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Conference report for BARS 2013: Romantic Imports and Exports

The theme for the 13th BARS international conference was specifically chosen to draw on Southampton’s long history as a port city which has witnessed the launch of Henry V’s invasion fleet, the Mayflower and the Titanic. It has been a centre for trade between England and France since the 13th century, becoming a spa town in 1740 and a popular site for sea-bathing during the Romantic period. The conference organisers, Professor Stephen Bygrave and Dr Gillian Dow, chose the conference theme to encourage wide-ranging discussions on cross-cultural exchange, economics, translation and international networks.

Southampton Water

The conference was hosted by the Department of English and the Centre for Eighteenth-Century Studies at Southampton. It spanned four days, with eight parallel sessions including 43 panels, three plenary speakers, a special panel on Romantic-Period Manuscripts, a private viewing of the Hartley Library Special Collections exhibition, an interactive concert and a choice of optional excursions followed by the conference dinner. All of the events were located on the University’s Highfield campus, set in pleasantly landscaped grounds with cafes, bars and a bookshop. The weather held clear throughout the conference and delegates could often be seen wandering across the lawns or sitting by the ponds and water features between panels.

Thursday 25th July

Delegates began to arrive for registration at about 1.30, having visited the University accommodation at the nearby Glen Eyre Complex. The halls were located in attractive grounds approximately ten minutes walk from the main campus. The staff, students and conference organisers gave us all a warm welcome and the sun was shining benevolently as we arrived. The first plenary was given by Professor Simon Burrows from the University of Western Sydney and was entitled ‘Enlightenment Bestsellers?’. It was an excellent introduction to the conference themes of importation, translation, adaptation and economics. Simon Burrows is the founder and director of the highly acclaimed French book trade in Enlightenment Europe (FBTEE) project, and co-author of the project’s freely available on-line STN database. His keynote presentation was drawn from his current book which is based on the STN database, also entitled Enlightenment Bestsellers. This was followed by a tea and coffee break served with a selection of pastries and fruit, before the first parallel session began. It featured four panels on ‘Romantic America’, ‘Romantic Asia’, ‘Adventure, piracy and renovation in the booktrade’ and ‘Women writers in a global marketplace’. These panels demonstrate the wide-ranging approaches to the conference theme that delegates had taken, adapting the topic of Imports and Exports to their own far-reaching research interests.

Unfortunately, I can only comment on the panel that I attended, but my discussions with other delegates proved that all of the panels were popular and excited interesting discussions that flowed over into the coffee breaks. The ‘Women writers in a global marketplace’ panel featured Kerri Andrews (Strathclyde) ‘Ann Yearsley and the periodical press in the 1780s’, Lucy Cogan (Belfast) ‘Letitia Elizabeth Landon and the Commodification of Sentiment’ and Jacqueline Labbe (Warwick) ‘Incompetency: The Economics of Female Authorship’. The papers complimented each other very well and sparked a lengthy discussion about the complexities of being a woman writer in the eighteenth century, and the difficult task of balancing femininity with a desire to publish and engage in commerce. The next parallel session followed straight after, with panels on ‘British Romanticism in Japan’, ‘Theatre’, ‘Salon, Tour and Periodical

Travellers’ and ‘Sympathetic Exchange in the Historical Novel’. I attended the last panel and heard papers by Fiona Price (Chichester) ‘The Historical Novel and the People in the Post-French Revolution’, Helen Stark (Newcastle) ‘Challenging the European Man of Feeling, Nationalism, and Liberty in Madame de Staël’s Corinne, or Italy (1807)’ and Raphaël Ingelbien (Leuven) ‘Thomas Colley Grattan: a forgotten importer/exporter of historical fiction between the British Isles and the continent’. Again, this panel generated lively discussions on international concepts of masculinity, the importation and translation of popular texts, and the influence of the French Revolution on cultural exchange.

The first day drew to a close with a wine reception in the Hartley Library. Stephen Bygrave and Gillian Dow gave a welcome speech and invited us all to view the Special Collections Gallery exhibition ‘ “When a Traveller Is in a Strange Place”: Perspectives on Romanticism and Revolution, 1790–1840’. The exhibition featured images of Netley Abbey—one of the excursion locations—and Romantic perspectives on revolution, travel and importation. Afterwards we retired to eat at several of Southampton’s restaurants and bars.

