Sample Abstracts

These are some examples of successful abstracts written by faculty and advanced students. The collection is intended to help all of us develop our abstracting skills by demonstrating the elements of well-received abstracts. If you have an abstract that you would like to include here, please email it to leilaswalker@gmail.com.

Want more? The Coleridge Summer Conference publishes abstracts for its full program dating back to 2002 at http://www.friendsofcoleridge.com/Conference.htm.

“Broken Arches and Broken Promises”: The Problem With Pledges in Burney’s Reworking of the Gothic Novel of the 1790s
Colleen Cusick, Burney Society Conference 2010

The Gothic echoes in Burney’s Camilla—published in 1796 at the height of the craze for the sensational, supernatural aesthetic of Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis—have already received critical attention. Camilla’s scenes of seemingly imperiled ingenues fleeing would-be lovers and dreadful corpses inspiring fainting fits unmistakably recall Radcliffe’s blockbuster Mysteries of Udolpho of two years before and Lewis’s The Monk of the same year. But Burney’s connection to the Gothic novels of her time is more than simply an aesthetic, often ironic reworking of Gothic tropes: both Udolpho and Camilla demonstrate a marked preoccupation with broken bonds and misplaced pledges.

For both Emily St. Aubert and Camilla Tyrold, romantic or marital pledges prove to be uncertain and too easily overturned, while financial commitments—entered into unwillingly, unwittingly, or unwisely—constitute a fetter they can neither control nor escape. Each heroine desires to pledge her faithfulness to a chosen lover, but external forces conspire to negate her vows. Further, both Emily and Camilla are tricked into signing legal documents that threaten their fortunes and autonomy, and this division of will from signature and self from name reflects of the widespread concern in the 1790s over new innovations in the credit economy. Burney adapts the Gothic aesthetic to give economic ruin precedence over sexual vulnerability in the story of young womanhood endangered, revealing the centrality of the broken contract to the traditional Gothic. By focusing on the shared trope of the broken vow, this paper will both deepen our understanding of Burney’s Camilla and its relation to contemporaneous texts and allow for a modification of the Gothic paradigm to give greater weight to economic uncertainty in the Gothic narrative of young women’s lives.

“Wandering outlaw of his own dark mind”: Modern Incarnations of Byron
Nancy Derbyshire, Byron & Modernity 2007

Byronism champions the role of mystery, trespass, and nomination in an artist’s life and work.  This formulation, present in “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,” accounts for one particular modern phenomenon: the collation of identity.  As the poem relates, experience and creation empower the artist who tends to be “unfit” for the company of men and yet friendly with the earth.  This prescription augurs future manifestations of the Byronic artist, and two notable literary incarnations occur.  John Clare, the “peasant poet” who memorializes the experiences of trespassing in his paeans to nature, nominates himself Byron in his poetic compositions while an inmate at the High Beach and Northampton General Lunatic Asylums.  Born a century later, Bob Dylan self-nominates as a means of forming creative identity.  In his gift of an edition Byron’s verse to girlfriend Suze Rotolo, Dylan inscribes the title page with the signature “Lord Byron Dylan.”  This paper seeks to elucidate self-nomination and co-identification as a feature of Byronism.

“Free indirect speech in Mansfield Park: A call for ‘good hardened real acting'”
Meechal Hoffman, ICR 2010

It is well known that Jane Austen pioneered the use of free indirect speech, the technique of moving into characters’ minds in such a way as to blur or even eliminate altogether the line between narrator and character. Because of its use of free indirect discourse, which Austen had used only tentatively and intermittently in her previous books, Mansfield Park is generally considered the first of Austen’s “mature” novels. This pioneering work is also a controversial one in the Austen oeuvre, with much of the criticism of the novel focusing on the scenes in which the characters attempt to stage Elizabeth Inchbald’s loose translation of August Friedrich Ferdinand von Kotzebue’s play, Lovers’ Vows. How can it be, critics have wondered, that Jane Austen would write a novel that seems to condemn acting, and what is it in particular that Austen finds deplorable about it? In this paper, I will argue that, while Mansfield Park presents a case against certain kinds of acting, it is by no means against acting per se. In fact, I’d like to argue the opposite: this novel is a celebration of what Edmund calls “good hardened real acting,” which is to say, acting in which the actors fully immerse themselves in their parts. It is a novel that takes this kind of deep, even sympathetic acting so seriously that it has to also show it’s anti-type: acting in which the actors maintain their own identities and chiefly further their own agendas by playing other parts. One way in which this is clearly demonstrated, I would argue, is in Austen’s use of free indirect speech, a method comparable to the kind of acting Edmund (and Austen) recommends in that it requires the author to imaginatively inhabit another’s interiority. By discussing acting in light of her development of free indirect speech, I hope to show that Austen does not, as many critics contend, moralistically reject acting. What she rejects, in depicting the rehearsals of Lovers’ Vows, is acting that is not fully devoted to understanding one’s part—a kind of acting in which one remains oneself. What she endorses, by contrast, is a kind of acting in which the actor is able to play any part, and to play it completely, sympathetically, as though the actor were the character. Austen is able to do this through free indirect speech; the characters in the novel are incapable of this kind of sympathetic engagement, either with the parts they are supposed to play in Lover’s Vows or with each other. Lionel Trilling wrote that the danger of putting on a play in this novel was the one that Plato warned of: that the actors would get hardened into their characters. I will argue that the warning Austen issues is not about acting too well that one looses a sense of one’s self but, rather, about the danger of being without the ability to sympathetically imagine oneself into another’s position.

