Five Questions: Kerri Andrews on Ann Yearsley

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Ann Yearsley and Hannah More

Five Questions returns in style with an interview with Dr Kerri Andrews, Lecturer in English at the University of Strathclyde.  Hailed by Tim Fulford as ‘the doyen of Yearsley Studies’, Kerri is also interested in the broad sweep of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century literary culture, and has published on Robert Southey, Charlotte Smith, William Cowper and William Wordsworth, among others.  In this interview, though, we keep the focus on Kerri’s work on Yearsley, discussing her recently-published monograph, Ann Yearsley and Hannah More, Patronage and Poetry: the Story of a Literary Relationship and her new three-volume edition of The Collected Works of Ann Yearsley, published this month by Pickering & Chatto.

1) How did you first become interested in Ann Yearsley?

I was right at the start of my PhD: I knew I wanted to write about women writers and how they accessed print culture, but I didn’t know which women writers I wanted to work on.  I was browsing in the Special Collections at the Brotherton Library in Leeds when I came across a pamphlet in which was included ‘Mrs. Yearsley’s Narrative’, which I would later learn was affixed by Yearsley to the fourth edition of her first volume of poems.  I read it having no idea who Yearsley was, but was immediately struck by the forceful language she was using – I had had no idea women could or did write like that in the eighteenth century.  It really challenged what I thought I knew about the period, and I was hooked.  Years later when I first met Tim Burke (who edited a selection of Yearsley’s poems for an excellent book published by Cyder Press) it transpired that we had both had the same first encounter with Yearsley, in the same place (he too did his PhD at Leeds), and that it had a profound effect on us both.

2) How did the new archival evidence you uncovered while researching Ann Yearsley and Hannah More, Patronage and Poetry lead you to reconsider their dispute and their places in wider literary networks?

I think the biggest thing was discovering the letter from Yearsley to More, dated 13 September 1785.  In that Yearsley makes a wholehearted acknowledgement of More’s goodness to her, but goes on to accuse her former patron of fraud.  This made me realise that Yearsley had attempted to deal with the dispute privately and properly – she wasn’t some bitter harridan, which is sometimes the image we have of her, especially from older scholarship – but had tried to use all channels before resorting to the publication of her ‘Narrative’.  But there was also something familiar about the letter when I first found of it (which initially made me panic in case I hadn’t ‘discovered’ it at all).  I quickly found where I had read parts of it before: More had transcribed it for Elizabeth Montagu, and that letter had survived in the Huntington Library and had been republished by Mary Waldron in her biography of Yearsley.  When I put the two letters together I realised that More had substantially, and very carefully, edited and rewritten Yearsley’s letter so instead of being about how her children’s inheritance was not being protected, it became about how Yearsley wanted the money for herself.  That indicated some really interesting things about the way More was making use of her literary networks and her powers as a patron.

More broadly, though, the new archival material indicated that Yearsley’s circle of acquaintances was much wider than we had known.  And, of course, I found tantalising hints that Yearsley knew some of the most prominent Bristol radicals of the day, including Thomas Beddoes, and was associated with Cottle’s literary circle.  The evidence I found isn’t enough to conclude that Yearsley was part of the inner circle which met above Cottle’s bookshop, but it was suggestive that she was at least connected to some groups of people who hadn’t before been considered part of her social context.  That will open up new possibilities, I think, in reading Yearsley (or at least I hope it will).

3) What were the main pleasures and challenges of preparing the Collected Works?

Perhaps the main challenge was the sheer size of the task!  It was one of those ideas that seemed a really good one at the time, and I had set a five-year deadline so I was able to tick along pleasantly with it for a while, but when it came to really get down to it late in 2012 I realised just how much I’d taken on.  Deciding how to organise the poetry was also tricky, as the early volumes especially come with so much crucial prefatory material.  There were several iterations, but I think the current layout (with that prefatory material contained in Appendices, but not in the main body of the edition) is a good compromise.  The main pleasure was finding so much new material, and I was particularly pleased that – just through happenstance – the first volume opens with two previously unknown poems.  Others are scattered throughout the volume, but it was very nice to be able to present some of that very interesting new material right at the beginning.  It was also a pleasure to produce an accessible edition of Yearsley’s novel, though I’m left with a great deal of knowledge about the reign of Louis XIII I’m not sure I’ll use again.

