, as her second and final novel “was openly critical of English social institutions and class structures”.
Inchbald’s radicalism in her writing was not without faults and limitations, like the other radicals with whom she associated, for example William Godwin and Thomas Holcroft. This can be seen in her novels as Angela Rehbein notes, Inchbald’s criticisms of European culture in Nature and Art are inextricable from the “racial thinking of her time in her repeated descriptions of Africa as a land of “savages””. Further, her dramas also reflected the imperialism of the period. As Mita Choudhury explains, “Inchbald’s Orientalism capitalizes upon the most visible Orientalist assumptions, for it is sustained by ridiculing the Other’s power, authority, morality, and legitimacy. It is not an intellectual but a populist discourse”. Whilst Choudhury acknowledges the effect of theatre censorship on Inchbald’s creation of a populist discourse surrounding imperialism, she makes the point: “By refusing to position herself outside the dominant discourse and the material practices of the time, the female playwright implicates herself”.
In her personal life and her literary career Inchbald was capable of complexity, judgement, radicalism, and Orientalism. Although aspects of her life and work are far more laudable than others, her position within and her evident struggle against the prominent power structures of eighteenth-century Britain make her a fascinating author. Just as Bolton argues for giving her drama the attention it deserves, I would encourage any reader to turn to Inchbald’s writing.
 Ben P. Robertson, Elizabeth Inchbald’s Reputation: A Publishing and Reception History (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2013), 4-5.
 Thomas Gilliland, The Dramatic Mirror: Containing the History of the Stage, from the earliest period to the present time; including a biographical and critical account of all the Dramatic Writers from 1660; and also of the most Distinguished Performers, from the days of Shakespeare to 1807: And a History of the Country Theatres, in England, Ireland, and Scotland Volume 1(London: C. Chapple, 1808), 399.
 Kaley Kramer, “Rethinking Surrender: Elizabeth Inchbald and the “Catholic Novel”,” in British Women and the Intellectual World in the Long Eighteenth Century, ed. Teresa Barnard (Oxon: Routledge, 2015), 87.
Donkin, Ellen. Getting into the Act Women Playwrights in London 1776-1829. London: Routledge, 1995.
Gilliland, Thomas. The Dramatic Mirror: Containing the History of the Stage, from the earliest period to the present time; including a biographical and critical account of all the Dramatic Writers from 1660; and also of the most Distinguished Performers, from the days of Shakespeare to 1807: And a History of the Country Theatres, in England, Ireland, and Scotland Volume 1. London: C. Chapple, 1808.
Inchbald, Elizabeth. Wives as They Were, and Maids as They Are. Dublin: P. Wogan, 1797.
Jenkins, Annibel. I’ll Tell You What: The Life of Elizabeth Inchbald. Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 2003.
Kramer, Kaley. “Rethinking Surrender: Elizabeth Inchbald and the “Catholic Novel”.” In British Women and the Intellectual World in the Long Eighteenth Century, edited by Teresa Barnard, 87-107. Oxon: Routledge, 2015.
The year 2023 marks the bicentenary of both Ann Radcliffe’s death and two major publications for Mary Shelley: the first edition of Valperga and the second edition of Frankenstein, which bore her name. The 200th anniversary of such significant moments for these two women writers is made all the more poignant because the year falls between important bicentenary dates for some of the most widely celebrated Romantic men: the death of Keats in 2021, P. B. Shelley in 2022, and Byron in 2024. The ‘Gothic Women’ project will organise a conference in 2023 to celebrate Radcliffe, Shelley, and other Gothic women writers.
In the build-up to that conference, and in these isolating times, the ‘Gothic Women’ project will host a curated online seminar series, starting on Mary Shelley’s birthday in August 2021. This series will showcase exciting new strands of research on ‘Gothic Women’, bringing scholars into conversation with creative writers and artists. Featuring established, early career, and postgraduate scholars, our events showcase the diversity of women’s Gothic writing in the Romantic period. We aim to examine the different ways their work thinks about questions of self-definition in a time of crisis, challenging mainstream narratives, including those of nationhood, gender, sexuality, and race.
Our first event will take place at 5pm BST on 30th August 2021.
Abstracts are invited for a new special issue of Studies in Romanticism planned for Spring 2023, “Romanticism and Environmental Humanities,” guest edited by Noah Heringman (University of Missouri).
Since the publication in this journal of a special issue on Green Romanticism (1996), edited by Jonathan Bate, scholars working at the intersection of Romanticism and environmental humanities have been increasingly influenced by the global scale of scholarship and activism in the areas of postcolonial studies, climate change, and environmental justice.
