Session 9B: Back to the Future

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9B. Back to the Future: Romanticism and Technologies of Production

Special Session: Dino Felluga (Purdue)
Geraldine Friedman (Purdue): "Mary Diana Dods & Queer Romantic Modernity: Pseudonymy, Passing & the Limits of Biography"
Julie Ellison (Michigan): "What Happened to Fancy? Part One: Transgeneric Fancy and Magazine Illustration"
Scott Hess (Harvard): "Death and the Author: Wordsworth, the Epitaph, Self-Representation and the British Print Market"
Dino Felluga (Purdue): "'With a most voiceless thought': Byron and the Radicalism of Textual Culture"

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Session Statement
Through an examination of changes in technologies of text reproduction, this panel seeks to re-conceive the relation of poets to a mass market that increasingly dictated transformations in identity, authorship, and culture. By examining such changes, the panel will explore how Romantic texts prefigure aspects of modernity and postmodernity.

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"Mary Diana Dods & Queer Romantic Modernity: Pseudonymy, Passing & the Limits of Biography"
Geraldine Friedman
Purdue University

The work and biography of Mary Diana Dods address the topic of "Romanticism and the New" in multiple ways. First, her attempts to negotiate initially within and then around the limited options for genteel women who needed to earn their bread in early nineteenth-century Britain both reflect and baffle the gendered structures of rising modernity. The brilliant but impoverished illegitimate daughter of a highly placed Scottish nobleman, Dods tried the most of the standard employments available to respectable women at her moment: giving lessons, running a school, and taking in lodgers, but found they failed to produce even a subsistence living for herself, her widowed sister and her sister's children. In order to support this familial group, Dods turned to writing for magazines, employing male pseudonyms, ostensibly to avoid the widespread prejudice against women writers. Thus Dods employs one development of Romantic modernity--the rise of magazine culture and specifically its frequent practice of pseudonymous authorship--to produce a fictive identity that, at least temporarily, gave her the possibility of eluding the economic strictures she suffered under another such development: the ideology of separate spheres, which, at this point, must be seen as a reaction against the growing presence of women in productive activity. Dods thus embodies a contradiction in Romantic modernity.

In addition to being involved in the newness of Romanticism in its own historical moment, Dods's case demands a different articulation of Romanticism and the new, an articulation between Romanticism and a theoretical approach current today. I contend that the shifts in identity, which sometimes include bodily transformation, in Dod's writings and life are best read through queer theory, especially since, after successfully creating a male identity for herself in print, Dods adopted masculine dress and began to pass as a man. This paper will go on to explore the challenges her multiple identities pose to conventional biography, which assumes a unified subject with a single, coherent life, gender, and name, and a legible (hetero)sexuality. I take as my example Betty Bennett's study of Dods, which in many ways could be called a queer biography, for it consists not of one all-encompassing narrative but a series of rereadings, necessitated by what the author calls her own inability to see the evidence in front of her. This evidence slowly forces Bennett to abandon the normative conventions of biography, which make Dods illegible and nonsensical. As the biographer begins to connect her subject's various pseudonymous identities, not only is she forced to read differently in order to read at all, she also puts into question commonly used historical criteria for establishing identity, such as documents and handwriting. Yet for all its critical virtues, Bennett's work has limitations that I will examine: a penchant for self-consciously voyeuristic speculation on Dods's sexuality and a tendency to equate lesbianism with bodily deformation, constitutional illnesses, and insanity. Approaching this case through a queer lens will hopefully allow me to focus on Dods's fascinating unconventionality without pathologizing it and returning it to the normative paradigms of feminine propriety, including those of compulsory heterosexuality, that it refuses.

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"What Happened to Fancy? Part One: Transgeneric Fancy and Magazine Illustration"
Julie Ellison
Michigan University

