Posted by: nassgrad | June 24, 2010

Our Abstracts – Send Us Yours!

In an effort to start sharing our vast collection of graduate work and ideas, a few of us on the NGSC board would like to share with you our abstracts for the upcoming NASSR conference. They are posted below, just click on the “read more” button to see them.

Please send us your abstracts (see my email below) that have been accepted *for any conference* – it doesn’t have to be NASSR – and I’ll post them to the blog. Please include your name, institution, conference title, and email. I think we’d all love to know more about each other’s work and we can also look for each other’s presentations to support our grad colleagues at professional events.

Thanks! Kirstyn (

[abstracts are in alphabetical order by author ]

Kurtis Hessel (CU-Boulder)

How to Re(ad)write: The Dramatic Mediations of Coleridgean Revision

Revision, in Coleridge studies, is a complex problem.  The overwhelming amount of production, the repeated re-visioning of principles, the instability of poetic and dramatic texts, all create an impasse for any committed reader of Coleridge.  How does one assign definitive status to a version of the Mariner, or of Christabel?  Does one choose Osorio over Remorse, or vice-versa? Indeed, scholars have lobbied convincingly for the significance of both early and late versions of most of the major poems.  This textual abundance has led critics like Jean-Pierre Mileur, Zachary Leader, and Jack Stillinger to take up revision, characterized by varying degrees of unity or disunity, as a central concern for understanding Coleridge’s literary production.

I will argue, that for Coleridge, revision is not a process that can be characterized wholly by a striving after unified perfection, nor is it a proliferating disunity of detached versions.  In fact, Coleridge’s revisionary impulse is split between unity and disunity, between a desire to achieve a whole and singular final product, and a nagging certainty that each of the diverse parts, or textual variants, of a work is straining away from the final product, demanding an autonomy of its own.  In part, this tendency of individual versions to assert autonomy against the “final” product arises from rereading, and the persistent material existence of text: the residual manuscripts, and the poetic fragments and experiments of the notebooks, that remain in spite of finalized and published versions.  I intend to show how the practical effect of Coleridge’s doubled revisionary practice is  a mode of revising wherein  revision occurs in all directions; in other words, every version remembers the versions that have come before, and even as new versions are constituted from previous, they engender associations that cognitively revise the prior textual materials.  What I am describing is a revisionary mode finally characterized not by straightforward development, but more properly by mediation.

In order to demonstrate this notion of revision, I will follow one disconnected image (that of Alhadra’s imprisonment by the inquisition) as it passes from the notebooks into and through (and back through) the text-history of Osorio/Remorse.  These plays are well-suited to this purpose for several reasons.  First, Remorse may be accounted Coleridge’s greatest public success, and Osorio a significant private failure, so together they run the gamut of popular visibility, and figure a developmental version of revision.  Even more important, they serve as a representative instance of the tension between text and performance.  Osorio continues to demand critical attention for its significant difference from Remorse, and importance to young Coleridge, even though it never achieves the benchmark of performance that would render it “complete.”  Remorse itself may be more properly understood as an event, both a performance and the simultaneous publishing of text editions.  Coleridge’s revisionary process, then, not only mediates between textual versions, but between text and performance, the authority of each expression being established in its immediate presence as performed, even as it defers grudgingly to the broader textual project of completeness.

* * *

John C. Leffel (CU-Boulder)