4) In the introduction to your monograph, you contend that the critical focus on the More dispute has ‘diminish[ed] the significance of Yearsley’s literary achievements’ and ‘shorten[ed] our critical focus on her literary career to the eighteen months during which she was More’s protégée’.  With that in mind, which of Yearsley’s works do you think make the best entry points for those wanting to find out about her wider oeuvre and for those considering adding her works to modules and syllabi?

My two personal favourite poems are ‘Clifton Hill’ and the second ‘Soliloquy’ poem.  Neither has any relation to the image of Yearsley as combative; they showcase instead her ability to closely observe and identify with a landscape, and her serious philosophical interests.  Indeed, one of the things that I discovered working across the edition was the frequency with which Yearsley engages with Classical philosophy.  References to philosophy abound in her novel, but there are also references to Platonism in her letters, and philosophical ideas become increasingly important in her later poetry.  I think these are the sorts of things that get overlooked by critics focused on the juicy bits from 1785, and might help make Yearsley more than the go-to labouring-class poet on survey courses.

5) What’re you planning next?

Next is a turn to the dark side, and some work on Hannah More.  It became apparent as I was working on the monograph that scholarship badly needs an edition of More’s letters, so I’ve put together a team to produce an electronic searchable edition.  We’ve just been knocked back by the AHRC, though, so we’re back to the drawing board in terms of securing funding, but I’m very hopeful we’ll be able to convince someone to support the project.  At the same time I’ve also started working on the second monograph which is going to be (at least it is at the moment…) on newspaper culture in the late eighteenth century.  I discovered that Yearsley published in the papers from 1787-94 (another new aspect of her career for scholars to pursue I hope), and I’m intrigued by the role the papers played in the literary culture of the period.  It’s very much in the early stages, though.

CfP: Periodisation: Pleasures and Pitfalls

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Please see below for a new Call for Papers for a fascinating-sounding conference on literary periodisation, to be held at All Souls College, Oxford on the 3rd of June 2014.  Clare Bucknell, one of the organisers, writes:

“We want to start an academic conversation about the categories in which scholars, critics, institutions and anthologies subdivide literary history, and we intend to scrutinise the kinds of social or disciplinary bias that underlie the boundaries of literary-historical study.  We hope that the subject will be of great interest to Romantic scholars, as there are many provocative questions it might raise – for instance:

– when does ‘late eighteenth-century’ become ‘Romantic’?

– what does the institutional history of ‘the Romantic period’ say about the interests and biases of English as an academic discipline?

– are certain genres and forms conceived to be characteristic of ‘the Romantic period’? If so, why – and what does this tell us about the thinking behind periodisation?”

The full CfP is below; abstracts are due on February 1st.

– – – – – – –


A one-day conference at All Souls College, Oxford, June 3rd 2014

Keynote Speaker: Professor James Simpson, Harvard

What do we mean by ‘medieval’?  When does ‘late eighteenth-century’ become ‘Romantic’?  What on earth is ‘Early Modern’?  How did these categories come about in the first place?  Papers are invited for a one-day conference on the advantages and problems of periodisation, which aims to interrogate the literary-historical categories that govern the way we organise, teach and think about literature.