The conventions established in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century serial publications-and the impact of such conventions on the history of college curricula form my core subject matter in this book-length study (my fourth). The word, "magazine," from the Arabic word for storehouse, in English referred first to a warehouse and later to a stock of goods, associating it permanently with the collection and management of all kinds of things for the import-export trade. The magazine arranges knowledge, and part of that knowledge is the knowledge of arrangement. In Britain, serials define their task as that of managing several kinds of variety for entertainment, profit, and social empowerment. The magazine ethos precedes and influences the agenda of nineteenth- and twentieth-century higher education. Colleges and universities, building on much older maps of intellectual competence, increasingly rely on curricular requirements to further the student's participation in a culture of representative diversity: diversity of times, places, beings, materials, technologies, and systems held in appreciative balance by the gravitational field of variety itself. The concepts of variety and of selection, or survey, are inseparable from the habits of educated people situated in global and national markets. The reader's digest, like the distribution requirements of the liberal arts curriculum, manages the choices of the cultural consumer but also conveys how desirable a broad exposure to difference has become. Our notions of cultural literacy, therefore, descend in equal parts from middlebrow magazines and from academic conventions, but variety became commodified in the publishing world well before it became the measure for academic competence. I use the word "diversity" in my title deliberately, instead of synonyms such as "variety" or "difference." "Diversity" is now a code word in the US for the goals of affirmative action and other institutional policies aimed at dismantling forms of exclusion based on race and ethnicity. Variety of genres and variety of subject matter or topics are inseparable from the emergence in the early modern period of a world comprised of nations and international relations. Ideas of the national and the global are codependent. They form a set of diacritical perceptions governing the understanding of race, ethnicity, and tribe, as examples of human variety. International content is aestheticized when generic variety intersects human differences, giving rise to the taste for local and foreign "color," exotic knowledges, and the pleasing or disturbing spectrum of different races. We see this, for example, in the multi-disciplinary content of travel articles as compendia of the natural and human sciences, as miscellanies within miscellanies. Generic specificity also markets multiplicity. The generic array that emerges in magazines and newspapers--criticism, travelogue, poetry, satire, the letter, biography, self-help instruction, history, polemic--is governed by the cultural display of regulated inclusiveness, too. In fact, political and economic intuitions of what well-managed global systems might accomplish in the way of reform, profitability, tolerance, or stability are being worked out in Anglo-American print culture before they begin to shape the agenda of higher education.

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"Death and the Author: Wordsworth, the Epitaph, Self-Representation and the British Print Market"
Scott Hess
Harvard University

Frances Ferguson remarks, in Wordsworth: Language as Counter-Spirit, that the epitaph provides a central genre for much of Wordsworth's poetry and that even his autobiographical epic, the Prelude, is constructed as a "series of epitaphs spoken on former selves" (155). In this paper, I will explore how Wordsworth uses the epitaph both in his poetry and in his critical writings specifically to construct his identity as a poet in relation to the late-eighteenth-century British print market and its conditions of print circulation. The idea of the "proper" epitaph, I will argue, allowed Wordsworth to control his anxieties about print circulation, distinguish his poetry from other commercial writing of the day, and at the same time justify his role as a poet and the self-representation to which he increasingly turned during the "great decade" of his writing. Through the symbolic significance with which Wordsworth constructs it, the genre of the epitaph places poetry--and ultimately the individual poet--at the center of a new form of discursive community.

I will begin my paper by exploring how Wordsworth's three "Essays upon Epitaphs" present the epitaph as the originary genre of poetry, characterizing it in ways that suggest a symbolic reconfiguration of late-eighteenth-century print market conditions. The first essay imagines the ideal epitaph in Classical times addressing the traveler from a tomb beside the public way, its first line hailing the reader, "Pause, Traveller!" (Prose, II, 54), just as Wordsworth's own epitaphic poem, "Lines, left upon a Seat in a Yew Tree," begins by hailing the reader: "Nay, Traveller, rest!" By hailing the reader as "Stranger," this characterization of the epitaph creates a metaphor of reverse circulationthe circulation of readers rather than textsthat allows Wordsworth to imagine the text set in its own landscape, symbolically controlling the contexts of its reception instead of having these contexts controlled by the reader. Wordsworth's idealization of the epitaph set alone in nature or in a small village churchyard also allows him to contrast "proper" imaginative writing, and by implication himself as a poet producing such writing, from the almost anonymous mass of commercial writing for the print market in his day, figured in his "Essays" as "our monuments ... crowded together in the busy, noisy, unclean, and almost grassless church-yard of a large town" (II, 54). The proper imaginative epitaph or poem, by contrast, singles out its reader in a direct one-to-one relationship with the author or person represented, thus leading the reader to sustained inward contemplation instead of a rapid shifting from text to text.