“Abstract Lochs, Imagined Lands: The Cartography of Dorothy Wordsworth in Scotland”
Gabrielle Kappes, NASSR 2011

In 1803 Dorothy Wordsworth toured Scotland with her brother William and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Upon her return to Grasmere, she composed Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland, which includes six of Dorothy’s hand-drawn maps. Considering the significance of Dorothy’s maps, it is puzzling that they have only recently been published in Carol Kyros Walker’s 1997 edition. My paper recognizes Recollections as a multi-representational topographic literacy that encodes the Scottish landscape through literary as well as cartographic methods. The resulting dialogue between maps and prose speaks not only to the tradition of tour literature, but also encompasses her affective experience of mapping place.

I situate Recollections as a text that rebels against the pastoral, prosaic, and polished vocabulary of the picturesque tour tradition as trumpeted by William Gilpin. Dorothy resorts to the visual medium of cartography in order to reimagine the Scottish Highlands as a scattered and elusive landscape of irregularly shaped islands and dangling tributaries, where shorelines swerve off the page and displaced lochs float in unspecified territories.  Dorothy’s cartography performs a mapping of place that embraces the ebb and flow of the creative process and epitomizes an aesthetic form that is unresolved and fragmented. I situate Recollections as a seminal text in the genre of nineteenth-century women’s travel writing and seek to reimagine our understanding of Dorothy Wordsworth as an experimental Romantic writer and cartographer.

“In the Wake of Wreckage: Residual Memory, Affect, and Temporality in Mary Shelley’s Travelogues”
Gabrielle Kappes, NASSR 2012

In 1817 Mary Shelley published History of a Six Weeks’ Tour, which details the 1814 walking tour of France and Switzerland that she took with Percy Bysshe Shelley and Claire Clairmont. Almost thirty years later in 1844, Mary Shelley would write her second travel narrative, Rambles in Germany and Italy.  Encouraged to visit German spas to recover from her poor health, Mary Shelley sought physical wellbeing and also wished to come to terms with the deaths of her husband and children by revising the Italian landscape.

Though the genre of travel writing tends to lend itself to a linear mapping of cartographic route and reflection, Mary Shelley’s travelogues are anything but habitual. I argue that the moods of melancholy and trauma in Mary Shelley’s travelogues surface and resurface as unhinged temporal manifestations.

While in History Mary Shelley confronts a culturally fraught wartime landscape, in Rambles the affective disruption is due to the loss of her husband and children.  Although the act of travel writing begins as a flight into health, Rambles undergoes a cartographic divergence when Mary Shelley confronts painful memories that resurface in the tangible and imagined landmarks of past travels: worn curtains of a Tuscan Inn or ghosts gathering on the shadowy banks of Lake Geneva. These psychological wounds culminate in what Mary Shelley terms an “unreal phantasmagoria,” a nightmarish virtualization of trauma that I situate in terms of Walter Benjamin’s “phantasmagoria,” which he describes in The Arcades Project as the threshold of the unattained and unrealized.

Adrift in the density of its historical engendering, post-catastrophic mood is imperceptibly felt in the everyday accumulations of wreckage: the burnt beams of a pillaged village or the reverberating chimes of a church’s clock. Travel writing for Mary Shelley is the act of attempting to make realized the poised space of residual memory.

“Making Sense(s) of William Blake” (panel proposal)
Richard Tayson, NeMLA 2012

Blake, according to Tristanne J. Connolly’s William Blake and the Body, both ’reviles and glorifies the human body’ a contradiction documented by Blake’s early nomination of the senses as ’the Chief inlets of Soul in this age’ and his later lamentation, in reference to the fallen zoas, that ’Beyond the bounds of their own self their senses cannot penetrate.’ With these two contrary positions in mind, this panel seeks to find new ways to explore Blake’s incorporation of a wide range of figurations pertaining to the senses and to foster inquiry of concepts crucial to analysis of the period: identity, gender, sexuality, text and image, politics, aesthetics, phenomenology, self and community, and an array of subjects trenchant to post-Revolutionary experience. Possible topics include: warring senses of sight and sound; the body as both enclosure and conduit; the stench of Pesthouse Close, burial ground upon which Blake’s childhood home was built, and the chemical fumes as bi-product of his ’infernal method’ of engraving copper plates in his later homes; Blake’s gustatory imagery and the food shortage of 1800. Comparative readings (with other Romantics or contemporaries), multimedia presentations, and new approaches to Blake in the classroom are encouraged. Please send 300-500-word abstracts as Word or PDF attachments.