One particular focus of this issue will be traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). Global “natures,” as Alan Bewell has called them, have become increasingly visible as scholars have rediscovered traditional ecological knowledge from various parts of the world as reported and remediated in publications generated by the voyages of Captain James Cook, Alexander von Humboldt, and others. We particularly welcome essays exploring the transformations that arise from encounters between competing forms of natural knowledge—settler-colonial and indigenous, urban and rural, or scientific and literary, among others. On a different level, TEK intersects with ecocriticism as an embodied practice pursued by scholars working in different situations in different parts of the world today.
We welcome abstracts for full-length scholarly articles tracking literary engagements with traditional ecological knowledge in the Romantic period, and/or the history of ecocriticism in Romantic studies. We also welcome abstracts for shorter pieces (3000 words) that would be part of a forum reflecting on ecocritical practices inside and outside academia during a challenging time for our profession. Abstracts for essays (500 words) and forum contributions (250 words) are due September 1, 2021, and will be reviewed by the special issue guest editor. Those selected will be invited to submit full papers by April 1, 2022. This entire special issue will be anonymously peer reviewed. Please email abstracts and a brief CV to Noah Heringman at HeringmanN@missouri.edu. Email inquiries are also welcome.
In association with the Universities Committee for Scottish Literature (UCSL), BARS is delighted to confirm the continuance of the jointly funded Scottish Romanticism Research Award scheme, which is open to postgraduates and early career scholars anywhere in the world who wish to conduct archival research in Scotland.
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. A postgraduate may be a current or recent Master’s student (within two years of graduation) or a PhD candidate; a postdoctoral scholar is defined as someone who holds a PhD but does not hold a permanent academic post.
Recognising the extraordinary pressures placed on travel at this time, we have moved the deadline to the end of the calendar year. If you have any queries about this scheme, and for more details, please click here.
1) How did you first become interested in exploring women’s economic thought?
Having finished my first book on contemporary Anglophone fiction, I was looking for a topic for my second book. Within the German academic system, the second book must focus on a different subject matter, explore a different period, and preferably investigate different genres than the first. The financial crisis of 2008/9 had occurred by then, the marketization of universities was accelerating, and so the question of how the economy shapes societies and knowledge formation became pressing for me on both an academic and a personal level. I was moreover increasingly interested in women’s and gender studies and was working on a project on Harriet Martineau, the 19th-century populariser of Political Economy. All these aspects converged to make me wonder what women had to say about economic matters in the past.
Scholars of Victorianism had already produced substantial research on literature and the economy, not least because economic considerations play a central role in the works of canonical 19th-century novelists, such as Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and Elizabeth Gaskell. But with regard to the Romantic period, research was sparser, despite the fact that Romanticism saw the rise of Political Economy and its institutionalisation as an academic discipline. This is why I chose to focus on the period around 1800.
In the early stages of my work, I spoke vaguely about “women’s contributions to the economic discourse”, because I followed the established conviction that proper “economic thought” can only be found in scholarly books, which women, at the time, did not and could not write. However, in the course of my research, it became clear to me that this conviction is problematic and that economic thought can be and was conveyed in other genres as well. This is why I now speak of “women’s economic thought”.
2) You begin your introduction by challenging the reader to name any English woman who made an original contribution to economic thought around 1800. Is your project one of recovery or of revision?
It is both. Let me begin with the revisionist aspects. Drawing on feminist economics, which is a heterodox approach to economics, I argue that there is an androcentric bias at the heart of many conceptions surrounding ‘the economy’. What, for instance, do we count as forming part of the economy? Feminist economists point out that mainstream economics often considers topics such as money, waged labour, public spending, taxes, or inflation as ‘hard’ economic topics. In contrast to that, activities such as parenting, education, marriage, household work, or emotional work, are frequently coded as private and, at best, ‘soft’ economic topics. This distinction is problematic in at least two respects. Firstly, these activities are indispensable for the social fabric and form part of the social management of resources. They are therefore economic – just as much as waged labour or inflation. Secondly, historically, women have predominantly undertaken these activities. Deeming them non-economic or ‘soft-economic’ thus obscures women’s very real contributions to the economy – both in the past and today. So the first major revision that is called for is a more gender-sensitive and more inclusive definition of what ‘the economy’ is in the first place.
