Week in Review: Hemans, Romantic Geographies, and Final Thoughts

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During our final class meeting, Felicia Hemans’s “Casabianca” returned us to the scene of naval battle, specifically the Mediterranean theater of many of the conflicts following the French Revolution. “Casabianca” sparked quite a heated discussion in class due to the poem’s sentimentality, its apparent alignment of patriotism with filial duty, and its focus on French casualties of war with Britain. It proved a fitting end to the class, which has in many ways been a semester-long conversation about the interplay between private and public feeling.

“Casabianca” also offers an opportunity for some final reflection on the geography of our syllabus. Much of the poetry we read was driven by a sense of the local within Britain, whether Burns’s Scots dialect, Wordsworth’s approach to rural life in the Lake District, or Clare, who seems to have framed “nature” in terms of particular plots of earth, rather than as a grand abstraction. But from the start, we saw Romantic-era writers turning outward as well, and countenancing Britain’s place within a wider world. Some of the first works we read together framed the 1790s as a decade of revolutions stretching from France to Haiti. As the semester rolled on, we found Romantic writers continuing to invoke Britain’s global sphere of action, even after Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo. Think of Byron’s lament, at the outset of Don Juan, that the age of naval heroes, of Nelson at Trafalgar, seems a thing of the past; or Jane Austen’s Persuasion, set during a lull in the Napoleonic Wars, with characters recounting their experience in Honduras, the Bahamas, and other parts of the “West Indies.”

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However, this mapping exercise also showed that there are limitations to thinking about “location” or “setting” strictly in terms of the physical, measurable globe: “Setting” or “place” can also “literary texts, after all, also track attitudes and ideas about place. Those ideas are often culturally and historically specific, like “Honduras” (which includes modern-day Belize) or “Darien” on the Caribbean map above. It would also include texts that are pointedly vague (like the Ancient Mariner’s use of equatorial and polar settings). And, perhaps most significantly, it would include cases in which the location tells us more about British writers’ sense of foreign locales than any actual point on the globe: how might we represent the homogenized “East” of De Quincey’s Orientalist nightmares, or the indeterminate Greek and Turkish settings of Byron’s “Eastern tales”? (If you would like to think more about these knottier aspects, especially representing subjective data, a good place to start would be Johanna Drucker’s 2011 essay “Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display.”)

Finally, on a personal note, I want to thank you all for a great, thought-provoking semester. It’s always a pleasure to find new ways of reading a text, and this term we produced new insights about a number of them, from Barbauld to Shelley to Austen. I look forward to the culmination of your final projects, and hope that a restful break follows. It is well-deserved.

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Keats Google Doc

With a nod to those writing papers on Keats, here is the Google Doc for today’s note-taking on Keats, medievalism, femmes fatales, and the related topics we discuss during the class.


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Week in Review: “National Song,” “National Tale,” and Nationhood

Yesterday’s discussion centered on the Romantic-era vogue for “national tales” and “national songs,” two modes that were often linked to theories of “national character.” (To build on yesterday’s discussion of Byron, the Hebrew Melodies, and the geography of “character,” we might think back to Don Juan‘s troubling claims about the influence of geography upon morals, when the narrator contrasts the “moral North” and the passionate “southern nations.”) Walter Scott’s “The Two Drovers” brings some of those issues into play, especially in his caricatures of Highland superstition; but our main concern in class was how the tale portrays Britain as an amalgam of local cultures, languages, and codes that are not always easy to reconcile with one another.

Indeed, Scott’s cultural legacy stems from the way he addressed those stories of Scottish-English conflict–especially the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745–and made them serve the interests of British nationalism. With his novels, poetry, and work as a ballad collector, Scott helped turn a bloody history of conflict into a source of cultural heritage, something that could persist in memory even as it ceased to signify political opposition. One clear sign of that change, which we looked at in class yesterday, was the way Scott orchestrated the performance of Scottish national identity during George IV’s 1822 visit to Edinburgh. This was the first visit to Scotland by a British monarch since the civil wars of the 17th century, and it served as an occasion to celebrate the union of the two nations. Celebrating distinctively “Scottish culture” (really, in Scott’s scripting, an amalgam of Highland and medieval costumes, music, and rituals) could ultimately serve as a local celebration of Britishness. George IV even wore a kilt, and presented himself (on Scott’s suggestion) as being equally Hanoverian and Jacobite, a monarch both English and Scottish in spirit.

Chorus from “Both Sides the Tweed,” Jacobite Reliques (1819); click the image to view the full volume via Google Books.