We ask whether periodisation is a useful tool for segmenting the lengthy sweep of English literature into sensible sections for study, or whether it is a naïve, narrowly historicist critical approach that risks making unhelpful connections between radically different types of texts.  We question whether some types of periodisation are more useful than others (is ‘the Tudor Period’, for instance, a more fruitful designation than, say, ‘1100-1350’?); we ask if periodisation is prone to entrenching scholarly prejudice against certain forms of literature; and we address the fact that some periods (for example, mid-eighteenth-century literature, Caroline literature) are much less studied than others (Romantic, Elizabethan, Modernist), and seek to interrogate why this might be.  We are also interested in the role of the university in the debate over periodisation: why do certain institutions or critical schools organise literary history in different ways, and what do these differences say about the nature and progress of English as an intellectual discipline?

We invite 250-word abstracts for 20-minute papers on any aspect of periodisation.  Suggested topics include, but are not limited to:

• period boundaries: should ‘boundary’ mean ‘division’ or ‘meeting point’?

• periods of literature which have suffered comparative critical neglect, and potential reasons for this neglect;

• the study of English Literature in universities and the validity of periodising approaches;

• the history of periodisation: what kinds of literary histories have critics and writers produced in the past, and how do they differ to the habits of periodisation now current?

• political and economic factors: do these provide imperatives for the shaping of the canon?

• are certain genres and forms conceived of as ‘characteristic’ of particular periods?  What does this say about the way in which periods are established?

• radical alternatives: if we choose not to organise literary history by ‘period’, what might we do instead?

Please send your abstracts to the conference convenors, Clare Bucknell and Mary Wellesley (  and by February 1st 2014.

Tis the Season for Subscribing

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The new year approaches ever closer, and at the chime of midnight on New Year’s Eve, BARS subscriptions will fall due.  Please take a moment to read the note below from our treasurer and membership secretary, Jane Moore; for more details on becoming a BARS member or renewing an existing membership, please see the relevant page on the website.

– – – – – – –

Dear BARS members

As the newly-appointed Membership Secretary and Treasurer of the Association, I’d like to introduce myself to you and to thank you for your continued co-operation and support as BARS members.

I’d also like to remind the membership that annual subs are due on January 1st and to ask that you check your standing orders are for the correct amount of either £25 (waged) or £10 (unwaged/postgraduate).  As many of you will be aware, the BARS Executive took the decision in 2012, after consultation with the membership, to make a modest increase in subscription fees to £25 (waged) and £10 (unwaged/postgraduate).  Our aim in the longer term is to increase BARS membership, both UK and overseas.  If you know anyone working in the field who isn’t currently a member, please do invite them to join the Association or email their contact details to me at  Herewith is the web link to the BARS ‘How to Join’ page:

With thanks and best wishes for the festive season

Jane Moore

Treasurer and Membership Secretary

Romantic Locations: Registration Now Open

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Dove Cottage

The organisers of Romantic Locations, the 2014 BARS Early Career and Postgraduate Conference, are pleased to announce that registration is now open.  The form can be downloaded from the dedicated section of the BARS Website, which also includes information about travel and accommodation (including special offers).  While we can’t promise that the sky above Dove Cottage between March 19th and 21st will be quite as blue as it is in the image above, we can promise a rigorous and exciting academic programme and a convivial and friendly environment for socialising and sharing enthusiasms.

We’ve accepted thirty excellent proposals from postgraduate and early career scholars, who will give fifteen-minute papers on their current research on a wide range of interesting topics.  The conference will also feature plenary addresses from Professor Simon Bainbridge (Lancaster University) and Professor Nicola Watson (Open University), as well as a workshop on manuscripts with the Wordsworth Trust’s Curator, Jeff Cowton MBE.  The full programme will be published early in the new year. The organisers have taken trouble to make sure that the conference is as accessible as possible to those on all budgets.

Please take a look at the site, and do consider joining us at the Jerwood Centre in March.  If you have any questions, please contact the organisers (Kate Ingle (Lancaster), Matthew Sangster (British Library), Helen Stark (Newcastle) and Matthew Ward (St Andrews)) on

Five Questions: Hiatus

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The Five Questions interviews have been on hiatus during December as I’ve been tied up with Romantic Locations (for more on which, see the post above) and as many of those I’ve approached have been buried under pre-Christmas marking.  However, the interviews will return in the new year – there are a number of exciting people lined up.