The second revision pertains to the epistemological value of genres of writing. As I had mentioned earlier, we tend to assume that ‘proper’ economic knowledge is contained in scholarly treatises, such as Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. But when Political Economy took shape as a realm of knowledge during the Romantic Period, women could not partake in the scholarly discourse on a par with men, due to cultural and institutional obstacles. My argument is that women used those genres that were available to them at the time – e.g. novels, pamphlets, or public letters – to express their thoughts and ideas on the economy and other social concerns. This is why when looking for women’s economic thought around 1800 the distinction between genres of writing – especially between ‘literature’ on the hand and ‘economic theory’ on the other – doesn’t make sense. So the second major revision that I propose is that of abandoning this distinction and instead of considering (women’s) literature as economic thought if it deals with the production and management of social resources. Once we accept that marriage, for example, is an economic topic and that it can be theorised in a novel, it becomes much easier to identify women’s contributions to economic thought. Being a novelist and being an economist is no longer mutually exclusive.
But my project is one of recovery as well. The relatively strict differentiation between ‘literary texts’ on the one hand and ‘economic texts’ on the other that we have in the 21st century was not as pronounced in the period around 1800. Boundaries between genres of writing and between academic disciplines were more malleable. As a result, texts by authors such as Priscilla Wakefield (founder of the first English savings banks) or Mary Ann Radcliffe (the namesake of the Gothic novelist) were more readily considered as contributions to Political Economy by their contemporaries than they would be by 21st-century economists. My book recovers these thinkers for today’s readers.
3) Why did you feel that a transdisciplinary approach was particularly important for this book?
I am intrigued by the blank interstices between academic disciplines, because this is where a lot of knowledge remains hidden. When I began my research on women economists, I realised, for example, that standard textbooks on the history of economic thought contain almost no references to women – especially to those that lived prior to the 20th century. But parallel to that, English scholars have investigated how women were addressing economic topics in literary texts of the 18th and 19th centuries. There is therefore an obvious mismatch between what economists know about women and the economy and what literary scholars know about women and the economy. The problem is that both ‘camps’ only see a part of the picture. To paint a fuller picture and to have women economists come into view, it was indispensable to work across disciplines and piece together the items that the respective disciplines hold – not just economists and literary scholars, but also historians of ideas, cultural scholars, and social historians.
I would hope that as a result, the disciplines involved can now learn from each other. For instance, I wish to make economists aware of what English scholars already know, namely, that women used their writing to process economic ideas. At the same time, by incorporating research by feminist economists into my work, I want to make literary and cultural scholars aware of the androcentric biases surrounding ‘our’ established notions of what the economy is. Coming across feminist economics was a breakthrough moment for me, because it has made me aware of my own biases and paved the way for the revisionist perspective that I have outlined above. So without the input from another discipline, I would not have been able to chart the new field of knowledge that my book explores.
My general belief is that conventional academic mapping cannot fully grasp and respond to today’s challenges, such as climate change, mass migration, digitalisation, or social inequality. Academic disciplines have to adapt to new social realities and become genuinely curious about the work done in other fields. Transdisciplinary work enables knowledge to travel; it stimulates cross-fertilisation. To a certain extent, it is also a process of epistemological translation. This is where the humanities can make a vital contribution.
4) How topical are the concerns raised by female economists around 1800?
In my book, I explore the economic thought of seven women: Sarah Chapone (1699–1764), Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797), Mary Hays (1759–1843), Mary Robinson (1756/1758?–1800), Priscilla Wakefield (1750–1832), Mary Ann Radcliffe (1746–1810?), and Jane Austen (1775–1817). Some of the issues they address have lost their immediate relevance, at least for many women in Western societies, mainly because the legal framework has finally changed. Today, women are allowed to pursue gainful employment as well as to keep and dispose of their earnings. They don’t lose the right to their property upon marriage as was the case in England until the late 19th century. They have access to education and therefore do not have to consider matrimony as the most viable economic option to secure lifelong provisioning.
But some concerns examined by women economists around 1800 remain surprisingly – and depressingly – topical. For instance, Priscilla Wakefield criticised the fact that women earn less than men for the same kind of work, and we know that the gender pay gap still persists. Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Robinson wrote about the consequences of the sexual division of labour and the relative devaluation of care and household work, which is another problem that is with us today. Jane Austen explored how to balance moral behaviour with economic necessity, and this question is one that also preoccupies contemporary societies. In general, women economists of the Romantic period highlight that economic practice and outcomes are strongly tied to gender – and this insight unfortunately still holds true.
5) What new projects are you currently working on?
