Romantic Circles Blog

Keeping Shelley MSS together at the Bodleian

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Dr. B. C. Barker-Benfield of the Bodleian Library at Oxford sends the following good news about keeping Mary Shelley's manuscripts together under one roof.

December 10, 2003
The Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford has been awarded £3 million from the National Heritage Memorial Fund towards the purchase of the Abinger Papers, an archive of major literary significance which includes the surviving manuscripts of Mary Shelley’s famous novel Frankenstein. It is the largest grant ever received by the Library towards a single purchase. [cont'd]

The Abinger Papers are the most important collection of Shelley family papers remaining in private hands. The papers include the Frankenstein original draft manuscript of 1816–17, which reveals the novel in its process of conception. The draft contains many autograph corrections by Percy Bysshe Shelley, and so provides unique evidence for the much disputed question: how far did Percy Shelley influence his wife’s masterpiece?

The Abinger Papers form one third of the Shelley family papers, including letters and papers of Mary Shelley’s parents, Mary Wollstonecraft (the ground-breaking feminist writer) and William Godwin (a major intellectual figure of the period). Two thirds already belong outright to the Bodleian Library through gifts from the family. The remaining third, the Abinger section, has been deposited on loan at the Library since 1974 for the benefit of scholars, but is now offered for sale.

The Bodleian Library is launching an appeal to raise the remaining funds needed to purchase the collection. Richard Ovenden, Keeper of Special Collections and Western Manuscripts, said: "Thanks to the Fund’s outstandingly generous grant, and other donations already received of almost £350,000, the Library now has until March 2004 to raise the remaining £500,000 to buy the collection and so prevent its dispersal at auction. Researchers from all over the world have visited Oxford until now to study the combined collections of Shelley materials. By purchasing the Abinger collection, we aim to ensure that the Shelley family papers remain united in one location."

Stephen Johnson, Head of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, said: "The Abinger Papers are exactly the kind of Great British heritage that the National Heritage Memorial Fund was set up to save. Few things are more precious than the Shelleys’ personal notes and Mary’s autograph draft of Frankenstein. This grant will open up this internationally acclaimed collection for everyone to enjoy in the unique surroundings of the Bodleian Library."

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Journey to Goslar (Duncan Wu in The Guardian)

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With the big snowstorms up and down the east coast of the U.S. this week, it was perfect timing for Saturday's article in the Guardian, by Duncan Wu, of St. Catherine's College, Oxford, on the Wordsworths' trip to Germany in the winter of 1798.

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Messolonghi Byron Society

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The Byron Society shares with us this new URL from Greece and the Messolonghi Byron Society, which is "devoted to promoting scholarly and general understanding of Lord Byron's life and poetry as well as cultivating appreciation for other historical figures in the 19th-century international Philhellenic movement."

http://wiz.cath.vt.edu/byron/index.html

Be sure to see the photo gallery.

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"Crossing the Channel" in New York

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Back on September 8, 2003, we posted a report from Andrew Elfenbein on an exhibit in Minneapolis, Crossing the Channel. The exhibit has since moved to New York’s Metropolitan Museum, and we’re pleased to have received this firsthand review of the exhibit by Karl Kroeber of Columbia University.

Any Romanticists passing through New York en route to Bayonne or New London would be well rewarded by taking time to visit the Metropolitan Museum exhibition CROSSING THE CHANNEL: BRITISH AND FRENCH PAINTING IN THE AGE OF ROMANTICISM. No blockbuster, this exhibition even lacks sharp focus, but the blurriness is appropriate to the strange fashion in which Britain and France in the visual arts (as in other cultural areas) in the first years of the nineteenth century intersected and even interacted in a manner that only dramatized their differences--caught with deadly satiric accuracy in Carle Vernet's watercolor of English visitors in Paris after Waterloo.