By identifying with the deceased person, the reader comes to identify also with others, creating a single society of the living and the dead reminiscent of Burke's ideal nation. Wordsworth imagines the ideal epitaph, as he imagines his own writing, not as "a proud writing shut up for the studious," but "exposed to all ... concerning all, and for all" (II, 59), creating a symbolic space of community in which "the thoughts of individuals, without any communication with each other, must oftentimes meet" (II, 93). Thus the epitaph, by representing the deceased individual, provides a symbolic center that holds together a society of scattered individuals from all classes, a function which for Wordsworth justified his own vocation as poet. Reading these formulations of the epitaph in the three "Essays" in relation to some of Wordsworth's own epitaphic poetry, such as The Ruined Cottage, "Lines, left upon a Seat in a Yew-tree," "A Poet's Epitaph," and some passages from the 1799 and 1805 manuscript versions of the Prelude, I will show how Wordsworth uses the epitaph both to establish his own authority and identity as author and at the same time to justify the representation of individual experienceand increasingly his own individual experienceas fulfilling a crucial social function. By writing about himself in the epitaphic mode, Wordsworth transforms the social isolation of the late-eighteenth-century poet into the site of a crucial social production, as the individual poet and his writings become the focus for a newly imagined discursive community of readers.

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"'With a most voiceless thought': Byron and the Radicalism of Textual Culture"
Dino Felluga
Purdue University

This paper will turn to Lord Byron, arguably the most popular poet of the Romantic period, to see how the transitions and antagonisms of early nineteenth-century England work their way into his Romantic experiment in medievalism, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812, 1816, 1818). We can read two sorts of materialism in the formal innovations of this metrical romance--the political antagonisms of the Romantic period on the one hand and the technological changes affecting the very material of the literary text on the other. I will argue that both the market for literature and the technology of mechanical reproduction manifest themselves within the very fabric of this literary text; indeed, it is precisely fabric or, rather, its scarcity that in the Romantic period allowed for one last reign of poetry before a mass audience and mass production impelled the rise of the periodical review and the popular novel. Unlike Sir Walter Scott, however, who uses the romance as a bulwark against change by fantasizing a place where and, more importantly, a time when ideological contradictions are reconciled, Byron complicates any harmonizing function of the romance by "unromantically" discussing the present; he thus counters Scott's efforts both to familiarize the past and to harmonize antagonism by instead defamiliarizing the present and inciting revolution. His contemporizing of the medieval also draws attention to the textuality of his medium, reminding the reader of the print technology--particularly new machines of mass production and the creation of cheap paper out of wood pulp instead of linen--that disseminated his word to the masses and that would eventually spell the very end of his art's cultural supremacy. Indeed, I will examine a gradual transformation of Byron's works in their materiality from the supremely expensive artisan's book of his early career to the cheap mass-disseminated pulp texts of the later editions, not to mention the marketing of a cheap "common edition" of Don Juan in 1822.

Like Scott's work, Byron's Childe Harold subscribes to a program of psychic projection; indeed, he asks us to imagine both a time other than our own (the past that haunts the present) and a space other than our own (the foreign climes of the travel narrative); however, rather than use these fantasy-frames to idealize the present, Byron uncovers the true psychoanalytic logic behind romance's strategy of apotropaic projection: the fetish--something that maintains connection to the lost object while also allowing the object to be lost. When Byron prefaces his poem with the bold assertion that the medieval past was as profligate as our own day, he collapses the temporal fantasy which drives Scott's ideological project and his narrative: the medieval past Scott portrays must almost by definition already be lost (hence the "ism").

Because of this strategy, Byron's relationship to "modern" England is, as Jerome Christensen has also recently argued, disruptive. Though "Byronism" and Childe Harold's medievalism were nonetheless appropriated by the public to satisfy its craving for that idealized glamour associated with the aristocracy and the feudal past, Byron in fact discloses not only the "monstrous mummeries of the middle ages" (Byron's preface) but the vanity of using the "mummeries" of chivalry or "the good old times" to unify and maintain empire. Byron's medievalism contributes not to a nostalgia for the past, as does Scott's, but to a nostalgia for the present--an anticipation of decay that would inevitably fuel the "condition of England" paranoia of the rest of the century. Whereas Scott offers medieval chivalry as the ethico-moral justification for one's subjection to the nation's "bands of fealty," Byron uncovers those bands of fealty as mere fictions of power, subject to change and eventual subversion. In other words, Byron provides a position from which people from different classes could question the values propagated by political economy. But it was only after the dissemination of the so-called common edition of Don Juan and the many pirated editions of his other works that Byron's reputation as a radical could be established among a new group of readers. It is only with the mass circulation of his texts--a textualization and commodification already anticipated in his poetry--that the revolutionary fervor of his work could be said to catch up with the radical sectors of the population.

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Last updated June 1, 1999
by Kathleen McConnell

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