I work within the German academic system, which is why my research interests tend to cover a wide range of periods and topics. The project to which I am currently devoted the most is a research network on “Methodologies of Economic Criticism”, which has begun its work in April 2021 and is funded by the German Research Foundation. I set up and coordinate the network together with two colleagues who also work in English studies: Ellen Grünkemeier (Professor at the University of Bielefeld) and Nora Plesske (Senior Lecturer and Researcher at the University of Magdeburg). The project has points of convergence with my book insofar as together with other scholars, we explore the manifold and historically variable interrelations between literature, culture, and the economy. Over the past decade or so, there has been a strong interest, within English studies and the humanities more broadly, in investigating how economic theory and practice affect literature and culture – and vice versa. But despite an outpour of publications, the field has not been systematised yet, particularly as regards the methodologies that are available for an economically informed analysis of literature and culture. We use the term ‘Economic Criticism’ to designate research that takes the economy as the primal focal lens of analysis, and it is our aim to map the field, among others through the publication of a handbook. We hope that our network will contribute to establishing Economic Criticism as a fruitful and innovative critical paradigm within literary, cultural, and postcolonial studies. For more information on our work and if you would like to get in touch with us, visit our website, www.economic-criticism.de, and/or follow us on Twitter: @EconCrit.
1) How did you first become interested in re-examining De Quincey through the lens of translation?
I must confess that I initially knew De Quincey almost only through his ‘Confessions of an English Opium-Eater’—it’s a text that’s designed to make an impression, after all. The idea to look at De Quincey in much greater detail, particularly through the lens of translation, came from my doctoral supervisor, Tom Toremans. This was long before I ever considered working this into a monograph: some projects translate into a book quite readily, but as I was starting from quite an underexamined field, I had a lot of thinking to do just what it meant, first, to read De Quincey, and then to re-read him through translation. Throughout his career De Quincey practised and theorised translation in increasingly involuted ways, but there was very little out there which actually discussed these texts (Frederick Burwick’s and Éric Dayre’s work being important exceptions), how they related to De Quincey’s works more broadly, and how they related to our understanding of Romanticism, British or otherwise. This really was a project that created itself, in that as I worked on the project, it morphed incessantly: I needed to follow De Quincey’s lead in expanding the meanings of translation, and actively consider how an increasingly complex analysis might actually be made digestible, both for myself and for my readers.
2) To what extent do you see De Quincey as being representative of Romantic-period attitudes toward translation, and in what ways is he idiosyncratic?
This is a question I return to multiple times in my book, because it’s not an easy one to answer, and because it’s a problem De Quincey can be seen to puzzle over himself—I think it’s part and parcel of who De Quincey is that it is very difficult to determine just how performative this worrying over his idiosyncrasy was. The question is also a key to the argument I’m constructing, in that I seek to read De Quincey both on his own terms and as a writer whose practices and ideas reconfigure our understanding of Romanticism.
De Quincey is obviously bringing together ideas on translation that were very much in the air at that time, and which have been documented by Antoine Berman, Susan Bernofsky, and others. In this sense, he is a relatively representative Romantic. The complication is that he chooses to pursue translation in a British context, and that British Romanticism has a much more complicated relation with translation through its conception of originality and authorship than does, say, German Romanticism. Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Thomas Carlyle are closest to what De Quincey is attempting to do, in that they, too, understand translation might acquire genuine philosophical force, and there are certainly many other writers in the background, all informing what De Quincey is doing. But we have now largely forgotten about the many acts of translation that informed British Romanticism—Diego Saglia’s recent book is an attempt to buck this trend—so that one is often tempted to think much of what De Quincey is doing must be sui generis.
In my book, I try to balance these two perspectives—representation and individuality—by noting that if translation is pivotal to many other Romantic writers, what makes De Quincey quite idiosyncratic is all the work he’s making translation do. His practices often mirror theoretical developments in work by Friedrich Hölderlin, Friedrich Schiller or even Walter Benjamin, while pursuing a much more involved set of connections. He translates, of course, but he also thinks deeply about what it means to translate, and reinvests what he takes from those reflections in essays that are ostensibly quite far removed from translation as we would typically conceive of it. Translation transforms from a principle of interlinguistic transfer into a structure with print-cultural, rhetorical, aesthetic and philosophical potential; a way to think about how language works, and how Romanticism might be different from what has gone before—and particularly how De Quincey’s Romanticism is different.
3) How did you arrive at the book’s final structure, with the introduction and coda bracketing chapters on the distinctions between translation and authorship, linguistic difference, disjunctions between meaningful and material aspects of expression, and the conception of ideal translation as ‘a mode of thinking and writing that achieves a dignity and force all its own’?