One enters the exhibit to be smashed in the face by Gericault's huge RAFT OF THE MEDUSA, studding even in the form of this Victorianized 1859 copy by Guillermet and Ronjat. Alongside is Turner's DISASTER AT SEA and Danby's striking but less celebrated SUNSET AT SEA AFTER SNOWSTORM)—which epitomizes the distinctive national styles--Gericault all people suffering, Turner all waves in action. One of the best thing in the show is the variety of works by Gericault, including studies of truncated limbs and severed heads, and two of his terrific MONOMANIA portraits, as well as examples of his LONDON lithographs, with wonderful rendering not of race horses but working Clydesdales. A variety of splendid Boningtons, both oils and watercolors, may be the prize on the British side. But Turner is well represented (once dramatized by juxtaposition with John Martin's darkness-invisible DELUGE), most notably by CROSSING THE BROOK (but what the hell is the dog carrying in its mouth?), as is Constable by the lovely ON THE STOUR and the WHITE HORSE, each worth the price of admission for those who don't live near the Frick Museum. Among the French whom Constable directly influenced, Huet is the best (his HARVEST distinguished by a top-hatted scarecrow and an intrusive smoke stack signaling the advent of industrialism)--especially his watercolor CANNES.

French artists' unreciprocated illustrations of British literature are represented by three Giaours and a raft of scenes from Scott--including a weird Delacroix LUCY ASHTON'S BRIDAL NIGHT. Deservedly more famous is his GREECE ON THE RUINS OF MISSOLONGHI here with Greece's cleavage splendidly highlighted. But for many Romanticists much of the show's interest will lie in the variety of less celebrated works, among which I note only Wilkie's VILLAGE HOLIDAY, the first painting purchased for the National Gallery from a living artist, but here outclassed by the sharper-sighted and more dramatic French MOVING DAY alongside by Louis Boilly. Even more stunning is Ingres’ ENTRY OF THE DAUPHIN, a superbly painted archaizing of the troubadour style, the kind of thing only a true master can casually toss off. Something of the same virtuosity in reverse appears in Varley's amazing SUBURBS OF AN ANCIENT CITY--Poussin in watercolor, by God!

Karl Kroeber

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NASSR 2004 in Colorado

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We're happy to pass along this announcement from Jeff Cox about the upcoming NASSR conference in Boulder, CO.

I and the rest of the crew of Colorado Romanticists (David Ferris, Jill Heydt-Stevenson, and Jeffrey Robinson at Boulder, Brad Mudge in Denver, Susan Taylor in Colorado Springs, William Davis  at Colorado College,  Celestine Woo at Fort Lewis College and our graduate assistant, Terry Robinson) are looking forward to having everyone in Boulder next September for NASSR 2004, "Romantic Cosmopolitanism."

We have a great line-up of keynoters (Ann Birmingham, Angela Esterhammer, and David Simpson) and a wide range of special sessions that take up everything from "Cosmopolitan Byron" to "Theatre as Cosmopolis," from "Anglo-Hispanic Romanticism" to "Philosophy, Nationality, and the Foreign."  There will be papers on poetry, music, philosophy, architecture, science, antiquities, theater, history, opera, "cosmobodies," and novels.  We already have a cosmopolitan line-up of participants, including scholars from Italy, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States.  We are very excited about two distinctive features of this meeting.  First, there will be two pre-conference day-long workshops, one on the editing of Romantic texts and one on Romantic drama and theater.  Second, there will be one block of sessions during the conference devoted to workshops that will provide us all with an opportunity to discuss particular texts together.  All that and a dance planned after the banquet.  And, of course, the annual all-night party fondly known as "The Death March."

The conference will be held at the newly renovated Millenium Hotel, the grounds of which border on Boulder Creek.  There are also a number of other hotel options, ranging from cheaper motels to the historic Boulderado Hotel downtown.  Boulder and the surrounding mountains should be quite lovely in September, and we are relying upon our local walking expert, Jeffrey Robinson, to organize some informal hikes.  In addition to the natural splendor, Boulder offers our beautiful campus, fine restaurants, a fun downtown shopping area, and an interesting local art scene; we are also less than 45 minutes from downtown Denver.  Please be in touch if you have questions or suggestions; you can e-mail us at NASSR04@colorado.edu.

Jeffrey Cox

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What are you teaching? (Alan Richardson)

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Our thanks to Laura Mandell, who solicited this interesting response from Alan Richardson to the question, "What are you teaching?"

