Romantic Landscapes, Part II

I was lucky enough, during one of the few trips I made into London from the West Country via rail, to catch a musical performance of Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner by the Trad Academy Sea Shanty Choir at historic Wilton’s Music Hall. The show was at 7:30 pm on 15 July, a Saturday; and because the last train back to Templecombe would leave Waterloo Station at precisely 9:20, I had to find lodgings in London for that night or risk getting “locked out” and, possibly, forced to pay through the nose for a few restless hours in a room that didn’t fit into my budget (this had happened once before, but is a story for a different day). I booked a room for that night in a nearby Chamberlain’s (the pub chain) hotel about a ten minute walk from the music hall. I showed up there several hours early, ate fish and chips, requested “iced tea” as my complimentary beverage (to the utter dismay of the bartender), climbed the five flights of stairs to my room (for the lift was broken), and took a nap. After the 140-minute train ride in, and another two hour walk from the station (I refused to pay for a cab), I knew that I needed to sleep or I would be unable to savor the coming performance.

During that interim, in which I courted my refreshment, there descended upon my brain in its recuperatory doldrums, a vision most sublime  . . .

Just kidding. The sublimity held its breath until that evening, as I was sitting in the balcony at Wilton’s, early to my seat as was my preference, and the lights began to dim. Everything about the interior of the music hall, like a Gothic spire which is designed to draw the eye of the beholder up to heaven, seemed coordinated to put the spectator in a mood for gazing upon the drama of history. When the lights went down – slowly, but not all the way, not yet – a reddish haze rose up and filled the room, of a piece with the soft, placid curtains concealing the rear of the stage. The ceiling was high, slightly domed, and covered with ornate woodwork. The seats and railings alike were of an old wood, and no attempt had been made to restore imperfections in the finish. In some places, I thought, there was no finish at all. In gazing about, and getting a somewhat gestalt sense of the place, I felt it trying to reach back into a bygone era, but tiring out still about a hundred years or so away from contemporaneity with the author of the Rime. Still, it seemed to me that Coleridge would have liked the room, perhaps; and would have relished a performance there of one of his most celebrated poems.

When the Sea Shanty choir began to file out onto the stage, and then to disperse itself into a kind of synchronized mob, I was struck by an aura of youthfulness and spontaneity which did not inhere so much in the bodies of the singers, as it emerged piecemeal from their improvised garb (a great variety of striped shirts), their stomping and clapping, a practiced restlessness, and a beguiling habit of wooping and calling things out impromptu during the performance of the prefatory songs, which they sang before getting to the Rime. After they had sang four or five traditional sea shanties, which I guessed had probably been arranged by one or two of their own, I heard to my great delight, as one came forward alone to tell a tale “as it happened to me,” the opening lines of Coleridge’s great poem:

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
‘By thy long beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

While I was thrilled to hear these lines, which I knew so well, sang to a room full of people who may not have heard them before, or not in many years, I did not feel the magic of the performance until the time came that the Mariner and his ship were trapped on the open sea, “like a painted ship upon a painted ocean.” The albatross, made entirely of white rope, which was in the shape of the bird, but also in the shape of the cross, hung around the neck of the Mariner, who assumed a Christ-like pose behind rows and rows of the bodies of his fellow seaman, the shanty-singers, who were all prone upon the stage. The Christian symbolism covertly or overtly (depending on one’s reading) situated in the poem, became reified by its central positioning on the stage and in the music hall, with the lifeless bodies of the singers, whom we had somewhat gotten to know, piled around the albatross-laden Mariner at the helm of the unmoving ship. And my heart leapt up, in rather a new way, when I heard the forlorn and forsaken Mariner utter those words, which to my mind (and I am not alone in this) constitute the poem’s poetic zenith:

O happy living things! no tongue
Their beauty might declare:
A spring of love gush’d from my heart,
And I bless’d them unaware:
Sure my kind saint took pity on me,
And I  bless’d them unaware.

If there was a triumph in a performance like this, aside from the obvious legwork that went into the practice, the costuming, the lighting, etc., and all which made the whole cohere, it was a triumph slightly divergent from that triumph which is attached to the rising action of the poem itself, which eventually climaxes in the Mariner’s reception of God’s grace. What we experienced was, in fact, a triumph of translation: bringing the drama of this very moment into the world, spoken in the language of objects and relational space. For as the Mariner spoke these words, all eyes saw the albatross, for so long stationary and dead, come alive again as it became magically unfastened from the doomed seaman’s neck, and then drop “like lead” onto the stage and out of sight; giving a sense, a real, lived sense, to the poematic action which only could have been understood within the chronologically ambivalent space of the imagination: whereas here, we experienced the dropping off of the albatross together, simultaneously and universally, as an event (to borrow a philosophical term). And at that moment Wilton’s Music Hall became, indeed, a kind of Romantic Landscape.