What we see, then, is Jacobite history becoming, paradoxically, an aid to the Union, to the sense that local, Scottish identity was part of a broader British identity. That interest marks many of the songs James Hogg collects in his Jacobite Reliques, with which we spent the rest of the class. Continue reading

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In-class writing: Shelley and Clare

Today we will be conducting our class discussion in four small groups, and each group will add parts of its discussion to a collaborative Google doc (which will, as a result, track the collective conversation). For those working on their own devices, here is the link for the doc:


*Update 11/20/12: This exercise produced some useful readings of all three poems; Shelley’s framing (“Bird thou never wert”) challenges some more straighforward, cursory readings of Clare’s poetry, and vice versa: Clare’s literalism and detailism prompted some of us to reconsider Shelley’s poem as implying an approach to real animal life (rather than simply making the skylark a figure for a better version of human life). The document remains open for editing.

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New Reviews, Upcoming Assignments

Reviews of digital resources are continuing to appear on the course blogs, and the full list can now be found under the “Reviews” tab. Take a look—and while you’re browsing, keep your eyes peeled for that text you want to add to our end-of-semester anthology. Recent reviews include an overview of the Romantic Circles project (at Cloudless Climes and Starry Skies), a review of that project’s digital edition of Lyrical Ballads (from Confessions from the Batcave), and U Colorado-Boulder’s Women Writers of the Romantic Period archive (reviewed by Purple Camaraderie).

To help you manage your time for the rest of the term, here’s a summary of what lies ahead. First, there are the two short blogging exercises, which some of you have already completed. If you haven’t published it yet, your review is due in before the last week of classes, and fulfills your blogging requirement for that week. The same goes for your “find-and-retrieve” mission, in which you use one of those resources (perhaps the one you reviewed, perhaps one a classmate’s review showed you) to choose a short text or excerpt to add to our end-of-semester anthology. Among other things, this is an opportunity for you to make the whole class read something!

Second, there is the two-part final project. Today, you’ll turn in your annotated bibliography on the topic we discussed during the first round of writing conferences. In our second round of conferences, we’ll talk about how to develop your preliminary research into a specific, focused topic for the final paper. And during class, we’ll take some time to talk about the role of a “literature review” or “critical history” section in a literary-critical essay.

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Reviews: Penn Sound, Jane Austen Fiction Manuscripts

Our first two reviews are in, and in different ways they are each well-timed.

First, The Romantic Shea has reviewed Penn Sound, in continuation of our ongoing conversation about poetry, voice, and music. As you look for the text you want to add to our syllabus, you may well decide to choose one we can encounter in multiple media. Additionally, Penn Sound would be a great way to get your weekly poetry fix, as we continue to take Anne Elliot’s recommendation for “a larger allowance of prose in [our] daily study” (79).

Meanwhile, our current immersion in Persuasion makes it a good time to check out Jane Austen Fiction Manuscripts, a digital archive that Estudiante del Romance has reviewed for us. Among other things, this resource might help link some of the Fate of the Book discussions to our current reading. (In case you missed the “Preservers” panel last Thursday, by the way, you can read a write-up from Psychometamorphosis.) The archive holds the final two chapters of Persuasion, which differ significantly from the final published version. (An edited version of this “original ending” is also included in our critical edition.) I’ll be interested to see what looking at the manuscript can add to our conversation, and encourage you to take up that challenge for Thursday.

I’ll keep you posted as additional reviews come in, above all so that we can use these resources during the remainder of the term.

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Mapping Romanticism

Yesterday ended with some interesting but brief thoughts on the geography of our syllabus, a train of thought brought on by the strange and troubling way that De Quincey describes his fear and loathing of all points East, betraying what scholar Nigel Leask has called the “anxiety of empire.” De Quincey even collapses China, India, and Egypt into one geographically vague, horrific opium-dream. To follow up on some of your resulting questions (where is De Quincey’s anxiety coming from? How else have our readings been thinking beyond Britain’s borders?), I’ve started a ScribbleMap to help us map our readings.

Click to view, edit, and add locations (note: not mobile-friendly)

“ScribbleMaps” is a tool for collaboratively creating overlays for Google Maps. By clicking on the map above, you can all edit and add to it (no account needed). Let’s think about how mapping the locations shown, addressed, or considered in our readings can help us think about British identity, Romanticism’s global consciousness, and writing in what has been called both an “Age of Revolution” and an “Age of Empire.” How have our readings thought through “Britishness” in relation to the various nations and regions within Britain? To European nations like France and Germany? In relation to British colonies and trade routes?

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