This semester I'm teaching an entirely new version of my course, "Romantic Writing." I've offered various incarnations of this course over the past 15 years, with anything from 15 to 40 students involved. When the class size is small enough (under 25), I ask for a good deal of journal writing instead of exams, and writing back to the Romantic-era texts becomes part of the "writing" promised by the course title. More centrally, though, I wanted "writing" to displace traditional associations between Romanticism and poetry and (to a lesser extent) between Romanticism and the novel (roman). So, all versions of the course involve a fairly democratic treatment of many different kinds of Romantic-era writing, including borderline "literary" cases (e.g. private letters, journals, polemical writing) as well as poetry, fiction, familiar essays, and autobiography. We explore how different genres involve different stakes, positions, aims, but also how certain discursive strategies or moves can cut across genres, often in unexpected ways.

This semester I was asked to give the course as an undergrad seminar, limited to 15 students and meeting once a week for 2 hours. The weekly meeting format inspired me to think of the course in an entirely new way, as a set of loosely interlinked modules (13 weeks, 12 modules) organized by topic. The web of connections among the various topics has proliferated so much, however, that I'm tempted to withdraw the "loosely" qualifier from the previous sentence. The topics include slavery and abolition, the French Revolution and British reaction, the rights of woman and changing notions of femininity, Romantic and un- or anti-Romantic representations of childhood, changing modes of self-representation, Orientalism, the Americas, nationalism(s) and British identity, incest and the crisis of the family, new versions of pastoral, and two modules on "avant-garde poetics." I added these two because I felt it important to stress the literary-cultural innovation of the times directly, "poetics" including iconoclastic discussions of the novel, of drama, and of women's poetry as well as expected literary-critical documents like the "Preface" to Lyrical Ballads and the Defence of Poetry. I found most everything I wanted in the Mellor/Matlak anthology British Literature 1780-1830, except in relation to Orientalism. There, however, I found just the texts I wanted (The Giaour and "Murad the Unlucky") in a New Riverside volume, Three Oriental Tales, not surprisingly because I edited it myself! One of the pleasures of the course has involved taking more full advantage of Mellor/Matlak than I have in the past, drawing on the "Historical and Cultural Context" sections and referring students to these for additional reading.

Alan Richardson

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What are you working on? (Susan Wolfson)

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We asked: "What are you working on?" Susan Wolfson answered with this list:

1. Peter Manning and I are currently writing new introductions and
updating the Further Reading lists for two Penguin Byrons: our edition
of Selected Poems, and the Steffan/Pratt Don Juan.

2. I'm now general editor of the Longman Cultural Editions, and am
supervising various projects, in various stages of development, including
my own edition of John Keats (with a fresh editing of key letters from
holographs)

3. I'm embarrassed to say that I am almost done with Figures on the
Margins
, my long delayed study of Romanticism and gender, with chapters
on Hemans, Jewsbury, Byron, Keats, and lots of other figures coursing
through.

Cheers,
Susan

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What are you teaching? (Laura Mandell)

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Since we were online with Laura Mandell yesterday, we asked her the question: What are you teaching?

I am currently teaching a course called "Early British Romantic Writers," ranging roughly from 1789 to 1815:

http://www.users.muohio.edu/mandellc/eng339/eng339asyllabus.htm

Every year I teach the course with a different theme, and this time, it is the politics of form. Of course we have been reading and interrogating the usual suspects on this question--Lyrical Ballads and Jacobin novels--but we also spent a lot of time thinking about the ballad and sonnet revivals. I must say I was able to do this by taking the plunge: after ten years of teaching Romanticism survey courses, early and late, I finally gave myself permission to stop using anthologies. A Riverside edition of Lyrical Ballads has a great section on the ballad revival, and Feldman and Robinson have a beautiful new book out about Romantic-era sonnets. We just stepped into political allegory: after reading Coleridge's "Letter to Famine" and Barbauld's "Eighteen Hundred and Eleven," we are about to launch into Sydney Owenson's The Missionary. I have one of the most enthusiastic groups of students, in person, but I haven't been able to get them to use their blog--I have to think more about that!

At the risk of going on too long, I wanted to mention that I am also teaching a course that I received a grant to develop called Technology and the Humanities:

http://www.muohio.edu/technologyandhumanities/

It isn't technically a Romanticism course, although Neil's post this week makes me think that it really is--I'll have to read Coyne's Technoromanticism. We just finished Frankenstein and yesterday saw Kenneth Branaugh's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein which, I believe, poses the wonderful paradox that only the screen can give us a sense of the physical brutality of death feeding Victor's passion to create life.