Thanks for reading this year, and hope to see you back here in 2014.

CfP – Emblems and Enigma: The Heraldic Imagination

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Emblems and Enigma image

Professor Fiona Robertson and Dr Peter Lindfield are co-organising a symposium entitled Emblems and Enigma: The Heraldic Imagination; this event will take place at the Society of Antiquaries in London on Saturday 26th April 2014.  The full Call for Papers is both below and available on the conference site.  To further tempt Romanticists, Professor Robertson writes that, ‘There’ll be a special session on Walpole and Beckford, the poster image (above) is from Chatterton, I’ll be talking about Scott and 19th-c American literature, and we’d very much welcome proposals for papers on Romantic Period authors (De Quincey, Peacock, Scott, Radcliffe, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats) and on topics related to this authoritative but occluded set of signs in the culture of the Romantic Period.’  The deadline for abstracts is 10th January 2014.

Emblems and Enigma: The Heraldic Imagination

An Interdisciplinary Symposium at the Society of Antiquaries of London, Saturday 26th April 2014

‘Time has transfigured them into / Untruth’ (Philip Larkin)

In his 1844 short story ‘Earth’s Holocaust’, Nathaniel Hawthorne sees heraldic signs reaching ‘like lines of light’ into the past, but also as encrypted and obsolete. Proliferating and arcane, unique, ubiquitous, and inscrutable, the heraldic has been a major presence across the arts since medieval times; yet it remains, culturally and critically, enigmatic. The organisers of this interdisciplinary symposium, Professor Fiona Robertson (St Mary’s University College) and Dr Peter Lindfield (University of St Andrews) invite proposals for twenty-minute papers on any aspect of the employment and perception of the heraldic in literature, history, art, architecture, design, fashion, and contemporary and historical practice. The programme will include a keynote address by Professor Vaughan Hart (University of Bath); a special session on the heraldry of Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill and William Beckford’s Fonthill Abbey; and papers on eighteenth-century antiquaries’ exploration of the heraldic, and on heraldry in nineteenth-century British and American literature.

Topics may include, but are not restricted to:

– the languages and grammar of heraldry

– armoiries parlantes, allusions and puns

– imaginary and fantastical heraldry

– decoration and display

– blazonry and identity: nations, groups, individuals

– mock- and sham-heraldics; parody and subversion

– practices of memory and memorialisation

– history, development, and modern practice

– blazon and the body

– heraldic revivalism; medievalism; romance

– enigma, error, and absence: the bar sinister and the blank shield

– individual designers, writers, and collectors

– gendered identity

– hierarchies of signs

– international and interdisciplinary perspectives

Proposals of 200 words should be sent to by 10 January 2014.

Fiona Robertson and Peter Lindfield plan to edit a collection of essays arising from the symposium.

Five Questions: Sharon Ruston on Romantic Science

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Sharon Ruston - Creating Romanticism

Professor Sharon Ruston has recently joined the University of Lancaster, having previously held appointments at the University of Salford, Keele University and the University of Wales, Bangor.  She has published widely on literature, science and medicine in the Romantic period, and, among many other activities, has served as academic co-ordinator for the LitSciMed doctoral training programme and co-edited (with David Higgins) a useful collection on Teaching Romanticism, which draws on the survey of Romantic-period teaching which she completed for BARS in 2006.  Her latest book, Creating Romanticism: Case Studies in the Literature, Science and Medicine of the 1790s, came out earlier this year; below, we discuss the process of writing this book and its relation to her current project: co-editing, with Professor Tim Fulford, The Collected Letters of Sir Humphry Davy and his Circle.

1) How did you come to decide that this was the next book you wanted to write?

