I took a break from teaching the Big Six for a number of reasons–mostly because it was all beginning to feel a bit rote (if it’s October it must be Blake). It’s also been more interesting for me to teach the literature of the period around a specific historical debate (Britain’s abolitionist movement) than to teach it as a survey I feel I’m marching through. But I found myself missing Frankenstein and Coleridge, and even had fond thoughts about Wordsworth, my favorite poet to mercilessly mock. My first thought was that I would revamp the reading list, but I’ve decided to stay with the texts I know I can teach well while trying to fold in what I’ve been thinking about when it comes to how we understand the period. I’m thinking specifically of the role visual culture plays in how the Romantics and their readers saw themselves and the cultural shifts they faced. British abolitionist literature lends itself to this. At least I think it does. That might say more about how I stumbled into it (seeing the cover of the OUP Belinda and wondering about the black figure in the portrait), but I’m hoping for a class where we read image and text at once. I’ve been thinking of new writing and research projects for my students. This is a constant pedagogical project for me as I try to move beyond the traditional writing assignments while still sticking close to what those assignments are intended to teach. Based on student feedback, I’ve realized I need to spend more time helping them through the assigned readings, and so one thing I’ve done these last weeks is go through all of my lecture notes and reading guides/questions and pulled together the best bits and pieces for each assigned reading. Reading nineteenth-century literature requires a certain set of reading practices students don’t always have, and I need to find ways to help them build a reading (and not just a critical) vocabulary so that they can have a more nuanced understanding of our poems and novels.
I’m at the International Conference on Romanticism in Colorado in October and am trying to pull what I promised in this abstract into a cogent argument (for those who read Opie, I’ll focus on the pineapple in Adeline Mowbray):
“Blood Sugar, Genre, and British Abolitionist Literature”
If, as Pamela Gilbert argues in Disease, Desire and the Body in Victorian Women’s Popular Novels, “Genre operates not only as a way of binding the reading processes, but of locating the text within the ‘boundaries’ of a ‘space’ within the marketplace” and if, as Debbie Lee explains in Slavery and the Romantic Imagination, the 1783 Zong case brought the truths about the slave trade “terrifyingly close to home,” how can we understand the different functions of fiction and poetry produced by middle-class English women not only to help abolish the slave trade but also to gain entry into public discourse? I explore this question by considering The Woman of Colour a Tale, Amelia Opie’s “The Black Man’s Lament; or, How to Make Sugar,” and the abolition narrative in her roman à clef Adeline Mowbray. By juxtaposing these texts against Southey’s sonnets “On the Slave Trade” and Hannah More’s “The Sorrows of Yamba,” I argue that women writers worked within the formal constructions of poetry and against the generic constraints of the novel to make radical claims about the effects of the slave trade without losing the sheen of respectability that didactic writing conferred on them. By considering the corporeal as a trope that ties all of these texts together, I argue that the popularity of the novel during the Romantic period was not just a result of its sensational elements but was also a byproduct of a culture that understood its ameliorative powers, even as figures like Dr. Beddoes argued that novels would destroy the nation.
Pray for me, people (actually pray for Hannah More because I probably won’t talk about “Sorrows” as much as she would hope).
Research: The BOOK
One of my mentors took me out for dinner and asked, “If someone requested the manuscript right now what could you give them?” The answer almost made me want to crawl back to my desk. I think this ICR conference paper could be the missing link for the third chapter (I have a draft of the whole book, but the intro is a quite drafty). If so, that would be pretty huge. That would mean the three main chapters are in pretty damn good shape. Part of the problem I have is that I sometimes think I’m writing three different short books instead of one big critical tome. I think that shorter books are more my style, but I don’t know that shorter books would be the best first way for me to take on one of the larger question the book tries to answer, namely how does Romantic-era fiction help us understand proto-feminist contributions to debates about the body? If I can get the proposal out soon (and very soon), my reward will be focusing on two other projects I’m wildly excited about…so excited I could talk your ear off about them if you let me.
Somewhere in all of this I’ll be talking about Written/Unwritten (seven pending invites and counting…*), but I suspect I’m about to become a person who really does write on planes and in hotels over breakfast.
*Yes, I will come to your school or department to talk with your faculty, administrators, and graduate students about diversity in higher ed, but it really does seem as if my calendar will fill up, so, at the risk of seeming a bit pushy, I advise you to get in touch with me sooner rather than later with firm dates.