Important Update: MLA 2017 Special Session on Godwin and Shelley

A Special Session to be held at the 2017 MLA Annual Convention (Philadelphia, 5-8 January) on Thursday 5 January, 1:45-3:00 p.m., 104B, Pennsylvania Convention Center

Owing to the sad demise on 20 November 2016 of our colleague, the distinguished and much loved scholar Charles E. Robinson, this Special Session will now be made up of the first two papers listed below. It will be chaired by Stuart Curran.

Reloading the Romantic Canon: New Texts and Contexts from Godwin, Shelley, and Hazlitt

Until the last two decades of the twentieth century, the canon of British Romantic authors installed by the Victorians looked fixed, though its boundaries were constantly debated. It gave primacy to the ‘big six’ poets — Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake, Byron, Keats, and Shelley — the most significant modern adjustment being the replacement of Sir Walter Scott by the tradesman-class visionary Blake. Things could not go on like that for much longer. Since the 1980s, there has been recovery, recontextualization, and rehistoricization of both established and previously little-known authors on a grand scale. Many new texts have appeared in the classroom. Study of the literary past continues to yield a constant stream of discoveries, providing evidence and new angles of interpretation which disturb existing certitudes. The subject of this session is work in progress by scholarly editors, based on new finds of archival and rare printed material, which is further reshaping the Romantic canon. It is hoped that the session will catalyse the interest of younger members of the profession, helping to nurture the next generation of textual scholars. The session will comprise three fifteen-minute presentations, leaving ample time for discursive synergies.

Presiding: Pamela Clemit, Queen Mary University of London

‘The Signal of Regard: William Godwin’s Correspondence Networks’ — Pamela Clemit, Queen Mary University of London

godwin-lawrence-15Pamela Clemit takes as her subject new letters emerging from the archive and being published in her Oxford University Press edition of The Letters of William Godwin, 6 vols. in progress (2011-). She seeks to recover the culture of reciprocity which was sustained by letter-writers in an era without email or telephone. She argues that the letter is a gift of attention, in which the writer seeks to communicate regard by means of a signal crafted uniquely for the recipient. The concept of ‘regard’ (as developed by the economic historian Avner Offer) overlaps with its dual common meaning, indicating both attention and approbation. David Hume and Adam Smith took it to be the driver of human exchange in emotions as much in commerce. The exchange of regard is a key which captures the logic of a prodigious correspondent like Godwin. The personalisation of the gift-signal confers an obligation to reciprocate. Godwin was self-conscious about this obligation and worked hard to fulfil it — with varying degrees of success. His correspondence encompassed just about every significant literary and political figure on the political left from the era of the French Revolution to the 1832 Reform Act, and was nourished by bonds of reciprocity. His letters embodied a larger conversation, allowing intimacy to be preserved at a distance. This conversation is so rich and intense that, in many cases, Godwin’s letters might be considered as substantive additions to the literary canon.

Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things: A Newly Recovered Poem by Shelley and its Contexts’ — Michael Rossington, University of Newcastle

1024px-Percy_Bysshe_Shelley_by_Alfred_Clint-25.jpgMichael Rossington, one of the lead editors of The Poems of Shelley in the Longman Annotated English Poets series, 5 vols. in progress (1989-), focuses on a previously unknown, newly published poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things. This poem, composed by Shelley at the age of eighteen and published in 1811, just before he was expelled from University College, Oxford, invites a reconfiguration of the canon of Shelley’s poems. The only copy known to exist came to light in 2006, but it was not made public until it was published on the Bodleian Library’s website in 2015. Rossington examines the text and contexts of Poetical Essay. He explores its overtly political content, including its publication (as declared on the title-page) to raise funds for the Irish war correspondent Peter Finnerty, then imprisoned for libelling Castlereagh, and its alignment with the reformist politics of Sir Francis Burdett. He situates the poem in relation to Shelley’s earliest published works of 1810 and 1811, and to the manuscripts of Shelley’s earliest writing in the Bodleian Library, the Pforzheimer Collection of the New York Public Library, and other archives. This newly published poem invites a far-reaching reassessment both of Shelley’s early thought and of his oeuvre as a whole.