After Shelley and Vitality (my first monograph that came from my PhD), I wanted to move outwards to think about Romanticism and Science as a whole.  I have been keeping little notes and ideas since my PhD and hoped that these would be the basis for my ‘big’ second book.  I guess that these things never quite go as planned.  The next book that I wrote was the Continuum guide to Romanticism, which encompassed the whole period – though I was able to do a chapter on science and medicine – and then after that there were edited collections of essays, Literature and Science and Teaching Romanticism.  In the back of my mind was always the idea of the big book and this is my attempt at it without having the twenty years to dedicate to it that I really would have wished for.

2) The four chapters of your book examine the relationship between the discourses we would now call science and literature through the lenses of four particular cases. What led you to choose this structure, and how did you select these particular examples?

The case studies approach was pragmatic foremost; it allowed me to look at four different authors/topics in a discrete manner but also to use these to build up a larger argument.  My ambitious ‘big book’ plans were reduced to thinking about instances at the beginnings of the Romantic period – mostly in the 1790s – when literature and science, or literature and medicine, came together in some fruitful and interesting way.  I argue that these moments are formative for the creation of what we now anachronistically call ‘Romanticism’.  The examples were chosen because these were the ones that fascinated me most and which seemed the most significant.

3) How has your work on Romantic science changed the ways that you present the period to undergraduates and postgraduates?

Many of my lectures and seminars are now inflected with ideas from Romantic-period science and medicine; for example, lectures on sensibility take into account the physical symptoms and medical discourse of this ‘disease’.  I have also taught a number of specialised modules that are led by my research, such as Monstrous Bodies, which examines Wordsworth’s labouring and mad bodies, Keats’s sensual bodies, Wollstonecraft’s idea of the female body, and others.

4) How did your work collecting and editing Humphry Davy’s letters influence the writing of Creating Romanticism (and visa versa)?

One of the four chapters of the book is on Davy and he really is important to the book in many ways.  He appears in other chapters too, as a friend of Godwin’s and Coleridge’s, for example, and I argue in the conclusion that if we are going to be using outdated terms such as ‘Romanticism’, they should be culturally-inclusive.  Davy is as much a Romantic as Wordsworth.  Working on the letters while writing this book helped me to get to grips with Davy’s polymorphic interests: his chemistry, his poetry, his politics, and his social network.  It made me realise just how central he was to Romantic-period culture and helped me to define just what it meant to be ‘Romantic’.

5) What are your future plans for the Davy edition?

We have an OUP contract for a four-volume print edition, which is to be submitted at the end of 2017.  After that date, unfortunately, the website on which you can read each new letter found and transcribed will disappear ( so I urge people to explore the letters before that happens!

Five Questions: Angela Wright on Britain, France and the Gothic

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 Angela Wright - Britain, France and the Gothic

We on the BARS Executive are still sad that Dr Angela Wright has recently left our number in order to become a Dark Empress (OK, co-President…) of the International Gothic Association.  When not reigning, she is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Sheffield and has published widely on Romantic and Gothic topics.  Below, we discuss her latest book, Britain, France and the Gothic, 1764-1820: The Import of Terror, which was published by Cambridge University Press earlier this year.

1) What was the genesis of Britain, France and the Gothic, 1764-1820?

I have had a long-standing fascination with the relationship between Britain and France.  This fascination first started when I took my BA in English and French, and continued when I chose to do my doctorate between an English and a French department, with supervisors in both.  I have always enjoyed the best of both nations, and spent several extended periods of my twenties on and off working or studying in France.  When I spent a year in France at the age of 21, for example, I was intrigued by heated debates that I would get into with French students regarding the respective merits and shortcomings of Britain and France.  The persistence of Anglo/French rivalry surprised me, and I was also taken aback by how defensive I became during these debates.  These experiences fed into my later intellectual work.

Britain, France and the Gothic focuses upon the contexts of the Seven Years War when Britain and France were at war, Anglo-French hostilities and reciprocity, translation and the Gothic.  I began working upon these intersections in the Romantic period around 2005.  It has taken me roughly seven years to write this book.

