Professor Edward Larrissy
(Queen's University Belfast)
We're very excited to be welcoming Professor Edward Larrissy to Romantic Realignments this week. On Thursday, he'll be speaking to us about the notion of "Future Romanticisms" - our second paper this term stemming from the current Counterfactual Romanticisms project, as introduced to us by Professor Damian Walford Davies in Week 0:
This paper proposes to predict the way in which Romanticism will tend to be taught and anthologised some fifteen years hence. The assumptions behind the predictions are best fully avowed in advance, since they need to be supported in tandem with the presentation of the future canon. As it happens, they are straightforward and plausible. It would almost be sufficient to say that they could be reduced to one single assumption: namely, that the kinds of politically liberal interest that have been driving the revision of the reading list over the past quarter of a century still have the scope, within their own terms, to effect further revision and re-shaping of canon and curriculum. Still, not every change of emphasis I shall propose can be easily derived from that single assumption, so ‘assumptions’ in the plural is probably the fairer term.
To develop the point, then. It is plausible that ‘British Romanticism’ will be conceived in even more markedly archipelagic terms than it is today: writing from all of the ‘four nations’ (very much including Ireland) will be regularly represented. The emphasis on women’s writing will be maintained and furthered. Working class writing will figure in the list. Writing about the colonial world (chiefly India) will always be present – and (a relative newcomer) – so will writing about America, reflecting the continued strength of humanities departments in American universities, and their interests. The strong presence of Gothic tropes and imagery in contemporary popular – and indeed ‘high’ – culture will support not only the regular appearance of ‘the Gothic’ in the study of Romanticism, but a regular emphasis on such tropes and imagery among authors by no means solely associated with it (Blake, Wordsworth, Percy Shelley). The growing dominance of science in the academy, as well as a continued promotion of interdisciplinarity in all subject-areas, will lead to the taken-for-granted presence of texts under the heading of ‘Literature and Science’ (e.g., Humphry Davy). More generally, there will be some attempt to maintain the new historicist aim of representing the self-understanding of the period by including texts that were famous in their own day but have until recently been neglected.
Some obvious results flow from these assumptions: works by Burns, Moore, Scott and Hemans will always be visible, as will the poetry of Clare. So far, so relatively simple. But the pressure on time and space in the curriculum will lead to an emphasis on texts where more than one of the above themes can be exhibited. A few examples will have to suffice at this stage. Thus, Thomas Moore will not only be reliably visible, but he will normally be visible in the shape of Lalla Rookh, which allows the lecturer or anthologist to tick both the ‘Irish’ and the ‘Indian’ boxes. Very similar considerations lead to the inclusion of Sydney Owenson’s The Missionary: this can figure in the category of women’s writing, but also in those of Irish writing and writing about India. Southey’s The Curse of Kehama will be studied. Examples of writing about America are not that abundant, but Thomas Campbell’s Gertrude of Wyoming will appear on most reading lists – a poem that was very popular in the nineteenth century, especially with American readers. Alongside this, the lecturer may be persuaded to present some of Moore’s writings deriving from his American journey. While many of these texts are already receiving some attention again, my point is that in the middle term they will become as close to ‘canonical’ as an anti-canonical inclination will be able to endure.
The last move in the paper will be to return to the question of how the canon established from the late nineteenth century onwards came to exist. It will be pointed out that its development was closely linked to the preferences of writers (e.g., Yeats) as well as of critics. The question will be asked, whether the academy is shifting its attention away from the kind of writing that might still be an influence on current writers – or whether such a suggestion itself reveals a prejudice about how writing should currently look and behave. This last section will reference McGann, among others.
Do come along for what looks set to be a fascinating paper and a stimulating discussion - all are welcome to attend the seminar, as ever. We look forward to seeing you on Thursday!