‘William Hazlitt and his Liber Amoris Letters to Peter George Patmore’ — Charles E. Robinson, University of Delaware

1024px-william_hazlitt_portrait-25Charles E. Robinson turns the spotlight on a text deplored by the Victorians and by early twentieth-century critics, but accepted into the Romantic canon in the early 1980s: William Hazlitt’s Liber Amoris; Or, The New Pygmalion (1823). This epistolary narrative tells the story of the author’s sexual obsession with his landlady’s daughter, Sarah Walker. Robinson is preparing a comprehensive new edition of Hazlitt’s letters, which corrects and augments The Letters of William Hazlitt, ed. Herschel M. Sikes et al (New York, 1978). Robinson presents findings arising from his re-editing of the texts of the sixteen letters written in 1822 to Peter George Patmore which formed the basis of Hazlitt’s book. He provides a new sequence and dates for those letters; restores omitted passages, including sexual references to Sarah Walker that were heavily cancelled by both Hazlitt and Patmore; and provides new evidence of the manner in which Hazlitt prepared printer’s copy for John Hunt’s 1823 edition of the anonymously published Liber Amoris. Such evidence raises new critical questions about a text that we thought we knew well, showing (for the first time) how it came into being, and complicating its canonical status.

The texts to be discussed in this session form part of a flow of discoveries from the archives (and from the book dealers). They place canonical creation in an entirely new light. They make possible many new critical questions, explorations, and interpretations. They shift attention away from Romantic texts as singular, individual responses to external stimulation. New archival findings constitute a different medium for the Romantic sensibility: they reveal dense networks of obligation and interaction, for which the mode of transmission is handwritten words on paper. We are not dependent solely on print to capture the content and experience of a cultural movement. A printed text can be lost to its own time — as Shelley’s poem was — and rediscovered in ours. For those engaged full-time with the Romantic canon and its classroom application, whether as teachers or scholars, such findings make passing on the torch of knowledge a pleasure as well as a duty.

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Announcement: MLA 2017 Special Session on Godwin, Shelley, and Hazlitt

A Special Session to be held at the 2017 MLA Annual Convention (Philadelphia, 5-8 January) on Thursday 5 January, 1:45-3:00 p.m., 104B, Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Reloading the Romantic Canon: New Texts and Contexts from Godwin, Shelley, and Hazlitt

Until the last two decades of the twentieth century, the canon of British Romantic authors installed by the Victorians looked fixed, though its boundaries were constantly debated. It gave primacy to the ‘big six’ poets — Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake, Byron, Keats, and Shelley — the most significant modern adjustment being the replacement of Sir Walter Scott by the tradesman-class visionary Blake. Things could not go on like that for much longer. Since the 1980s, there has been recovery, recontextualization, and rehistoricization of both established and previously little-known authors on a grand scale. Many new texts have appeared in the classroom. Study of the literary past continues to yield a constant stream of discoveries, providing evidence and new angles of interpretation which disturb existing certitudes. The subject of this session is work in progress by scholarly editors, based on new finds of archival and rare printed material, which is further reshaping the Romantic canon. It is hoped that the session will catalyse the interest of younger members of the profession, helping to nurture the next generation of textual scholars. The session will comprise three fifteen-minute presentations, leaving ample time for discursive synergies.

Presiding: Pamela Clemit, Queen Mary University of London

‘The Signal of Regard: William Godwin’s Correspondence Networks’ — Pamela Clemit, Queen Mary University of London

godwin-lawrence-15Pamela Clemit takes as her subject new letters emerging from the archive and being published in her Oxford University Press edition of The Letters of William Godwin, 6 vols. in progress (2011-). She seeks to recover the culture of reciprocity which was sustained by letter-writers in an era without email or telephone. She argues that the letter is a gift of attention, in which the writer seeks to communicate regard by means of a signal crafted uniquely for the recipient. The concept of ‘regard’ (as developed by the economic historian Avner Offer) overlaps with its dual common meaning, indicating both attention and approbation. David Hume and Adam Smith took it to be the driver of human exchange in emotions as much in commerce. The exchange of regard is a key which captures the logic of a prodigious correspondent like Godwin. The personalisation of the gift-signal confers an obligation to reciprocate. Godwin was self-conscious about this obligation and worked hard to fulfil it — with varying degrees of success. His correspondence encompassed just about every significant literary and political figure on the political left from the era of the French Revolution to the 1832 Reform Act, and was nourished by bonds of reciprocity. His letters embodied a larger conversation, allowing intimacy to be preserved at a distance. This conversation is so rich and intense that, in many cases, Godwin’s letters might be considered as substantive additions to the literary canon.

Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things: A Newly Recovered Poem by Shelley and its Contexts’ — Michael Rossington, University of Newcastle

1024px-Percy_Bysshe_Shelley_by_Alfred_Clint-25.jpgMichael Rossington, one of the lead editors of The Poems of Shelley in the Longman Annotated English Poets series, 5 vols. in progress (1989-), focuses on a previously unknown, newly published poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things. This poem, composed by Shelley at the age of eighteen and published in 1811, just before he was expelled from University College, Oxford, invites a reconfiguration of the canon of Shelley’s poems. The only copy known to exist came to light in 2006, but it was not made public until it was published on the Bodleian Library’s website in 2015. Rossington examines the text and contexts of Poetical Essay. He explores its overtly political content, including its publication (as declared on the title-page) to raise funds for the Irish war correspondent Peter Finnerty, then imprisoned for libelling Castlereagh, and its alignment with the reformist politics of Sir Francis Burdett. He situates the poem in relation to Shelley’s earliest published works of 1810 and 1811, and to the manuscripts of Shelley’s earliest writing in the Bodleian Library, the Pforzheimer Collection of the New York Public Library, and other archives. This newly published poem invites a far-reaching reassessment both of Shelley’s early thought and of his oeuvre as a whole.

‘William Hazlitt and his Liber Amoris Letters to Peter George Patmore’ — Charles E. Robinson, University of Delaware

1024px-william_hazlitt_portrait-25Charles E. Robinson turns the spotlight on a text deplored by the Victorians and by early twentieth-century critics, but accepted into the Romantic canon in the early 1980s: William Hazlitt’s Liber Amoris; Or, The New Pygmalion (1823). This epistolary narrative tells the story of the author’s sexual obsession with his landlady’s daughter, Sarah Walker. Robinson is preparing a comprehensive new edition of Hazlitt’s letters, which corrects and augments The Letters of William Hazlitt, ed. Herschel M. Sikes et al (New York, 1978). Robinson presents findings arising from his re-editing of the texts of the sixteen letters written in 1822 to Peter George Patmore which formed the basis of Hazlitt’s book. He provides a new sequence and dates for those letters; restores omitted passages, including sexual references to Sarah Walker that were heavily cancelled by both Hazlitt and Patmore; and provides new evidence of the manner in which Hazlitt prepared printer’s copy for John Hunt’s 1823 edition of the anonymously published Liber Amoris. Such evidence raises new critical questions about a text that we thought we knew well, showing (for the first time) how it came into being, and complicating its canonical status.

The texts to be discussed in this session form part of a flow of discoveries from the archives (and from the book dealers). They place canonical creation in an entirely new light. They make possible many new critical questions, explorations, and interpretations. They shift attention away from Romantic texts as singular, individual responses to external stimulation. New archival findings constitute a different medium for the Romantic sensibility: they reveal dense networks of obligation and interaction, for which the mode of transmission is handwritten words on paper. We are not dependent solely on print to capture the content and experience of a cultural movement. A printed text can be lost to its own time — as Shelley’s poem was — and rediscovered in ours. For those engaged full-time with the Romantic canon and its classroom application, whether as teachers or scholars, such findings make passing on the torch of knowledge a pleasure as well as a duty.

New Post: Rachel Prescott, a Manchester Correspondent of William Godwin

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is working with The Letters of William Godwin, edited by Pamela Clemit (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011-), to bring new information about Godwin and his correspondence networks to a wider readership. To read more about the project, click here.

The first ODNB entry arising from this collaboration has now been published. The ODNB May 2016 update includes the biography of Rachel Prescott (1765/6-1824), the Manchester poet and philanthropist, co-authored by Pamela Clemit and Jenny McAuley.

512px-Manchester_from_Kersal_Moor_William_Wylde_(1857)
Manchester from Kersal Moor, by William Wylde, 1852.

Rachel Prescott was the daughter of a Manchester printer and newspaper proprietor. She is thought to have assisted her father in editing Prescott’s Manchester Journal.  She was an enthusiastic reader of the works of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. Her early writings included some stanzas praising Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792).

Rachel Prescott was one of many people who read Godwin’s Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793), and then wrote to the author for advice on  how to put his principles into practice in their lives. She wrote him two long letters in the spring of 1799, asking: ‘What are the individual, or reciprocal claims founded in marriage? and when this contract is discovered to be erroneously made, whether it is nevertheless to be irrevocable?’ (Letters of William Godwin, ii. 79, note 2.)