“Coleridge on Broad Stand”
Alan Vardy, Coleridge Summer Conference 2012

In September 1802, Coleridge walked away from a hopelessly unhappy situation at Greta Hall in Keswick and into the Cumbrian mountains.  With no firm destination in mind, a week later found him on the summit of Scafell elated in a moment of sublime transport.  Over the subsequent two months, he famously transposed this experience onto the Alps as he composed “Hymn Before Sun-rise, in the Vale of Chamouny”. The poem assumes the universal affective power of sublimity, thus making it possible to geographically relocate the originary moment on Scafell.  The poem is also famously the site of religious recuperation, or, less generously, aesthetic evasion—substituting piety for crisis.  In this talk, I will try to get at this question, not by focusing on the moments of ascension (of the mountain or in the poem), but rather on Coleridge’s nearly disastrous descent. Choosing the ‘wrong way’ off Scafell into the Esk valley, Coleridge’s physical elation led him into the folly of negotiating the daunting rock formation Broad Stand.  His descent was anything but recuperative as he was by turns terrified, irrationally calm, chastened, stoic.  Through reading his letters and notebook entries, I hope to recover how such chaotic somatic experiences finds their way into the fictional Alps of “Hymn”, how reverence might arise from physical unease.

“Shelley’s Hairy Revolution”
Leila Walker, ICR 2011

Romantic literature abounds with characters, like Caleb Williams, that disguise their bodies to control their objective reception and escape the panoptic gaze. And yet, like the “wastes” of the Earth in Prometheus Unbound, which a voice of the air has “clothed” in “colors not their own,” these disguises are not entirely of the characters’ own choosing (I:82-3). As Shelley reminds us, even the colors we perceive in another are not technically of that body; they are a product of the way we see—the body is in the eyes of the beholder.

Hair functions ambiguously as both a part of the body and an ornamentation of the body; it can be controlled, but only to a point. My hair may fly involuntarily into my eyes, but only a rare disorder could cause my hands to do the same. If I disguise myself with a false hump, I can look through this prosthesis to my own bodily self, yet if I cut my hair, the disguise is my bodily self refashioned. The first case is illusion, the second, self-delusion. The hair affects the observer’s perception only as it simultaneously affects the self.

The veil of my hair falling when I lower my gaze may create a barrier between self and other, but it also displays the flimsiness of that barrier; Count Cenci has only to drag Beatrice by her hair to reveal the inadequacy of this false boundary. Hair provides an illusion of freedom equally visible to the self and the observer, and equally susceptible to destruction by either.

Take Medusa. The horror of her serpentine hair caused all who gazed on her to turn to stone, yet Perseus used a mirror, the ultimate emblem of self-perception, to destroy her. For the Romantics, the myth of Medusa resonated politically as an emblem of radical revolution, and psychologically as what Shelley describes as “the tempestuous loveliness of terror.” While Freud has influenced much 20th-century criticism of the image, Barbara Judson presses this traditional reading to reveal its function in Shelley’s works as a double, “an emblem of Shelley’s consciousness” that provides him with a “self-critical representation of his own liberalism” (135). I build on Judson’s work by examining Shelley’s Medusan images in the larger context of his hairy (but not explicitly Medusan) images to see this figure deployed not just as a self­-critique, but a critique of the nature of the self and the self’s power to act in a politically meaningful way. I trace the development of hairy images in Prometheus Unbound and The Cenci, treating Act IV of Prometheus as a response to Beatrice’s failed revolution. This progression allows us to view Beatrice’s final act, of pulling back her hair, as not only reinventing the self, but providing a model for political reinvention. Beatrice may change, but she neither falters nor repents of her self-awareness; although her freedom may fail, the wreck of her life may become the thing hope, in contemplating, uses to create itself anew.

“‘The Ruins of Mankind’: Coleridge’s Imperial Imagination”
Leila Walker, MLA 2011

In the Biographia Literaria, Coleridge sarcastically laments that most of us retain only fragmentary memories of early childhood, “while treasures, compared with which all the mines of Golconda and Mexico, were but straws, should be absorbed by some unknown gulf into some unknown abyss” (534). At the time of his writing, Golconda was a ruined city known for its diamond production, while Mexico, once home to the Aztec Empire, was mired in revolutionary conflict. He uses images of non-Western ruins to develop a Western psychomythology, in which treasures that have already been exploited stand in for a human mind that has already been corrupted.

Scholars such as Debbie Lee have already analyzed the infectious potential of transatlantic contact. This paper builds on that work to uncover the intertwining of colonialism and psychology in Coleridge’s writing through his scattered references to Aztec ruins, beginning with his earliest political speeches and failed utopian dreams of the late-18th century and moving forward. I argue that, in displacing the European experience of memory and replacing it with a foreign past, Coleridge induces a sort of mass apperception—he asks his listeners to perceive themselves, collectively, as Other, both subject driving the future and object of the past.  Yet this method of revealing the face of power as the face of the self relies on the disappearance of the actual Other into the imagination of the Self. Ironically, unmasking the violent self erases its violence and justifies the expanding empire of the mind. This paper relies on the work of Ian Baucom to analyze the relationship between imagination, time, and global economy in Coleridge’s use of non-Western ruins as metaphors for the Western mind.

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