Abstract: In this paper I analyze an episode from Maria Edgeworth’s novel Castle Rackrent (1800) in which Sir Kit, the spendthrift heir to his family’s bankrupt Irish estate, abruptly marries “the grandest heiress in England” (75) in order to repair his finances, only to imprison his new wife in her bedchamber when she won’t relinquish her costly diamond cross to him. Though Thady, the elderly Irish narrator of tale, is not shocked by this, he is confused by his master’s new bride, whom he describes alternatively as “a Jewish,” a “heretic blackamoor,” and, in one key instance that has eluded critical commentary, “a nabob” (76; 76; 77). I will argue that Thady’s bewilderment over her racial, ethnic, and religious identities, linked with the “thousands of English pounds concealed in diamonds about her person” (78) associate Sir Kit’s new wife with British India, given that both nabobs and diamonds were associated in the public discourse with this imperial location and were often posited as the visible buyer and sign, respectively, of imperial insatiability. Other references to diamonds in Maria Edgeworth’s novels and stories (including Belinda, Ennui, Lame Jervas, and others) concretize their association with Eastern commerce, while Sir Kit’s address to his wife as “my pretty Jessica” (an allusion to Shylock’s daughter in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, who absconds with her father’s money and jewels in order to marry the Christian Lorenzo) reinforces the widespread perception of such commerce as illicit in nature, while further linking the plunder of Indian wealth with the historical importance of London Jews in the international diamond trade. Ultimately, I argue that diamonds in Castle Rackrent are a means of linking one stigmatized group (East-Indian Nabobs and “Nabobinas”) with another (Jews), and that Sir Kit’s “Jessica” herself becomes the literal embodiment of cultural anxieties regarding “commerce” (in all of the manifestations of that term) with both groups.

* * *

Kirstyn Leuner (CU-Boulder)

Romantic Imagination in the Gutter: Töpffer’s Histoire de Mr. Vieux Bois, the Picturesque, and the History of Comics

Genevan artist, essayist, and schoolteacher Rodolphe Töpffer (1799-1846) completed his first graphic story, Histoire de Mr. Vieux Bois, in 1827, and arguably invented the pictorial narrative genre of comics. Vieux Bois satirizes William Gilpin’s notion of the picturesque and parodies Radcliffean gothic novels in a manner that recalls Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Töpffer’shistoire en estampe (picture story) also proffers a new literary medium that changes pre-established notions of text and image in the Romantic period, and suggests a reexamination of the Romantic imagination and its relationship to genre.

This paper argues that the long comics tradition that Töpffer helps initiate has roots in the Romantic period and its conception of the imagination as that which mediates between the text and its meaning. My research builds upon the scholarly work of David Kunzle, Thierry Groensteen, Benoît Peeters, and Philippe Willems’ writing on Töpffer’s place in the Romantic literary canon. As a study dedicated to Töpffer’s earliest histoire en estampe and its implications for Romanticism, this paper will begin to provide the close critical analysis that his work merits, and that previous examinations of his corpus have yet to undertake.

Vieux Bois employs elements of the picturesque to critique that very same artistic discipline. The plot follows the male protagonist, Mr. Vieux Bois, as he pursues an elusive yet exhaustingly passive female called “l’objet aimé” (the beloved object) through a gauntlet of improbable events and obstacles—such as attempted murders, escapes, imprisonment by monks, botched suicides, and near drownings—in order to defeat her rival suitor and marry her. The story of Vieux Bois’ quest for l’objet aimé lampoons the traveler’s quest for the picturesque object—which Gilpin personifies as a female and that captivated writers’ imaginations and filled tourists’ sketch pads and journals in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

However thoroughly Töpffer mocks the picturesque with his tale, his graphic style consciously relies upon Gilpin’s principles. The Genevan author drew panels with intentionally ragged frames, wrote accompanying text in free-hand, privileged roughness and spontaneity over meticulous detail, and invented a printing method that retained this vital sketchiness. He even opened the 1837 version of Vieux Bois with a panel shaped like a Claude mirror. Moreover, like Gilpin, Töpffer intentionally left blank spaces on the page to force his readers to do imaginative work in order to create meaning. His first work demonstrated the primacy and usefulness of Gilpin’s picturesque principles to such an extent that Töpffer continued to use this style to compose the rest of his seven picture novels until the end of his career. The mediating absences in Vieux Bois—the lack of a complete textual or pictorial narrative, the want for detail, and the bodies that literally leap out of their frames—ask the imagination to work on the page in ways that no other Romantic text had before.