Rachel Prescott’s letter reached Godwin at a time when he was reconsidering his views on marriage (and seeking a second wife). His first wife Mary Wollstonecraft, who died in 1797, had introduced him to a ‘new language’ of feeling. His ill-fated courtship of the author Harriet Lee in 1798 had further tested his convictions (and her patience). On 17 April he wrote Prescott a carefully-worded, four-page reply:

I hold the institution of marriage, as explained by our authorities in church & state, to be unfounded & injurious.  I see no reason in nature or morality why a connection of two persons of different sexes should be treated as indissoluble … Yet I hold the exclusive attachment of man & woman … to be the dictate of taste, refinement & virtue … & to protect, the woman in particular, from misrepresentation & calumny, I should think it commendable to marry her in the established forms. (Letters of William Godwin, ii. 77-8.)

In the autumn of 1799 Rachel Prescott published a collection of poetry reflecting her progressive and humanitarian interests, which was reprinted in 1812. She died unmarried at Leigh, Lancashire, at the age of 58. Her will made provision for the founding of a local charity which lasted until 2011.

To find out more about Rachel Prescott and Godwin, see The Letters of William Godwin, Volume II: 1798-1805 (2014), now available in print, and, to subscribers, on Oxford Scholarly Editions Online.

Review: Kenneth R. Johnston on The Letters of William Godwin

Kenneth R. Johnston is the author of, most recently, the acclaimed monograph, Unusual Suspects: Pitt’s Reign of Alarm and the Lost Generation of the 1790s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). His review-essay on The Letters of William Godwin: Volume II, ed. Pamela Clemit (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014) has just been published in Review 19.

HI-Bod. MS Abinger c. 6 fol. 24vIf the first volume of Pamela Clemit’s magisterial edition of the letters of William Godwin reads like a Jacobin novel, this second volume, produced to the same high standard, reads inevitably like an anti-Jacobin one…. Godwin’s Letters constitute a meta-novel wherein the evil is Godwinism itself – the thoughts not the actions – and the tragedy is both personal and national.

To read the full review, click here.

To read Kenneth R. Johnston’s review-essay on The Letters of William Godwin: Volume I (2011), click here.

Featured Event: ‘Instruction and Communication in the Godwin Circle’, BSECS PG/ECR Conference 2015

A panel entitled ‘ “The Collision of Mind with Mind”: Instruction and Communication in the Godwin Circle’ was held on 15 July 2015 at the annual BSECS Postgraduate and Early Career Scholars’ Conference, Queen’s University Belfast and Armagh Public Library.

The speakers and topics were:

    • John-Erik Hansson, European University Institute, ‘The Domestic Republic? The Tutor-Child Relationship in William Godwin’s Thought’
    • Grace Harvey, University of Lincoln, ‘ “Vel hic, vel hæc”: “Paternal” Friendship and the Female Mentor in Robert Bage’s Hermsprong (1796) and Thomas Holcroft’s Anna St Ives (1792)’
    • Jennifer Wood, University College, Oxford, ‘Godwin’s Revolutionary Letters: A New Form of Discourse’

The panel was chaired by Matthew Grenby, Newcastle University.

Thanks to John-Erik Hansson for this report on the event:

There are worse ways to begin a conference on ‘connections’ in the long eighteenth century than with a panel on William Godwin—though some may say that a panel on ‘sex and illegitimacy’, which concurrently launched the conference, is an enticing alternative.

If anything can be said of Godwin, it is that he was very well connected, as a short exploration of his Diary and Letters immediately shows. The panel explored some of Godwin’s personal and epistolary connections, as well as the different ways in which Godwin and some of his acquaintances thought and wrote about interactions between individuals. It revealed a wealth of directions for creative research on Godwin, his circle, and late-eighteenth century British culture in the intersecting fields of history, philosophy, and literary studies.

