Shelley Conference, Institute for Advanced Study, University of London, September 2017
My article ‘Byron and the Difficulty of Beginning’ has been accepted for publication in the Review of English Studies. The beginnings of Byron’s longer poems reveal a number of anxieties about the poetic act of beginning. He dealt with these concerns in several ways: revising opening lines, using translations from other poets to begin his poems, repurposing lines he had written in another context, multiplying prefatory paratexts, or asking other people to make decisions about how his poems should begin. His poetic beginnings reflect a concern about whether his poems would find well-informed and sympathetic readers, and they are often concerned with what his readers can be expected to know. In his later poems, however, Byron overcame some of these anxieties as he developed a different understanding of beginnings. Beppo and Don Juan are sustained by beginning gestures, which recur repeatedly throughout the poems. These beginnings reflect the poems’ openness to contingency, which tends to make all beginnings necessarily provisional, in life as in art. The essay will appear in a forthcoming issue of the journal.
I’m very happy to have been invited to give the World Book Day Lecture at the University of Otago in New Zealand next March. World Book Day next year is on 1 March. I’m not quite sure what I’m going to talk about yet, but I’m planning to say something about the things we do with books and the things they do to us.
The University of Melbourne, 7 March 2018
Nick Mason and I organised a two-day conference to mark the bicentenary of the founding of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. It was attended by around 40 scholars from the UK, North America, Europe and Asia. There were great plenary lectures by Joanne Shattock and Mark Parker. We hope that the conference will help to focus research around Romantic and nineteenth-century periodicals in the future.
I’m off to the British Association of Romantic Studies conference at the Centre for Eighteenth-Century Studies, University of York. This is the leading academic conference in the UK for studies of Romantic literature and the Romantic period. The topic this year is ‘Romantic Improvement’. I’ll be talking about the ways in which Victorian preachers and religious writers tried to ‘improve’ the image of Percy Bysshe Shelley in their sermons and writings to make him more palatable to Victorian Christians.
I’m off to the Woodpeckings Conference at the British Museum in London later this week to give a paper. I’ll be talking about Victorian attitudes to illustrated books.
When Victorian readers encountered Romantic-period writings, they were not usually reading Romantic-period books. Instead, they mostly encountered Romantic writing in new editions, which supplied existing works with a new bibliographical format. Retro-fitting Romantic works with illustrations offered a way to naturalise them in the new media ecology and renovate them for a new generation of cultural consumers. Victorian commentators often identified illustrated books as a characteristically modern phenomenon. When the publisher Robert Cadell claimed in 1844 that his was ‘the age of graphically illustrated Books’, he reflected a widespread understanding among publishers and booksellers that the new popularity of book illustration had recently made illustrations a virtual necessity for commercial success. This paper will argue that many Victorians thought that the progress of book illustration was another manifestation of the generational shift that separated them from the Romantic period. They insisted not only that illustrated books were characteristic of the current moment, but also that their quality was one of the things that set that moment apart from the preceding age. I conclude that illustrations were often credited with the power to renew texts from the past and make them newly attractive in the present.
The conference has been organised by the Dalziel project at Sussex University
I’ve started correcting the proofs for my new book What the Victorians Made of Romanticism. The book will be published by Princeton University Press in the autumn. Correcting proofs is a painstaking business, but so far there are very few errors. Publishers hate authors who change their mind about things once the book has been typeset, because changes at this stage are expensive and delay production. So it’s too late to make any big changes to the book now.
Next week I’ll be giving a talk at the University of Uppsala in Sweden. The talk is called ‘What the Victorians Made of Romanticism’ and will outline some of the main arguments that underpin my new book. I’m looking forward to sharing these arguments and getting to discuss them with people before the book appears. While I’m in Sweden I’ll also be leading the ‘final seminar’ for a doctoral candidate at the University of Uppsala. Unlike in the UK and the US, where there’s a ‘viva voce exam’ or a ‘dissertation defence’ after the thesis is complete, in Sweden they send a draft of the thesis to an external examiner about eight months before it’s finished. That way the candidate gets to incorporate the examiner’s feedback in the final version of the thesis before it’s submitted.