Friday 26th July

Breakfast was served on the Highfield campus, with a choice of cooked or continental fare. The first session of the day began with panels on ‘East/West Romantic Transits and Transferences I’, ‘Transatlantic Romanticism’ ‘Romantic Transports’, ‘Now and in Ireland’, ‘Import, Intertext and Author’ and ‘European Wars’. I heard three excellent papers by Octavia Cox (St Anne’s College, Oxford) ‘A mutual commerce makes Poetry flourish’, Angela Wright (Sheffield) ‘Gentlemen behaving badly: the English author in France’ and Natalie Harries (Aberdeen) ‘Supreme Reality or Fruitful Falsity: Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Potentates of Inmost Ind’. Their papers focused on male authors during the Romantic period and the culture of travel, exchange and adaptation that grew up around and between them. The discussion that followed questioned the concept of plagiarism in Romantic poetry and prose, and the intricate web of exchange, borrowing, reference and repetition that is formed through this series of dedications and homages.

After coffee, there was a special panel on ‘Romantic-Period Manuscripts’ by Kathryn Sutherland and Freya Johnston (St Anne’s College, Oxford) and Andrew Honey (Bodleian Library). Their papers discussed the production, content and sale of manuscripts. Focusing on them as physical objects of interests, the speakers described the way that manuscripts were made, edited, printed, corrected, revised and the economics of selling them to publishers. It raised a lot of interesting questions about the publishing houses, booksellers and the Romantic literary marketplace.

Lunch was followed by panels on ‘East/West Romantic Transits and Transferences II’, ‘Romantic Spain I: The Spectacle of Spain: Peninsularity and Visual Culture in Britain’, ‘Romantic Translations and Adaptations’, ‘Coleridge’, ‘Imported Commodities’ and ‘Dissent abroad’. These parallel sessions featured papers on Anglo-Indian cultural exchange, art prints, translation, Coleridge’s imaginative imports, bagpipes, fruit, hymns and the marketplace. The range of subjects attests to the reach of the conference topic and the exciting array of research being undertaken in Romantic studies to date. After a tea break there were panels on ‘Exploring Walter Scott’, ‘Romantic Spain II: Spain and Romantic Print Culture’, ‘Maritime Selves’, ‘Austen at home and abroad’ and ‘Gaelic Imports and Exports’. Followed by a final session including ‘Romantic Spain III: The Spanish Front: Fighting, Writing and Remembering’, ‘Navigating Theory’, ‘Romantic Southampton and Hampshire’, ‘Home and colonial’, ‘Charlotte Smith’ and ‘Histories after Romanticism’. Unfortunately I cannot comment on the afternoon sessions as I was preparing to give my own paper in the final panel: ‘Charlotte Smith: Importing a Revolution. I had a walk around the campus grounds and found a quiet spot near the pond to run through my paper. I was joined on my panel by Bethan Roberts (Liverpool) ‘Giddy Brinks and Lucid Lines: Charlotte Smith’s Seascape Sonnets’ and Mark Bennett (Sheffield) ‘Exporting the Picturesque in Charlotte Smith’s Revolutionary Fiction’. The three papers worked wonderfully together, giving an overview of her poetry, early fiction and later novels. Roberts discussed Smith’s poetry, the narrative voice and the representation of female madness. Bennett analysed Smith’s early novels, particularly Desmond (1792), and her use of travel writing and landscape description to confront issues of ownership and hierarchy raised by the French Revolution. My own paper assessed Smith’s changing attitudes towards Britain as the Revolution failed and British politics became increasingly reactionary and hostile towards reformers. The discussion following the papers tied them all together with a conversation on Smith’s politics, attitudes towards the domestic sphere and the role of women in British society.

To round the day off, there was an interactive concert—‘The Quadrille and Cotillion Panorama’—in the Turner Sims Concert Hall that consisted of a talk, a concert and then a workshop. Musicologist Katrina Faulds gave a short talk about the export and import of early nineteenth-century social dancing and the tension between English and continental influences at the time. She performed some the little known folk-tunes that became the basis for ‘high art’ music designed for the leisured domestic market. Students and staff from the Department of Music then joined in to accompany the dance ensemble La Belle Assemblée in performing some selected works. After which delegates were invited to learn some of the popular country dances, cotillions and quadrilles that made up an evening of Regency dancing.

