Romanticism Workshop

2017–2018 Events

Friday, October 20 | 12:00 – 2:00 pm

Charles Mahoney, University of Connectictut
Dallying with Romantic Surmise

Attendance by registration only.  You must be logged into your Brown email to register.  Seminar location will accompany pre-circulated reading material.

For so to interpose a little ease,
Let our frail thoughts dally with false surmise.
(Milton, "Lycidas")

"Was it for this . . . ?" "Was I deceived . . . ?" "If this be but a vain belief . . ." "Do I wake or sleep. . . ?"  This is the language of the surmise, a peculiar topos of Romantic writing which variously denominates both mode (lyric interrogation, temporal manipulation, the adjudication of competing truth claims) and mood (querulousness, doubt, conjecture, melancholy).  Charles Mahoney offers that never merely one or the other, the Romantic surmise stages a moment of choice (however tenuous, between one alternative and another) in a protracted moment of deliberation and (more often than not) consolation.  The surmise may be considered as a peculiarly poetic way of proceeding, of sporting with possibility and multiplying a poem's moods, as the poet appears to indulge in fanciful inference and extravagant contrivance.  More comprehensively, surmise may be said to name not merely an isolated imaginative conjecture but more comprehensively the free play of the poetic intelligence itself, as it deliberates which "perhaps" to pursue.  Understood as an imaginative conception neither supported by knowledge nor finally in need of such certainly, the Romantic surmise asks to be read as a topos of twinned illusions, as a formal, poetic space in which a poem makes the time the sport with its fondest dreams, all the while revealing its deliberate and calculating nature as a fiction. 

Charles Mahoney, Professor of English at the University of Connecticut, is the author of Romantics and Renegates: The Poetics of Political Reaction (2003) and the editor of A Companion to Romantic Poetry (2011). 


Friday, November 10 | 12:00 - 2:00pm

Deidre Lynch, Harvard University
Paper Slips:  Album, Archiving, Accident

Attendance by registration only.  You must be logged into your Brown email to register.  Seminar location will accompany pre-circulated reading material.

Exploring home-made books from the Romantic period, the remediation of the print world that occurred in their pages, and the practices of archiving, excerpting, inscribing, transcribing, clipping, and de- and re-contextualizing that underwrote them, “Paper Slips: Album, Archiving, Accident,” offers a new picture of the media ecology in which Romantic literature came to be. At the same time, in its guise as a contribution to a special issue of Studies in Romanticism devoted to “The Matter of the Archive,” this article sets out to trouble some common assumptions about the kinds of emotional investments books prompted in the Romantic period as instruments for preserving and stabilizing the past and as keepsakes and remembrancers in their own right. The assembly of an album or scrapbook, though in some respects a biblio-philic practice, depended on an almost indecent readiness to demolish and remake other people’s books and to conceptualize texts and images, poems and pictures as detachable and re-attachable slips and scraps.  Following Derrida, the media theorist Eivind Røssaak once proposed that the “desire to halt” is the “primordial archival desire.” But the book-making engaging these Romantic-era amateurs was, as they were well aware, doubled by a project of book-disassembly. Their albums and scrapbooks became accordingly, and quite designedly, the vehicle for a contrasting investment in unsettledness and provisionality and for a media theory that insistently twinned cultural preservation with cultural risk. Helping us recognize the limits of the object-centered materialism that often informs book history and archival studies alike, study of the Romantic album can bring to view an understanding of the book as (in Johanna Drucker’s words) “a conditional document”: an object in motion, whose identity is unstable and distributed across time.

Deidre Shauna Lynch was educated at the University of British Columbia in Canada and at Stanford University, where she took her PhD.  Formerly Chancellor Jackman Professor in the Department of English at the University of Toronto, she joined the faculty of Harvard University in 2014; she is now Ernest Bernbaum Professor of English Literature at Harvard. She has published widely on the literature and culture of eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century Britain, the history of women’s writing, the theory and history of the novel, and the history of reading. The Economy of Character: Novels, Market Culture and the Business of Inner Meaning won the Modern Language Association Prize for a First Book in 1999. Early 2015 saw the publication of her Loving Literature: A Cultural History, finalist in 2016 for the Phi Beta Kappa Christian Gauss Award for Literary Criticism and the Oscar Kenshur Prize in Eighteenth-Century Studies. She is also the editor of Cultural Institutions of the Novel (with William B. Warner, 1996), Janeites: Austen’s Disciples and Devotees (2000), the Oxford World’s Classics edition of Austen’s Persuasion, the Norton Critical Edition of Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, the Romantic Period volume of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, and an annotated edition of Austen’s Mansfield Park for the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (2016). Lynch’s current projects include “Cultures of Reading” (a special issue of PMLA forthcoming in 2018), an essay collection entitled The Unfinished Book (co-edited with Alexandra Gillespie), and a book with the working title Slips and Scraps: Disassembling the Book in the Nineteenth Century