“Visualeyes-ing Intertextuality: Digital Humanities and the Curious Case of William Wells Brown’s Clotel

Looking out from the ship set to remove her from her native land forever, the eponymous heroine of William Wells Brown’s Miralda; or, The Beautiful Octoroon (1860-61) sings a bittersweet song:

Farewell, farewell to the land of my
birth, and welcome, welcome ye dark blue
waves. I care not where I go, so it is
‘Where a tyrant never trod,
Where a slave was never known,
But where nature worships God,
If in the wilderness alone.’ (II.31.83)

Miralda concludes the song by turning to her future husband, Devenant, and whispering into his ear, “Away, away, o’er land and sea / America is now no home for me” (II.31.83). The song reveals Miralda’s conflicted feelings about leaving her home, as the double “farewell, farewell” suggesting longing is counteracted by the double “welcome, welcome” to “dark blue / waves” transporting her to Europe. America is “no home” for Miralda because she, a slave, has no rights—and no future—there.

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Report from CSECS-SCEDHS 2016

I grew up in Toronto, but having lived on the west coast for the last five years, for me, one of the highlights of this year’s Canadian Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (CSECS-SCEDHS) conference was the chance to see snow! The conference was held in Kingston, Ontario, from October 26–30, 2016, and was sponsored by Qu20161109_160940een’s University and the Royal Military College of Canada. I watched the weather change from sunny and clear to grey and snowy on the train from Toronto to Kingston, and the stormy skies in Kingston were a fitting backdrop for the conference’s theme of Secret/s & Surveillance.

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“[I]n language strange”: Using Omeka to Bring (Digital) Archives to the Classroom

Students in survey poetry courses often encounter poems in anthologies. Poetry anthologies are comparatively inexpensive and well edited, and they offer an eclectic mix of brilliant work from a diverse set of authors. Much like the poems they contain, though, anthologies themselves can become sites of deep critical inquiry and fantastic resources for instructors wishing to train students on matters of book history and editorial practices. Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter, and Jon Stallworthy’s The Norton Anthology of Poetry (2005) offers a case in point: the decisions that the editors made when presenting John Keats’s famous ballad, “La Belle Dame sans Merci,” reveal some of the difficult choices that editors must make when compiling an anthology, and become an occasion for exploring the competing versions of Keats’s poem and the ways in which historical and contemporary editors have shaped its meaning.

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Frankenstein and Halloween

Frankenpug

As someone who has devoted much of her academic life to the work of Mary Shelley, the relationship between Frankenstein and Halloween has always interested me. In the 21st century, it is hard to think about Halloween without thinking about some of the iconic characters associated with the holiday: the Mummy, Dracula, and, of course, Frankenstein’s monster.

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Romantic Landscapes, Part I

I recently took a class in post-colonialism which was subtitled “Place and Space in Contemporary Anglo-American Literatures.” The professor wanted us to think like real estate agents: that is, to always be repeating the mantra “location, location, location” as we read various contemporary texts. One of the novels we read for class was V.S. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival, the autobiographical story of a Trinidadian writer who retires to the English countryside in Wiltshire, living in a guest cottage on the edge of a manor that has fallen into disrepair.

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What does a Romantic Classroom Look Like?

Reflections, questions, & forum for response.

The dawn of another academic year always comes with a slew of first year Teaching Assistants. Graduate students must now stand up in front of the classroom and, if any of them are like me, spend more time reflecting on their own learning processes than ever before in their academic life. Like so many gradate TAs I don’t have the option to choose which courses or syllabus to teach, but rather am assigned courses that vary between English Composition 100 and Intro to Literature. I’m not complaining as each opportunity provides the space to learn a new topic that otherwise might have slipped my academic history.

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Why We Blog

The debate about the role of social media in academia that took over my Twitter feed a few weeks ago (read about it in The Guardian and in Forbes) has prompted me to think about the role of blogging as well, particularly for graduate students, who are perhaps especially concerned about being seen as “serious academics.”

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Call for Bloggers, 2016–2017

Hello, Romanticists

As is traditional at this time of year, we are looking for bloggers to write for the NASSR Graduate Caucus blog!

Bloggers are asked to commit to contributing one post per month on a topic of their choice for the duration of the academic year, September to April.

If you’re interested in blogging, please email Caroline Winter, the Managing Editor, at winterc@uvic.ca, with a short statement of interest by Tuesday, September 27.

 

 

From the Fireplace to the Furnace: Journal Publishing from a Graduate Student’s Perspective

From the Fireplace to the Furnace: Journal Publishing from a Graduate Student’s Perspective

Devoney Looser’s recent article on journal publishing for graduate students and early-career scholars is as funny as it is informative. I certainly have fallen victim to imagining journal editors as either angels singing hymns of praise while reading my work or devils condemning my work and me to the furnace of eternal hellfire. As Professor Looser reminds us, however, editors are people—ones who sit at sometimes overcrowded desks rather than at fireplaces, and who do their best to balance the (far too often thankless) job of journal editor with myriad other professional and personal duties.

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Resources for Graduate Students of Romanticism