As the scene opens, a brief shot catches a spy momentarily transfixed by a painting. That spy is James Bond, and that painting is Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up, 1838. Soon the as-yet-unidentified Q sits down to offer his barbed reading, and it hits close to home. Stung, Bond refuses to interpret the work of high Romantic elegy that had held his attention moments before—it’s just “a bloody big ship.” This denial is a concession: Bond tacitly admits the painting depicts what Q calls “the inevitability of time.”
Continue reading Elegy in Wordsworth, Turner, and James Bond
There’s a recurring question that springs to mind whenever I sit in the Starbucks in the Barnes & Noble in my little East Texas town and stare up at the mural of authors who all seem to have transcended time and space to have coffee alongside the hipsters: who put Oscar Wilde next to George Eliot, Rudyard Kipling, and Trollope? Seriously, is it any wonder that the man looks so bored? Wilde shouldn’t be surrounded by those Victorian fogies, he should be sipping gin with Truman Capote, Christopher Hitchens, Walt Whitman, and the one man who would almost certainly guarantee a good time, and who also happens to be the focus of this essay, George Gordon, Lord Byron. The reason for such inclusion is simple: Byron could be an absolutely trenchant satirist when he wanted to be. Byron, like Wilde, Capote or Hitchens, could bring out his own breed of sharp wit whenever someone at a dinner party decided to be cleverer than him, only to be left decimated in a single sentence by his superior rhetorical ability. I know this is a platitude, but sometimes I really wish I could have been a fly on the wall whenever Byron let loose one of those glorious aphorisms that sealed his entrance into the hall of “Truly Spectacular One Liners,” if only to see and understand how it was that Rodney Dangerfield sealed his membership before the poet. (Then again, when you’ve starred in Caddyshack, your “Immortality card” is pretty much secure, unless you’re that blond kid who was the protagonist, and does anybody have any clue what happened to that guy?) Continue reading Dear Mr. Southey, Jump in a Lake: Byron and Epic Humor
If there was one thing* I was completely unprepared for in my pursuit of a PhD, it was the toll grad school would take on my body. After working for several years post-college, I found returning to student life more physically draining than I expected: I hadn’t fully anticipated that my slightly older body would need more sleep and better food than it did in college, that the fonts on my computer would require some magnifying, or that my right wrist would come to demand the support of a carpal tunnel brace. While I realize the hardships of excessive sitting pale in comparison to, say, those of transportation to Botany Bay, that awareness couldn’t fully stop me from dwelling on the chair-bound grad student lifestyle’s surprising tendency to hurt, in places expected…and unexpected.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that as I learned how to take better care of myself as a grad student, I found myself gravitating towards health-related topics in my research. Or perhaps I simply felt vindicated by medical opinion new and old, both of which emphasized the evils of too much sitting. Indeed, Swiss physician Samuel August Tissot’s Essay on Diseases Incident to Literary and Sedentary Persons (1768; translated into English, 1769) would not seem out of place among the numerous recent articles detailing the threat posed by chairs, comfy and otherwise. Tissot’s medical advice is far from the only text that calls to mind current health preoccupations. In this post, I want to highlight a few of my favorites:
Continue reading Romantics, they’re just like you and me: Health fads of the 18th and 19th centuries
As fall returns, so does my teaching voice. I don’t talk much during the summer. In its disuse, my voice grows soft and listless. Speaking becomes slightly—just slightly, just at moments—unintuitive. The first words out of my mouth each morning make my body feel like a chance habitation, an improbable accident that naturalizes itself over the course of the day. The intuition at the core of this dissociation is probably accurate, except that it implies I’m somehow distinct from my body, somehow less of an accident than my body.