2) Your book argues convincingly that ‘the Gothic is specifically indebted to a French tradition of writing, and is often either appropriated, translated or adapted from French authors in the long eighteenth century’. How does the return of this largely repressed heritage reconfigure our understanding of the particularity of British Gothic writing?

‘Gothic’, as Horace Walpole uses it, is a term of proud, British patriotism that is invoked in the wake of Voltaire’s attacks upon Shakespeare during the Seven Years War.  However, as I argue in the book, Walpole’s appendage of that title to the second edition of his The Castle of Otranto is pragmatic, as is his attack upon Voltaire.  There is considerable evidence of Horace Walpole’s Francophilia.  If you look more widely in the Gothic, this evidence persists in the strain of Gothic writing produced in the 1790s by Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis, but they too masked their literary admiration of France with great care.

The reasons for this lie in the contexts of the suspensions of habeas corpus during the Pitt government in the 1790s, and the escalation of anti-French propaganda.  It is clear, however, that British Gothic writing is considerably indebted to French literature, through the realms of adaptation and translation.  It has, however, masked this indebtedness due to the political climate in the Romantic period.

3) Your chapters proceed broadly chronologically, examining Horace Walpole; Clara Reeve, Charlotte Smith and Sophia Lee; the complexities of terror in the 1790s; Ann Radcliffe; and Matthew Lewis. Was this your plan from an early stage, or were there alternative arrangements or subjects that were altered or cut as you shaped your arguments?

Broadly, this was my plan, although the chapter upon Horace Walpole originally formed part of my Introduction.  The material became too voluminous and unwieldy to be contained within the Introduction, so Walpole justifiably got a chapter to himself.  I became intrigued, and somewhat sidetracked, I must confess, by the identity of Horace Walpole’s fictional translator William Marshal in The Castle of Otranto

4) How has the process of researching and writing this book changed your approaches to teaching Gothic fictions?

If anything, it has made me love and admire the Gothic more, as I discovered how Gothic fiction during the Romantic period generally refused to capitulate to the anti-Jacobin francophobia of the time.  That is not to say that all of it resisted this atmosphere.  Recent and very valuable work has been undertaken upon Loyalist Gothic by James Watt, and Royalist Gothic by Dale Townshend, and their research points to a number of authors who embraced the possibilities of the Gothic for a range of other reasons.  These counter-examples demonstrate the sheer diversity of Gothic fiction during the Romantic period.  At this moment, a huge number of authors and Gothic works from the Romantic period remain to be researched in more detail, works which were read widely, sold widely, and that have fallen out of our contemporaneous conceptions of the Romantic period.

Recently, I have written an essay upon Translation and France for The Gothic World (eds. Glennis Byron and Dale Townshend), and I have begun to consider how the British Gothic genre was more widely embraced in France than French literature was in Britain.  This continues to be the case, in my view, with France stealing the march by filming and distributing a version of Matthew Lewis’s 1796 novel The Monk last year (dir. Dominik Moll).

5) What’s next for you?

I have just completed a co-edited collection of essays on Ann Radcliffe, Romanticism and the Gothic (eds. Dale Townshend and Angela Wright), and that will come out from Cambridge University Press in February 2014.  We’re holding a major conference upon Ann Radcliffe in June 2014 to launch the collection, and to celebrate Radcliffe’s 250th birthday (ED: CfP deadline coming up on November 30th for those of you interested in submitting…).  I am also putting the finishing touches to a single-author study upon Mary Shelley, which will come out from the University of Wales Press later in 2014.  After wrapping these projects up and taking a really good vacation this summer, I am going to begin researching for a project which carries the tentative title ‘Fostering Romanticism’.  I am just putting proposals in place for this at present, and am really exicted about its possibilities.  More upon this anon!  And always, I retain an ongoing love and fascination with Scottish Romanticism.