The book’s structure was the result of a long process of pondering how to set up my narrative. It’s pretty straightforward at first blush to write about De Quincey and translation, but it’s a difficult topic to broach, as my intention wasn’t simply to do a contrastive study of originals and their translations: I wanted to examine what it means to consider all the things that translation could be in Romanticism, both as an active practice and as a theoretical field. Given the web of meanings that translation acquires in De Quincey, I wanted to offer a narrative that recreated these connections while remaining approachable to my readers—and it’s really the audience that determined the final shape of the book. De Quincey studies is quite a crowded field already, to say nothing of Romantic or translation studies, and I spent a long time figuring out how to pitch my argument to each of these groups of readers. There was an evident way to handle this, starting off with a highly theoretical info dump, but I know from experience introductions along those lines are almost impenetrable. So I decided to move a discussion of the theoretical space into which I’m pitching my argument—there’s Benjamin in there, Paul de Man, Wolfgang Iser, and so on—to the book’s coda, as a gesture to those few readers who really want to see a critical model that could be used for other writers. The book certainly activates the ideas I’m offering in the coda, but it endeavours to carry all the theory lightly; to show, rather than to tell.
With the coda out of the way, I settled on guiding the reader through a process not dissimilar from what I experienced as I set about reading and re-reading De Quincey. The book accordingly starts with a relatively gentle introduction, which rehashes and increasingly re-angles a familiar story about who De Quincey was. As the chapter ramps up, though, the irrepressibility of translation becomes increasingly clear. The following chapters take a similar tack, moving from a relatively approachable angle on translation to some rather knottier questions both within each chapter, and across each of the chapters. This sequence has the advantage of being logical and roughly chronological; more importantly, it gives the book a concentric sort of structure, moving from empirical and historical questions to increasingly theoretical problems. In addition, the chapters build on each other without demanding to be read in sequence, in that they have a clearly identified set of primary and secondary texts they chiefly deal with—a thematic or disciplinary focus, if you will.
4) While your own book focuses on De Quincey, its approach might fruitfully be applied to a number of other Romantic-period authors. Which writers would you be particularly keen to see reappraised in translational terms?
My book is very much focused on a single translator-author, and I think that’s a good angle to take in analysing quite a few writers; that is, to treat their translations as integral parts of their wider oeuvre which may create new readings or resonances upon being integrated. For non-British Romantics, there’s always been a greater interest in this approach, with plenty of ground still left to cover. For the British tradition, there’s been some seminal work done for Coleridge by Paul Hamilton, and on William Wordsworth by Bruce Graver—given recent advances across several fields, especially translator studies, there’s still a lot that could be done for Coleridge and Wordsworth, though. To throw out a few more names—Henry Crabb Robinson, Carlyle, Walter Scott, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and so on: all had an interest in translation, produced them, and commented on them. Much of the material’s already there; but has rarely been read with an eye to concrete mechanisms of transfer. The question of women in translation is a particularly intriguing one to me, with much material very much in need of examination. The one thing that a study on these lines would need to do is note that translation, and this is a point I make in my book a few times, is rather difficult to pin down: it’s not so much a matter of transferring language A into language B; it’s part of a wider network of genres and transformations.
Those are the single-author studies that we need; in addition, there are some much broader, thematic problems that still need a lot of work. Someone really should write a book on Romanticism and pseudotranslation, for instance; or on periodicals and translation. There’s some excellent work being done by Diego Saglia and Gillian Dow, amongst others, but the amount of work still be done is absolutely massive. Speaking more broadly still, I think a great many studies on Romanticism in an international, cosmopolitan or global perspective would be enhanced tremendously by acknowledging questions of translation.
5) What new projects are you currently working on?
I have two new things in the works, running roughly in tandem. First, I’ve now been working for some time on the idea of a late-Romantic subperiod within Romanticism. Having worked on De Quincey for such a long time, I’ve grown very interested in his strange temporal position within British Romanticism, which he himself thematises in his work as a fundamental untimeliness, born of two things—being born too late, and living far too long. There are many other Romantics who take up a position strikingly similar to his, and as we approach bicentennials that move into the 1820s, they have recently come to the fore in criticism. I’m very interested in exactly what late Romanticism is, and for its very different tonality; both melancholy and oddly competitive with what we might call High Romanticism.
Second, this interest in late Romanticism provides some of the theoretical foundations for a project on the phenomenon that perhaps most characterises the late-Romantic subperiod; that is, the extraordinary proliferation of information through the periodical press. My current work takes a somewhat unusual approach, in that it focuses on questions of misinformation; that is, on tall stories, and especially on how such fake stories spread between countries. So while this project continues work by Margaret Russett and Angela Esterhammer, amongst others, it does what my book did; that is, re-read Romanticism through the lens of translation.