The session opened with John-Erik Hansson’s paper, which dealt with a connection that Godwin thought about throughout his career: the relationship between a child and their tutor or parent. Hansson did not pursue a historical account of Godwin’s practice as a parent and teacher—though this came up in discussion—but approached the subject from a more ‘political-theoretical’ point of view. He focused on Godwin’s collection of essays, The Enquirer (1797), and specifically on Godwin’s description of the dynamics of power in the tutor-child relationship. He argued that Godwin’s recommendations in the educational realm are best understood both as a recognition of the inherently despotic element in the tutor-child relationship, and as an attempt to mitigate and limit the operation of arbitrary power in that relationship. Hansson concluded that Godwin was trying as best he could to mimic republican social relations in a situation where that possibility is fundamentally compromised.

Shifting the focus from Godwin to his circle, Grace Harvey cast an original glance at two English Jacobin novelists. Robert Bage’s Hermsprong (1796) and Thomas Holcroft’s Anna St Ives (1792) are frequently read as ‘feminist’ novels, with Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) as backdrop. Harvey chose instead to highlight the traces of Bage and Holcroft’s Godwinism. She explored the perfectibility of the novels’ protagonists, and traced their progress through self-improvement and politicised conversation. Harvey suggested in her conclusion, and in her responses to questions, that, for these two novelists, a Godwinian ideal of rationality and individual autonomy seems to trump gendered power relations. In the end, it is a holistic (political) education that enables the protagonists to overcome their oppressors. Holcroft seems to agree with Bage: ‘vel hic, vel hæc [whether man or woman] – no matter’.

Jennifer Wood brought the focus back to Godwin and specifically to the letters he wrote in the 1790s. She emphasised the need for literary critics to give to unpublished material the same attention given to published texts. She provocatively described the letters as Godwin’s true masterpieces, and, during discussion, advocated their study in order to overturn some of the myths surrounding Godwin and his work. Wood’s paper called our attention to Godwin’s experiments in letter-writing and forced us to reconsider the intentions and effects of Godwin’s breaks from late eighteenth-century epistolary protocol. The letters Godwin wrote during the ‘Revolution Controversy’ are revolutionary from two perspectives. On the one hand, they express Godwin’s support for the radical changes initiated in France, and which he believed ought to be brought to England. On the other, they advocate and enact a revolution in interpersonal communication, which, Godwin believed, was necessary for the progress of mankind.

This panel showed a diversity of original ways to tackle Godwin, his work, and its contemporary reception. Harvey demonstrated the necessity of pursuing the different facets of Godwin’s influence on the development of the English Jacobin novel, while Hansson suggested that contemporary thinkers dealing with education might find challenges, and new directions, in Godwin’s political-psychological treatment of the tutor-child relationship. Finally, as Wood showed, the wealth of information in Godwin’s experimental letters has yet to be adequately integrated in the study of his thought and its reception. Re-connecting Godwin to his world as well as to our own appears to be both a worthwhile and a substantial task.

Online Publication: The Letters of William Godwin on OSEO

Both Volume I (1778-1797) and Volume II (1798-1805) of The Letters of William Godwin, ed. Pamela Clemit, 6 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011-) are now available in searchable format on Oxford Scholarly Editions Online. LWG vol 2 This is a subscription database accessible via most university libraries. Please encourage your librarian to subscribe if you are unable to access it. Further volumes will become available on OSEO as they are published.

Review: The Idler on The Letters of William Godwin

Tom Hodgkinson has published the first review covering both Volumes I and II of The Letters of William Godwin, edited by Pamela Clemit, 6 vols. in progress (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011-).

In addition to the insights the volumes bring to Godwin’s life and works, Hodgkinson reports that the letters are full of ‘fascinating details about 18th and 19th century life. A wider picture emerges’ – a picture that is enriched by the ‘meticulous’ scholarly annotations.

godwin_crop1‘The two volumes of letters cover the period 1778-1805, and see Godwin’s star rise and fall, at least in terms of his public and financial success. Both volumes read like a thriller or a love story.’

Hodgkinson observes that Godwin was a towering figure in intellectual London in the late 18th and early 19th centuries who continues to offer inspiration for writers and thinkers today. Like the Idler Academy, Godwin ‘dreamed of a world where the proper use of leisure, to read, study and be creative took the place of humdrum toil for money’.

The Idler Godwin Project aims to bring Godwin’s life and work to a wider audience. Over the next few months The Idler will be reprinting passages from the letters chosen by Tom Hodgkinson and publishing blog posts by Pamela Clemit on Godwin’s anarchistic thought and its relevance to our own times.

To read Tom Hodgkinson’s full review, see The Idler; to read my first contribution to The Godwin Project, click here.