New Issue of RaVoN – Coleridge and his Circle: New Perspectives

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A new issue of Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net (No. 61) has just been published, guest-edited by Tim Fulford and focusing on Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  The issue includes the following essays:

Anya Taylor – Catherine the Great: Coleridge, Byron, and Erotic Politics on the Eastern Front

Alan Bewell – Coleridge and Communication

Julia S. Carlson – Measuring Distance, Pointing Address: The Textual Geography of the ‘Poem to Coleridge’ and ‘To W. Wordsworth’

Alan Vardy – Coleridge on Broad Stand

Tim Fulford – Coleridge’s Visions of 1816: the Political Unconscious and the Poetic Fragment

Matthew Sangster – “You have not advertised out of it”: Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Francis Jeffrey on Authorship, Networks and Personalities

Tom Duggett – Southey’s “New System”: the monitorial controversy and the making of the “entire man of letters”

Nicholas Halmi – Coleridge’s Ecumenical Spinoza

Five Questions: Jane Darcy on Melancholy and Literary Biography

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Jane Darcy - Melancholy and Literary Biography

Dr Jane Darcy is currently a teaching fellow in the Department of English at University College London, where she was previously a British Academy postdoctoral fellow.  Prior to that, she completed her doctorate at King’s College London.  Below, we discuss her first monograph, Melancholy and Literary Biography, 1640-1816, which developed in unexpected directions from her thesis and which was published by Palgrave earlier this year.

1) You write in your introduction that your initial interest was in aesthetic representations of melancholy. How did your project evolve towards focusing specifically on biographies?

Like most people, I imagine, I’m drawn to what is minor key and elegiac in art and literature.  And I’m always fascinated by details of the lives of writers, so many of whom seem to have suffered profoundly.  In my thesis I looked at a range of writers from Dr Johnson to Thomas Carlyle and tried to trace evolving medical ideas of melancholy (or hypochondria, as it was often termed) by looking at what their first biographers made of the condition.

2) The book’s two sections focus on periods of distinctly different lengths, the first examining the years 1640-1791 and the second the years around 1800. How did this particular division emerge during the course of your research?

Turning the thesis into a book was a longer and more complex business than I’d imagined (it took a total of four years).  I found myself thinking more about literary biography and asking myself different questions.  When did it emerge as a distinct genre?  And which writers particularly shaped the practice?  I realised I needed to go back to the seventeenth century for this, and this in turn necessitated a radical restructure.  The first half of the book then took the idea of which biographies Johnson would have known when he complained of the paucity of well-written literary lives.  Most books about biography tend to jump from Boswell to Elizabeth Gaskell, so I decided to make the focus of the second half four biographies written around 1800 (i.e. before a consensus developed about the familiar Victorian life-and-letters model).  My PhD chapters on Coleridge and Carlyle didn’t make the cut, but I added in Wollstonecraft, which proved really interesting.

3) To what extent were the biographers you examine drawing on generic understandings of melancholy, and to what extent were they remaking it through the prisms of their particular subjects?

Most of my biographers were self-confessed melancholics and so had both intellectual and personal reasons for exploring this strain in their subjects.  The only one who wasn’t seemed to be William Godwin.  I checked this with one of the great Godwin experts, Pamela Clemit, and she agreed he was just was unusual in not appeared to suffer too much.  I was curious, too, to see that Wollstonecraft herself uses the term ‘melancholy’ many times in her Letters from a Short Residence, but in her personal letters, which are steeped in misery, she rarely used it.

4) Are there particular works from among the biographies you’ve examined that you think deserve to be more widely read or which you think could be usefully added to undergraduate or postgraduate syllabi?

The truth is, not really.  Godwin’s Memoirs of Wollstonecraft has joined the canon alongside Boswell’s Life of Johnson, but Hayley’s Cowper and Currie’s Burns are more interesting for the debates they sparked off than for their own sakes.

5) What’s next for you?

After a long time on melancholy, I’ve turned my attention to comedy.  I’m co-editing a book of essays with Louise Lee at Roehampton on Victorian comedy.  I’m also writing a non-academic book about the extraordinary popularity of the Isle of Wight with Romantic and Victorian writers.