Continue reading Wordsworth, Cavarero, and the Voice
June 18, 2015 marked the two-hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, that decisive event that signaled the end of the Napoleonic Wars and, more broadly, constant military conflict on the European continent since 1756. Notable not only for Napoleon’s defeat by the combined forces of England, Prussia, and the Netherlands under the command of the Duke of Wellington and the Prince of Orange, Waterloo remains one of the bloodiest military conflicts in history with nearly 48,000 causalities in only ten hours. Yet, even more than a political turning point, Waterloo left an inedible mark on the period’s cultural productions; as graduate students studying Romanticism, we remember the battle in terms of the massive literary and artistic output it inspired. From Wordsworth’s “Thanksgiving Ode” to a theatrical production at Sadler’s Wells that included the song ‘The Bellerophon, or Nappy napped,'” Waterloo became a permanent fixture in Europe’s cultural memory. Continue reading Report from the Front: Professor Jeffrey N. Cox on the Waterloo Bicentennial
At the upcoming NASSR conference on “Romanticism and Rights” in Winnipeg, Canada this August, one of the headline events is the Aboriginal Rights Panel, which I expect many readers of this blog will attend. But what readers may not know is that Canada is at this moment at the centre of a deep and painful investigation into the ongoing legacies of the colonial maltreatment of Native people, which in June 2015 a Truth and Reconciliation Commission determined cultural genocide. Most of all, readers may not be aware of the pernicious influence of British Romanticism in forming the ideological conditions in which this cultural genocide took place. Continue reading Romanticism & Aboriginal Rights in Canada: A Primer
I submitted final grades on Friday, and after granting myself a long weekend to relax (i.e. clean my house and sleep a full 8 hours each night), I am settling into my summer. I am on fellowship for the next year, and without teaching responsibilities, I am writing full time. But, I do have travel plans to punctuate the summer slog and give me much needed inspiration and respite. Like many of you, I have NASSR in Winnipeg this August, where I get to see friends, colleagues, and scholar-idols. But what’s foremost on my radar is the History of Distributed Cognition Workshop in Edinburgh next month.
As I have mentioned before, I have the pleasure of participating in this workshop at the University of Edinburgh to discuss and refine my chapter on Keats’s and Wordsworth’s contrasting visions of embodied reading. The workshop is only three days, but I’ve decided to stay abroad for a week. Initially, I toyed with the idea of traveling south after the workshop. My heart is and always will be in London, and I’m very comfortable traveling around England. I’ve been there often enough to feel a pseudo-mastery of navigating the country, and by now, I feel it’s my second home. Continue reading A Summer Scotland Tour
By Peter N. Miller
Dedicated readers of William Wordsworth’s The Prelude must at some point grapple with the disconcerting question of which version of the poem they’re looking at.
In 1799 Wordsworth produced a fair-copy manuscript of what would later be called The Two-Part Prelude. Between 1801 and 1805 the poet drastically revised this material to create a longer autobiographical poem, which consisted at various points of five books, eight books, and thirteen books. Wordsworth continued to revise the work over the coming decades, breaking Book 10 in two in 1829 to create a fourteen-book Prelude. His most substantial final revisions came in 1839, yet the poem was still not published, in any form, until shortly after the poet’s death, in 1850. To confuse matters further, Wordsworth never actually called The Prelude by that name. For him it was always “the poem to Coleridge.” The poet’s widow, Mary Hutchinson, suggested the title The Prelude. There is not a poem called The Prelude, it would seem, but multiple poems, each with a certain claim to legitimacy. Continue reading Guest Post: A “Radiant” Digital Edition of Wordsworth’s Prelude?
One of the great advantages we have as scholars is the opportunity to form communities beyond our institutions — not just at annual conferences in remote locales, but also in ongoing conversations on the web. These online communities are fora for scholarly dialogue and informal queries, requests for crowdfunding special projects and historical sites, and repositories of archival material. Here’s a brief roundup of selected sites, listservs, and communities available to Romanticists (and if you know of more, please get in touch!).
(1) NASSR List — the list of the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (subscription required). The list is frequented by many major scholars in the field, but also graduate students and junior faculty; this is a particularly excellent resource for answers to obscure and arcane historical questions, and for links to major awards and opportunities in the field. Continue reading Romantic Web Communities
I’ve been thinking about the concept of wildness in the context of winter, and the idea of delirium seemed worth exploring to me. I had the skating episode of Wordsworth’s Prelude (Book I ll. 452-489) in mind, and especially the passage that begins with the wonderful line, “When we had given our bodies to the wind” (479).
Now, in the delirium of winter
I eat my breath
Warm and dribbling down thick scarves
And sip at wind
So thick it lies water-heavy in my mouth.
Meanwhile my vision, distracted,
Has lost the boundaries of sun, ice, snow,
All of them covered in wind
That drags them into each other.
But behind the wind
The cold slips in
Soft like snow,
Clearing out the heat
In brain and body.
The world is perfected –
Snowbanks sheared to stiff edges,
The blue lines of their shadows neat beside them,
The sunrise growing on trees,
And as the wind breaks on my cheekbones
I am sharpened to a blade