Saturday 27th July

Saturday began with a parallel session, with panels on ‘Women Scientific Travellers and Writers’, ‘Cross-Channel Imports and Exports’, ‘Imported Pictures’, ‘Borrowing and Lending’, ‘Exchanges between science and poetry’ and ‘The Godwins and the Shelleys’. This was followed by the second plenary speaker; Paul Hamilton (Queen Mary, London) speaking on ‘Future Restoration’. His paper focused on the restoration enacted at the Congress of Vienna following the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. He discussed revolution, heroism and restoration in relation to major Romantic figures such as Coleridge, Keats and Byron, and discussed the multi-layered phenomenon of revisionism with regards to second-generation Romantic writing in English and its European counterparts. His paper once again reinforced some major themes running throughout the conference; those of revolution, importation and adaptation. Afterwards, there was a packed lunch provided to take with us in the afternoon as we all embarked on our conference excursions. Some delegates headed off to the Chawton House Library and visited Jane Austen’s House Museum, while the rest of us drove to Netley Abbey and then on to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

Netley Abbey (c) Anthony Mandal

Netley Abbey (c) Anthony Mandal

Netley Abbey is the most complete surviving Cistercian monastery in southern England, consisting of a 13th-century church and several monastic buildings. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries between 1536 and 1541, the buildings were given to Sir William Paulet and converted into a mansion house. It was used as a country house until the beginning of the eighteenth century, after which it was abandoned and descended into ruins. Subsequently, the site became a popular tourist attraction and provided inspiration for several Romantic poets and artists, including Thomas Gray, George Keate, William Sotheby, and Richard Warner who published Netley Abbey, a Gothic Story in 1795. On the way to the ruins, we were given an introduction by Diane Hoeveler, who gave her paper on the abbey the following morning. We also visited the Portsmouth Dockyards where some delegates went onboard the HMS Victory. Launched in 1765 at Chatham Dockyard and commissioned in 1778, the HMS Victory continued in active service for 34 years which included her part as Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. We also saw the HMS Warrior, visited the Mary Rose Museum, the National Museum of the Royal Navy and went on a 45-minute boat tour of the harbour to see the modern warships. The trip was complemented by copious amounts of ice-cream and dockyard souvenirs, before we returned on the coach to prepare for the conference dinner.

Sunday 28th July

The last day of the conference saw panels on ‘Exploring Netley Abbey: Text and Contexts’, ‘Byron Exported’, ‘Gothic Imports and Exports’, ‘Improvement and Globalisation’, ‘P.B. Shelley in Athens and Paris’. I attended the Netley Abbey panel with papers by Dale Townshend (Stirling) ‘ “Illusion now repeoples all the Void”: The Poetics of Netley Abbey, 1764–1834’, Jim Watt (York) ‘Drinking Tea among the Ruins’ and Diane Hoeveler (Marquette) ‘Richard Warner’s Netley Abbey and the Gothic Ruins Discourse’. The papers gave an excellent and comprehensive overview of the inspiration that Netley Abbey has provided for poetry, prose, art and sight-seeing. Jim Watt’s paper focused on the cultural aspects of Netley Abbey and the tourism that it brought to the region, while Dale Townshend and Diane Hoeveler discussed the range of literature that the ruin has generated. Meanwhile, other papers were being presented on exporting Byron, Matthew Lewis’s The Monk, Charlotte Dacre’s Zofloya, early Jewish-American drama, Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer, Percy Shelley and Sir Walter Scott.

To end the conference, there was a third plenary – the Stephen Copley Memorial Lecture – given by Deidre Shauna Lynch (Toronto) ‘Books on the Move’. This keynote lecture drew on her new project on reading, collecting, clipping and scrapbooking, as well as the general nature of the book in the early nineteenth century. She discussed the friendship albums that were popular in the late Romantic period and there use as vehicles for transcribing verse, composing poems, displaying water landscapes, silhouettes, pressed flowers and handicrafts. It raised once again an interesting topic which had been previously discussed during the conference: that of plagiarism and borrowing. Lynch highlighted the  way that transcribed poems became assimilated into the writers own language, altered, rearranged and denied proper referencing, so that the work of famous poets became inseparable from the writer’s thoughts. This was an interesting microcosm view of the major issues of piracy, importation, adaptation and cross-cultural exchange that the conference as a whole had focused on. This trans-Atlantic ‘traffic in poems’ as Lynch quoted from Meredith McGill, highlighted the increasing mobility of people and things in the Romantic period and the emphasis on nostalgia, nationalism and trade that was becoming progressively more important at the time.

Deidre Lynch: plenary paper (c) Anthony Mandal

The conference was rounded off with a goodbye speech by the organisers and a round of applause for everyone who had worked so hard to plan, arrange and host the thirteenth biennial BARS international conference. As delegates said their goodbyes and headed to the train station, there was a general buzz of conversation as the theme of Imports and Exports continued to generate new ideas and ways of thinking about the Romantic period.

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