BARS 2017: Romantic Improvement Recap

For this week’s blog post I thought I’d give a recap of our friends at BARS’s annual conference this past July. The theme of the 15th International Conference was “Romantic Improvement,” and was hosted at the gorgeous King’s Manor in York, July 27-30th. Plenary speakers included Catherine Hall, Jane Rendall, Nigel Leask, and Jon Klancher.

The conference boasted a wide variety of panels and topics, including travel narratives, ecocriticism, print culture, biography and life-writing, networks, the laboring class, and theatricality. The usual Romantic authors were represented in standalone/paired up panels, such as Coleridge and Wordsworth, while others were excitingly elevated to single-panel fame, such as Hester Thrale Piozzi. As someone who works on Romantic female novelists, I was pleased to see an almost equal number of panels dedicated to women writers (Austen, Burney, Mary Shelley, Wollstonecraft, Hester Thrale Piozzi) as to male authors (Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Scott, Galt, Hogg, Byron, Keats, Blake). There was, however, a lack of representation of Romantic female poets in single-author panels—where was the L.E.L panel? The Hemans panel? The Seward panel? This is no one’s fault, though I think it does point to a field-wide trend to study male poets and female novelists–but the incredible work currently being done on Romantic female poets will soon change that.

There was a lot of buzz surrounding certain panels, particularly an entire panel devoted to the Lady’s Magazine. But I don’t think anything could top the overwhelming excitement for the final day’s “David Bowie as Romantic Improvement.”

The lovely conference venue–fit for Romantic Royalty!

King’s Manor was a gorgeous venue for the conference, and you can’t ask for a more stunning backdrop than York, even if it was rainy and folks had a very soggy walk back from the postgraduate social in the Fossgate. The conference was superbly organized (did I mention you got 20% off the ice cream cart in the square as a delegate? Discounted! Ice cream!) and I felt very welcomed as a graduate student.

At the opening night Wine Reception we were treated to two performances by Le Strange & Maxim entitled “Lyrical (Power) Ballads” and “Now That’s What I Call Coleridge! 1983.” While initially being very confused (having come in halfway through and not had quite enough wine), I was soon laughing hysterically at their mash-ups of Romantic poems and 80s power ballads, with appearances by Kubla Klan, Brexit, Christabel, and more.

Maxim & Le Strange performed Lyrical (Power) Ballads at the wine reception. Photo by @bars_official

The conference was warm, collegial, and full of brilliant, kind graduate students. I made a lot of new friends that weekend, particularly on the trip to Castle Howard excursion. Do you know how nice it is to be surrounded by people who get your jokes about Lorrain paintings and ha-has? Of course you do. As is the point of such conferences, it was really wonderful to get so many Romanticists together in one room (or in one castle, in this case).

The magnificent Castle Howard–one of BARS 2017’s excursions

There’s so much more to be said about this wonderful conference, but I’ll end by saying I heartily recommend it to any NASSR grads who find themselves across the pond in 2019. BARS also hosts a Postgraduate and Early Career Conference, and is a fantastic resource for all Romanticists. Many thanks to Mary Fairclough, Jon Mee, Deborah Russell, Jim Watt, and Joanna Wharton, the conference organizers. I will surely return.