* * *

Terry F. Robinson, Ph.D. (U Michigan, Ann Arbor)

Special Session: Emily Rohrbach, “The Fate of the Subject in the Age of Print Culture”

“Lady Delacour’s History”: The Role of the Actress’s Memoir in Maria Edgeworth’sBelinda

In an early chapter in Belinda (1801) entitled “Lady Delacour’s History,” Lady Delacour announces to her young protégée, Belinda, that she will reveal her “true” persona.  In contrast to her post-masquerade performance of the night before, she says, “you need not be afraid of another scene” (34).  Against this apparently anti-theatrical backdrop, Lady Delacour proceeds to relate her memoir, “The life and opinions of a Lady of Quality, related by herself.”  But first, she further warns, “you will be woefully disappointed, if in my story you expect anything like a novel” (35-36); she then thinks aloud toward the conclusion of her narrative, “Shall I invent?—I would if I could—but I cannot” (62).  She insists, in other words, that her tale is not a fiction (of the stage or the page) but a true-blue history—a chronological report of real-life events.

It turns out, however, that her autobiography is mediated by the actress’s memoir.  Just before Lady Delacour sits down with Belinda to recount her life’s story, she quotes in passing from “the memoirs and authority of the celebrated Mrs Bellamy” (35).  The autobiographical An Apology of the Life of George Anne Bellamy, Late of Covent-Garden Theatre. Written by Herself (1785), to which Lady Delacour refers, was one of the most scandalous and widely read publications of its time, and, while modern readers might tend to skim over such an allusion, it would have instantaneously resonated with Edgeworth’s contemporaries not only as a timely cultural reference but also as a curious and telling introduction to Lady Delacour’s personal history.

I argue that Lady Delacour’s apparently anti-theatrical, “true” story of her life, her autobiography—what might be understood as the most emphatic assertion of the “I”—is, as a result, surprisingly scripted.  Like the heroine of the actress’s biography, Lady Delacour fashions a memoir that is not only a history but also a true confession or a “Moral Tale”—a revelation of how a life enacted in front of the glamorous backdrop of playhouses and pleasure gardens leads ultimately to disappointment and disillusionment.  Given this correspondence, I suggest that while Lady Delacour ostensibly tells the truth of her life’s history, thus removing her mask and revealing her authentic self, she also reproduces generic conventions that allow her to perform a scripted self.

In this way, Lady Delacour’s memoir blurs the line between fiction and reality, surface and substance.  Relating her own memoir within the constructed framework of the stage-heroine’s story ultimately allows her to act out a role that, however paradoxically, resonates with truth.  As she puts it to Belinda, “Life is tragicomedy! [. . .] of all lives, mine has been the most grotesque mixture, or alternation, I should say, of tragedy and comedy” (57).  For Lady Delacour, the stage proffers an honest depiction of life events and the actress’s memoir a realistic reflection of her own individual history.  Belinda, then, I ultimately argue, both upholds the singularity of Lady Delacour’s identity while also exposing its own virtual status—a move that suggests that any novelistic move to establish subjective interiority is as much a performance as a theatrical one.

Work Cited

Edgeworth, Maria. Belinda. 1801. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994.

* * *

Michele Speitz (CU-Boulder)

“The Seismograph”

The dead of winter 1783 spawned the seismograph. Clock maker D. Domemico Salsano from Naples put a pendulum to different work, paring it with ink and brush to map the seismic waves of the earth’s interior. This invention produced a continuous record of ground motion, onto nothing less than ivory. Onlookers stood by to scout out what would be later known as ‘tectonic’ shifts. They would first note the pendulum’s sway and then interpret what the pendulum and its accoutrement were able to pen down. Salsano’s invention birthed the closest thing we have to a talking earth. The seismograph borrows its title from the Greek word, seismos, to shake or quake, and merges seio, to shake, with metron, to measure. Add to that the word graph, and you have a symbol or record of the previously immeasurable tremulousness of what most like to imagine simply as solid ground. On the eve of what is contentiously called the Romantic era, humanity had found a way to make the earth write. Nevertheless, these scientists could still only position themselves as observers, analyzing a record of movement and oscillation. They labored to decipher a language not their own.