Best,
Laura Mandell

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What are you teaching? (Neil Fraistat)

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Today I turned (virtually) to my co-editor, Neil Fraistat, and asked, "what are you teaching?"

This semester, I’ve been teaching a graduate seminar entitled “Technoromanticism,” which is exploring the extent to which the ideological formations of Romanticism both underlie and resist the way technology is imagined in contemporary culture through poetry, fiction, film, MOOs, and computer gaming. I derived the title of the course from Richard Coyne's Technoromanticism, which argues that contemporary understandings of the computer, “with its promises of interconnectivity, subversion of hierarchy, restoration of the tribe, revitalism of democracy, and new holism”--all have their historical roots in Enlightenment and Romantic thought.

While I rarely agreed with Coyne, especially in his understanding of Romanticism as such, his bold thesis and provocative title sparked my own thinking on the subject, which was further stimulated by the recent publication of Jay Clayton's wonderful book, Charles Dickens in Cyberspace.

As I finally conceived it, the course is concerned with Romanticism as a discourse about cultural change; about monstrosity and the body; about art as technology; about the necessity for and the impossibility of making art or technology that isn’t always already co-opted; about abjected, alienated, resistant subjects at the mercy of phallic power structures; about the gendering of technology; about textual and sexual reproduction; about Luddite and eco- resistance to technology; about utopian imaginings and dystopian worlds; and about the world itself as a consensual illusion.

To that end, I decided to structure the course through strategic pairings that would stage readings of Romantic era work through the lens of writing contemporary to us. So, for instance, we’ve used Neo-luddite texts as a way of thinking about the Luddites themselves; used theory about hacking to read Blake’s [First] Book of Urizen; used The Matrix films and Baudrillard to read Godwin’s Caleb Williams; used Harraway’s "Cyborg Manifesto" to read Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman; and used Patchwork Girl and several films to think about Frankenstein.

To date, my students have been extremely enthusiastic and engaged. Some of their thinking on the subject can be found on the course blog. I’m very much looking forward to upcoming classes on the “Prosthetics of the Imagination,” in which we'll read new media theory as a means of considering DeQuincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater, Coleridge’s Biographia and Shelley’s “A Defence of Poetry.” The course will conclude with a segment on the “Prosthetics of Memory,” which will use the film Memento and Willaim Gibson’s “Agrippa” to read various poems by Wordsworth about inscription and memory.

The syllabus for Technoromanticism can be found at http://www.rc.umd.edu/nfraistat/courses/738/738A_Syllabus.html.

Neil Fraistat

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Keats-Shelley Memorial Association Centenary Events in Rome

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We were grateful to receive today this detailed dispatch from Nora Crook on last week's events in Rome.

It is a hundred years since the two American writers who lodged at Piazza di Spagna 26, where Keats had died in February 1821, alerted the American and British community in Rome to an imminent threat: the decrepit house was due to be demolished to make way for a hotel. The result was the formation of the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association and an international fund-raising campaign to purchase and to preserve the house. It finally opened in 1909 as the Keats-Shelley Museum. The centenary also coincides with the refurbishment of the Museum, which has undergone major repairs and redecoration under the curatorship of the energetic Catherine Payling and the direction of the architect Roberto Einaudi. The familiar sugar-almond pink of the exterior is now a warm apricot, close to the original colour.

[For pictures, see]:

http://homepage.mac.com/stevenjones1/Keats/PhotoAlbum15.html

[cont'd]

The first gala event, on the evening of 29 October, was hosted by the British Ambassador, Sir Ivor Roberts, at the British Embassy, Villa Wolkonsky, not far from San Giovanni Laterano. (The Villa had been the HQ of the German High Command but was presented to the British by the Italians after World War II; a Roman aqueduct runs through the gardens and there is a swimming pool built for the use of Hitler.) In the splendid ballroom we were entertained by “A Paradise for Exiles” and “Life is But a Day,” two short dramas on Shelley and Keats respectively written by Angus Graham-Campbell, editor of the Keats-Shelley Review. Using the poets’ own words as much as possible, they were performed with brio by a cast of talented young professionals. As Claire Tomalin (who was present with Michael Frayn) observed, the emphasis on youth and humour – particularly marked in the Keats play – was an especially pleasurable feature of these evocations. Among others present were Harriet Cullen, chair of the KSMA, James Kidd, editor of its newsletter, Robert and Pamela Woof of the Wordsworth Trust, Duncan Wu, Tim Burnett of the British Library and his wife Jeannie.

