Codex Poetics: Romantic Books and the Politics of Reading
This project has been supported by a pilot grant at the John Rylands Research Institute in 2019 and a Leverhulme Research Fellowship, 2022-23.
To what extent can William Hazlitt’s, John Keats’s, or Letitia Landon’s ideas of freedom in the Romantic period be understood to overlap with those of Olaudah Equiano or Mary Prince? Is there a language of freedom that accommodates both “Romantic imagination” and the historical project of emancipation from slavery? I approach this question through the lens of the materiality and literary imagination of the book, asking what roles the bound book and its poetic figuration play–and how they play off one another–in these writers’ politics of freedom.
Codex Poetics: Romantic Books and the Politics of Reading extends my interest in concepts of time and the imagination of multiple possibilities to an exploration of the interplay between Romantic poetics and material formats. It revisits the Romantic period as a moment, marked by abolitionist movements and mass print, when the bound book was imagined as a technology of political possibility. Methodologically, the project combines book history with formalism to explore the play of meaning between poetics and format.
The first section of Codex Poetics–BOOKISH EMANCIPATION–explores the relation between books and freedom in slave narratives (e.g. Olaudah Equiano, Juan Francisco Manzano) and reflects on the place of the book in the textual ecology of abolitionist publishing (e.g. The History of Mary Prince, the anthology The Bow in the Cloud). The second section–WAYWARD READERS–with chapters on Austen and on Byron, focuses on how authors anticipate their work as books in the hands of unpredictable readers; this anticipatory idea of readership functions proleptically as an inspiration and influence. The third section–PAGE LIMITS–with chapters on Keats and on Letitia Landon, turns to the arbitrary limitations of the page as poetic inspiration. The fourth and final section–CODEX ATTACHMENTS–combines the emphases of the second and third sections in considering how the ideas of reading and of the affordances of the bound book make up a theory of aesthetic attachments; this section includes two chapters on Hazlitt’s essays, with interspersed readings of Landon’s work in Fisher’s Drawing Room Scrap Book, as well as essays by Lamb and Hunt. CODA: The project concludes by reflecting on the cultural-historical whiteness of the book, exploring the extent to which the political possibilities that Romantic writers see in the bound book extend to the cause of emancipation from slavery. Throughout the monograph, I am interested in how the interplay between poetics and material format shapes meaning.
“Open Books.” British Association for Romantic Studies conference, delivered online due to Covid, June 2020.
“Vanishing Books, Cockney Poetics.” The Keats Foundation Conference, London, May 2019
Recent Papers/Invited Lectures (selected, since 2019)
“Books, Reading, and the Romanticism of Holding Together: Hazlitt and Equiano.” BARS/NASSR, Liverpool, August 2022.
Response to Arden Hegele’s Romantic Autopsy: Literary Form and Medical Reading (OUP, 2022) for ‘First Books’ Panel, BARS/NASSR, Liverpool, August 2022.
Invited contribution to “Don Juan at 200″ panel, sponsored by the Byron Society of America, MLA conference in Washington DC, January 2022.
“The Unforeseeable in Repeat Reading.” Panel organised by the Prose Fiction Studies Forum. MLA conference in Washington DC, January 2022.
Invited Talk: “Letitia Landon: The Poetics and Politics of the Page.” Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies, University of York, November 2021.
Invited talk: “A Theory of Aesthetic Attachments: Hazlitt and his Books.” Inventions of the Text series, Durham University, 2 June 2021.
Invited Seminar. “Politics of Literature” Series at the University of Lille, France. Originally scheduled for April 2020. (Postponed due to Covid and delivered online 15 April 2021.)
Invited Seminar. “Codex Poetics: Letitia Landon and the Politics of the Page.” Literature and its Formats Symposium at the University of Copenhagen, November 2019.
Invited Talk. “Forms of Beauty and Old Books: Wordsworth and Hazlitt on the Time of Reading.” Hazlitt Day School. London, September 2019.
Invited Seminar. London-Paris Romanticism Seminar, International Panel with Caroline Bertonèche (Grenoble), Senate House, London. March 2019
“Reading as Uprising: Landon, Keats, Rancière,” MLA Chicago, January 2019
Rosie. At a Newcastle hotel in the midst of moving from Manchester to Durham, summer 2020.