Intriguingly, this lexicon shares little with the verbalized word but shares much with literary work. It is a linear rendition of non-linear motion and existence, resembling the temporal network of narratives produced by Romantic authors who delve beneath the surface and into the circuits of human subjectivity. In this way, their literary representations are similar to Salsano’s young seismographic records as they composed their own linear graphs born out of the pendulum of human existence. In this talk, I trace seismographic methodologies replete with earthen legers and planetary script to shed new light on the cultural products and processes of various lyric poets of the period. With a consideration of works by Smith, Wordsworth, Keats, and Shelley, I examine those writers and thinkers who touch most interestingly or intricately on the shaking and quaking qualities of the human body and the human condition. The scientific pursuit materialized by the seismograph, that measured, marked and mediated the inner-workings of the earth, mirrors the mediation, investigation, and tabulation of the human subjectivity and physicality, recorded within Romanticist poetics. These parallel treatments, of planet and person, point us to an interesting time before the discovery of Freudian or plate-tectonic theories, and captures a moment of great human and earthly exploration.

* * *

Kelli Towers (CU-Boulder)

Urtext vs. Flower Texts: How Garden-Variety Gift Books of the 19th Century Invite a Rethinking of Literary Studies

Literary and bibliographic studies, as practiced through the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, have invested deeply in the notion of ideological and material originality—in the quest for an authorial or textual seed that grows up to change the world.  Such studies have produced valuable scholarship on the history and development of authors, genres, and forms, but they have also proved themselves inadequate to the task of reading and analyzing a wide variety of texts too anomalous or generically evasive to conform to established category.  Among these marginal mutants are the hundreds of flower books produced in Europe and the US from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century, which as a group occasionally receive a passing nod in conversations on nineteenth century book history, the gift book, or women’s literature, but which are almost never studied individually or in depth.  Yet because these books were published, purchased, and circulated in such large numbers, often reprinted in numerous editions and successfully sold over so many years, we must not underestimate their cultural impact—and must consider what they can teach us about the intimate relationship between book production andliterary production.

Through the lens of an 1835 volume entitled Flora and Thalia, or Gems of Flowers and Poetry,this paper thus explores issues of authorship and collaboration, of material construction and textual embodiment, and of the roles these play in constituting, circulating, and preserving the literature of the Romantic period.  Within this petite volume, its author, “A Lady,” anthologizes forty-eight British and French poets, interspersing their work with botanical descriptions and colorfully hand-painted lithographs of flowers.  Part botany lesson and part poetry collection, part coffee-table book and part field-manual, Flora and Thalia blends ideological intrigue with consummate materiality.  Though Edgar Allen Poe would praise its poetry in 1836 as “exceedingly well selected,” only the physical book object enabled that carefully crafted selection to travel from London to his desk.  Though the “author” remains largely invisible and voiceless in the text while so many other collaborators appear, her arrangement of the book object constitutes her presence.  Though the works of Wordsworth, Herrick, or Barbauld may have survived into the twentieth century on their own merit, book objects like this one multiplied their cultural impact—it connected them with a visual reality of botanical illustration, and to a material reality in its invitation to venture outdoors.  Whether a means of heightening synesthetic readerly experience, connoting drawing-room taste and gentility, or fostering new knowledge afield, the book objectFlora and Thalia was meant to circulate and to signify.

While this paper represents only a first foray into these questions, it gestures toward the enormous potential for innovative study—not only of nineteenth-century flower books, but of countless collaborative or generically anomalous texts cast aside by traditional literary scholarship.   In probing the connections between book production and literary production, I believe we will tune ourselves in to many important archives, and stand better prepared to grasp their significance in the social, historical, and cultural mediation of the nineteenth century.

* * *


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