The next morning we were lucky enough to be able to join one of the special tours of the Keats-Shelley Museum, where Catherine Payling and her hardworking support team unveiled the new interior layout. No aficionado of the old museum will feel a jolt; it struck all those present as a triumphant yet tactful renovation. There they still are: letters from Keats, Severn, the Shelleys; Keats’s death-mask, Byron’s carnival mask, the urn containing Shelley’s skull fragments … but the new cases enable everything to be seen afresh and the 8000 books are arranged in a more logical manner. Visitors to the Wordsworth Museum at Dove Cottage will sense something familiar – not surprisingly; Stephen Hebron was seconded from the Wordsworth Trust and his typographical skills may be seen in the elegant explanatory cards. Perhaps the most striking change involves the room where Keats died. It now contains a bed, of the right dimensions and period, a last-minute find, Catherine Payling told us, at a furniture restorer’s near Campo dei Fiori. Of course it could not possibly be Keats’s actual bed, but simply to have a bed at all makes an astonishing difference to the atmosphere of the narrow little room. It faces the window out of which Keats threw the nasty dinner sent in by his landlady. This particular tour ended with Anthony Hecht’s reading of some of his poems about old age, Keatsian in their craftsmanship and sensuous autumnal melancholy. As his beautiful, venerable voice reverberated through the library, many of us felt how appropriately they accorded with the reflections on mortality that the house as a shrine as well as an active museum provokes.

The evening event was at the Palazzo Barberini, where earlier that day we had paid our respects to the famous “Portrait Not by Guido Reni of a Girl Who Is Not Beatrice Cenci,” trying vainly to discern the pale composure, swollen eyes, and yellow strings of hair that Shelley so vividly described in the belief that it was indeed a portrait of La Cenci. Tri-nationalism was to the fore; the emphasis was on the co-operation between Italy, the United States and Britain – and on John Keats. Among those present were William Buice, representing the Keats-Shelley Association of America, Stuart Curran, Alan Christiansen of John Cabot University in Rome, Lilla Crisafulli and Keir Elam of the University of Bologna.

Claire Tomalin’s opening address reminded us of two other pilgrims to Rome: Samuel Pepys’s nephew and Thomas Hardy. After a sumptuous buffet supper, C. K. Williams, Valerio Magrelli and Tony Harrison, again representative of the three nations chiefly involved in the foundation of the associations, read a selection of their lovely poems. Winding up the proceedings, Sir Bob Geldof spoke with heart-felt eloquence of his long-standing passion for Keats’s poetry and with contempt for those who had castigated Keats as effeminate, instead of recognising in his works “the linguistic androgyny that we all inhabit” – memorable speech that many of us will remember. He proposed a birthday toast (just a few minutes prematurely: it was a quarter to midnight) to “John Keats, the greatest modern poet” and sent us out happy into a warm Roman autumn night with a half-moon in the sky.

As usual with an event of this kind, there were for us unexpected and serendipitous extra happenings. We shall treasure our first visit to the glorious Galleria Doria-Pamphilj, one of the few major museums open on Mondays in Rome and still in the hands of the original family; the engaging and informative audio guide is written by its present head, Prince Jonathan, who was also present at the Villa Wolkonsky event. Professor Rosy Colombo of the Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia, University of Rome “La Sapienza,” organized a post-graduate drama seminar, at which Stuart Curran gave a stimulating paper on Hannah Cowley. And we shall remember going to the Protestant Cemetery (Cimetero Acattolico) on All Souls’ Day. The “one keen pyramid with wedge sublime” was a little dulled by the overcast sky, but there were fresh chrysanthemums on the famous tombstones. As we stood by that of Keats, a young philosophy student from La Sapienza came and laid a bunch of marguerites on the grave.

Of course this is not the end of the celebrations, but only the first of an ongoing series which will continue to 2009. So those who missed last week’s junketings will still be able to join in. For more details of KSMA and the history of the Keats- Shelley Museum see the newly opened (September 2003) website: http://www.keats-shelley.com and http://www.keats-shelley-house.org.

Nora Crook

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