Below is a detailed record of the “Reason & Romanticism” articles featured on Novel Ideas. The entries descend chronologically, each containing the title, the date, an image from the text, a brief summary, and a hyperlink to the original article. An entry for a major monthly post also includes the hyperlink to its respective “Virtually Victorian” companion article.
After briefly recounting my experience at the 2013 18th and 19th Century British Women Writers Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I include the talk that I gave on representations of history in Ann Yearsley’s Earl Goodwin, a late eighteenth-century play that transforms the uprising of Godwin, Earl of Wessex against Edward the Confessor into a story of scandal and slander, centered on the wronged figure of Edward’s mother, Queen Emma. Ultimately, Yearsley’s play with and about history hinges on her notion of “designed irony” when it comes to an awareness of the unavoidable bias in any account or representation of historical events and figures.
In this first post of a series on my experience at the 2012 International Conference on Romanticism, I consider my flight to Phoenix, Arizona and my anticipation of the conference in the context of the book that I brought along to read on the plane: Steve Edwards’s Breaking into the Backcountry, a memoir about solitude in nature that, despite its explicit references to Thoreau, recalls a very Wordsworthian tradition of Romantic thought for the moment of its composition, the tempestuous beginning of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Via Edwards, I consider the uncertainties and hopes of my own life and career as I travel to the most prominent conference of my career thus far.
“The world is too much with us,” Wordsworth laments at the outset of one of his well-known sonnets. For literary scholars, especially those who study Wordsworth and his contemporaries, the complaint is a familiar one: “we lay waste our powers;— / Little we see in Nature that is ours; / We have given out hearts away.” The zeitgeist of today’s younger literary scholars might fairly be described as one of alienation, a similar kind of alienation that Wordsworth observed between the city-dwellers and the “ministry of Nature” that they had renounced. In the end, I think, it all comes back to the role of the public intellectual. Put simply, we want to matter, and we want to do meaningful work. Like Wordsworth, we’d “rather be / A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn” out in the wild of public engagement rather than take orders in the even older model of walled off, monastic scholarship. We continue the Romantic project, in a way, as much as it can be called a project, by digital means. We’re a new kind of pagan, but like “old Triton,” we “blow [our] wreathèd horn.”
I’ve just returned from a five-day stay in beautiful Boulder, Colorado, where I attended the 20thannual British Women Writers Conference. I was lucky enough to have been accepted for a special session originally targeted for natural history, texts, and landscapes. Serendipitously, as the panel organizer told me, the more interesting proposals all treated not only the same author, but also the same text. Thus, the special session of “Charlotte Smith’s Natural Histories: Texts and Landscapes” was aptly described by a fellow panelist as a “Beachy Head fest.” In this installment of Reason & Romanticism, I consider the wonderful people, papers, panels, and places that were BWWC 2012.
Though literary scholars may investigate and complicate authorship as an object of study—what it means to be an author in a particular place, time, and culture—they rarely venture under the scaffolding of their own authorship as a subject. The problem isn’t lost on Kathleen Fitzpatrick, who provocatively challenges the Romantic model of scholarly authorship in Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy. Arguments are made in many ways, and I emphasize that arrangement makes an argument just as much as exposition does. The curatorial methodology and authorship that digital platforms facilitate present a unique opportunity to grow beyond what we might too easily imagine that we’ve already outgrown.
Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is one of the most widely read and referenced Romantic poems in popular culture today. The mariner forces his confession upon the wedding guest and doesn’t relinquish his vice-like hypnotism until the entire weird tale has been told. Another Romantic poem, Robert Southey’s “The Sailor, Who Had Served In The Slave Trade,” also takes a confession as its primary subject matter. The wedding guest of the “Rime” has no choice but to hear the mariner, while the audience in Southey’s “Sailor” seems driven by curiosity. To overhear a confession is an odd, somewhat creepy position, and when confession went secular and literary during the Romantic period, this discomfort wasn’t lost on the writers who explored the situation.
Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are familiar with both the literary and the “meta” in cinema. Their 2006 Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story followed the actors playing proxies of themselves playing roles in a film adaptation of Lawrence Sterne’s eighteenth-century novel about a man trying to represent himself in autobiography. Coogan and Brydon become almost-themselves once again in 2010’s The Trip, a television series edited into a movie. The plot is simple: Coogan tours restaurants in Northern England for a newspaper piece and Brydon tags along. Continuing the literary work of Shandy, The Trip delves into various aspects of Romantic literature, most prominently exploring the relationship between proxy-Coogan and proxy-Brydon as a modern analog to the relationship between Coleridge and Wordsworth.
Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (2006), regardless of its merits and flaws as a movie, is rooted in a historical tradition that began with the literary reaction to the eponymous queen’s imprisonment and execution during the French Revolution. Coppola’s film is examined alongside British literature contemporary with the Revolution to show how the literary practices of Romanticism have become a cultural legacy in which we continue to operate. Particular attention is given to audience empathy and politics versus domesticity.
** “Virtually Victorian” companion article: A New Way to Brontë