When I took my undergraduate survey course on British literature from the Romantics to the present, I had a little habit of writing down the poems I loved reading the most into the margins of my (now abandoned) bullet journal. The imagery of the poems most often motivated me to collect them, but I also kept poems that held messages that resonated with me. I didn’t want to forget them, and I certainly haven’t as “To Autumn,” by John Keats, keeps coming back into my mind as this semester comes to a close.
In the recent Netflix film, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, set in 1946, London writer Juliet Ashton (Lily James), tired of publishing under her usual pseudonym and still recovering from the trauma of losing her parents and home during the war, is searching for something to write about. The answer comes when she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman), a farmer from the island of Guernsey, who was one of the founding members of the eponymous book club during the war years and who has come across her copy of Charles Lamb’s Essays of Elia. As the island has no more bookshops, he asks if she can send him an address of a London bookshop that might carry more of Lamb’s books. The Romantic essayist, Dawsey tells Juliet, was a great comfort to him during World War II, during which Guernsey was occupied by the Germans, all children evacuated, a curfew put in place, land mines planted on the beach, and their livestock taken away.
My hometown does not change much. I grew up in what the locals—aptly, I think—call a village about a fifteen-minute drive away from Princeton University. Each time I return, there is just a bit more construction, but change happens there so slowly that I will always notice when a door has been repainted or a coffee shop has switched its logo.
I begin this post with that awkward, full disclosure: I am an M.A. student. I have not applied for Ph.D. programs. This year’s conference was my first, and likely only, NASSR. You ask: why bother reading further? My answer is this: standing with one foot out the door is a great vantage point.
There is a different valence to each of the conference’s micro-interactions when you already plan on not attending the next one. Each smile shared across the room lingers and each snuff from a senior scholar stings a little deeper. Each eleventh-hour edit feels all the more frantic, and I can’t begin to explain the exhaustion that set in following my post-presentation Ben & Jerry’s.
But more on the conference. I had a supervisor kind enough to digitally introduce me to some wonderful scholars beforehand, which meant that I crossed NASSR’s threshold with folks inside who could already pick me out from a crowd and introduce themselves. This was crucial to my confidence-building over the course of the weekend. Through conversations with other members of Grad Caucus, I have found this to be a thru-line: most junior scholars’ self-worth at conferences depends on already having (or very quickly establishing) a network of allies who recognize you.
There was a vitality present at this year’s conference that I have never quite experienced before. It was a marathon race-day buzz, complete with bacon doughnuts and coffee flowing faster than the Providence River. Picture a high-ceilinged hall full of jet-lagged scholars…That sheer amount of barely tempered eccentricity.
This conference is one of the few times the Bigger Six Romantix circle had congregated in person. Consider, too, how long the movement was anticipated in the hearts and minds of many scholars. How incredibly new and life-sustaingly tangible it might be to walk into a room knowing that the scholars here love your dedication to Romantic Brownness, Blackness, queerness, Indiginousness, and Otherness. To know that decolonization right here, right now, is not a metaphor. To hear your fellow panelists actually #citeblackwomen as part of their presentation. To watch a moderator wait that extra half-second for those who are not accustomed to speaking first to formulate their questions. To feel yourself being heard, being seen, and being appreciated by new friends at the social events—even after you tell them you may not be coming back.
Such is the advantage of scanning the room with one foot out the door. If you strip away the pressure of publications and fellowships and book contracts, if you scrub off the glimmering enamel of recognition they afford, what is left?
In the words of Moonrise Kingdom’s Sam Shakusky, “Who’s to say?”
Throughout the weekend, we will be having some guest bloggers share their experiences at NASSR’s 2018 conference. Today, Alicia McCartney takes us through a wide array of panels in her recap of day one of the conference!
If you are at #NASSR18 and would like to contribute a post, please get in touch with Stephanie Edwards, our Managing Editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org
My NASSR2018 experience began, perhaps aptly, with discussions about the end of the world. The first panel of the day, “Mary Shelley’s Ends,” featured Jennifer Hargrave, Jamison Kantor, and Chris Washington discussing Shelley’s The Last Man and Frankenstein. Pathology, quantum physics, apocalypse, and critique of empire all played a large role in this conversation, and Hargrave in particular observed that The Last Man demonstrates a complex critique of the imperialist/colonial shift.
*This post contains spoilers for the film Mary Shelley.*
The recently released film, Mary Shelley (2018), directed by Haifaa al-Mansour (Wadjda) and written by Emma Jensen (Creating Fortune), received, at best, lukewarm reviews. Most film critics were disappointed in how the narrative falls unexcitingly into the genre of biopic. Others lamented that the film does not do justice to Mary Shelley the historical figure, so ahead of her contemporaries, and that the screenplay allows her husband, the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, to upstage her.
Dr. Thora Brylowe and Dr. Miranda Burgess were co-winners of the 2017 NASSR/Romantic Circles Pedagogy Contest, as announced at NASSR 2017 in Ottawa. Thora is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Colorado Boulder, and Miranda is an Associate Professor of English at the University of British Columbia. They’ve been kind enough to tell us about their submission and share some tips for graduate students on teaching Romanticism.
Recently, I have been working my way through C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters (1942). The text unfolds as a series of correspondence written in Hell from a ranking demon, Screwtape, to his aspiring young nephew, Wormwood, offering advice on how to best ensure the damnation of a man known only as “the Patient.” In view of Lewis’ legacy as a Christian apologist, the Letters’ rhetorical strategy appears glaringly obvious: by playing the devil Lewis hoped to inculcate a stronger sense of faith in his readership. Yet, what is striking about the Letters is how vociferously anti-Romantic the text is in its handling of theology, eschatology, and those weighty matters of doubt and faith. In one letter, for instance, Screwtape holds Coleridge up as a model of the kind of “superficial” worship of the divine that Wormwood should aim to cultivate in his patient in order to secure his spiritual downfall.
While in Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) Guillermo del Toro evocatively engages with Victorian fin-de-siècle Gothic tales (especially those of Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood), the creative wellspring for his newest film, The Shape of Water (2017), pours from the Romantic period. It is Frankenstein meets melodrama (Thomas Holcroft’s A Tale of Mystery comes to mind), and it’s absolutely brilliant. Romantic Romanticists, this is definitely the movie you want to see for Valentine’s Day.
If your inbox looks anything like mine this first week of January, it’s flooded with advertisements for gym memberships, discounted vitamins, and fancy planners that “guarantee” you reach your goals. I started wondering when the idea of a New Year resolution became such a widespread cultural phenomenon. The Romantic period seemed like a likely point of origin, given the increasing emphasis on individual experience.
“New Year’s Eve,” one of Charles Lamb’s Elia essays published in the London Magazine in January 1821, does not prove my hypothesis. But it does express an interesting attitude toward the New Year.