Gothic Coleridge

Posted by Tom Duggett on July 29, 2012 in Guest Blog, Tom Duggett tagged with , , , , ,

Photo by Julian Knox - The Coleridge Summer Conference by flaming torchlight

From the Coleridge Conference, 23-27 July 2012 (part 1)

I promised in my first blog to act as informal Gothic Imagination correspondent to the Coleridge Summer Conference. I’m now posting this entry as a retrospect. It covers the first two days of the conference. The last three days will be covered in two separate entries: part 2 and part 3.

It’s a measure of the week’s marvellous variety and intensity that my planned dispatches have concertinaed into a summary. A large thank you is due to the conference committee, Paul Cheshire, Felicity James, Peter Larkin, Gregory Leadbetter, and above all to the director, Tim Fulford, for arranging such a memorable week. We stayed and held our panels at the Cannington campus of Bridgwater College – the conference’s traditional venue at the former Benedictine nunnery of Clifford Hall being unavailable. The facilities were excellent, especially the catering, which was local, hearty, and consistently delicious.

The papers at the conference were so varied and so individually ingenious that I won’t attempt to summarize them as a whole (even if, as a Wordsworth- rather than Coleridg-ean, I could). A collected papers is going to appear somewhere – watch this space or the conference page for details – so I’ll limit myself to brief impressions, taking some Coleridgean licence to mix the social events with the ideas in the papers. There are gaps because of parallel sessions and the mere scraps I could gather about the papers I didn’t hear. As I said earlier, comments to add information or correct any errors are welcome.

Anya Taylor, Matthew Sangster, and Heather Stone kicked off proceedings with papers around influence and its representation. Anya’s paper expanded on ideas in her book on ‘erotic Coleridge’, and drew a line of influence and dissent to Byron. Matthew Sangster’s paper on Coleridge and authorship was a fast-moving tour of print and periodical culture, opened with a wonderful anecdote of David Williams seeking patronage sent packing by Edmund Burke. Heather Stone spoke interestingly about the Essays of Elia and their bibliophilic links to Lamb’s letters to Coleridge.

After the break, I attended the parallel session of Jeff Strabone, Beatrice Turner, and Rahul Sharma, papers preoccupied with ideas of re-reading and (self-)editing. Next door, Kurtis Hessel, Kenneth Boyd, and Aimee Raile Barbeau were talking about the Coleridgean concepts of Symbol, Life, and State, in that order. I gathered later from Aimee that her intriguing title, ‘The “Hedge-Girdle of the State”: Coleridge and the Social Contract’, covered a paper on Coleridge’s linkage of landscape and nation, and how the citizen is ‘bethinged’ between them. This is part of a timely project on nationalism after the French Revolution, attempting to move beyond materially rich but inwardly empty readings of the imagined nation, in a study that places Coleridge in the company of Mill, De Toqueville, and others.

Back in my panel, I learned a lot from Beatrice about Sara Coleridge’s attempt to reconnect with her father by editing his works, and liked her suggestion that a shared bodily debility gave Sara a way to hard-wire (genetically) a filial relation; but one simultaneously virtualized by editing his works. Rahul’s paper paid close attention to the definitions of Fancy and Imagination in the Biographia Literaria, and gave an insight into the abysmal dimension of time in Coleridge’s thought. Jeff’s paper was fascinating in the way it linked the new-ancient metre of Christabel to ideas of nation and national identity. Jeff’s detailed researches on Thomas Percy and the near-miss of syllabic and anapaestic metre suggested to me a way to work out in detail the claim (made by me among others) that Coleridge’s (and Wordsworth’s) lyrical ballads are attempting to reconnect English poetry with its metrical fountains, and thus develop (what might paradoxically be called) a historical originality.

The first day’s papers were followed by a drinks reception in the garden behind Clifford Hall, and an excellent supper back at Bridgwater College. We then went over to St Mary Magdalene church, Cannington, where Tom Mayberry gave us a fascinating powerpoint tour of Coleridge’s Somerset – which came back to me more than once while watching Danny Boyle’s show on Friday night.

The papers on the second day are largely a blank to me. I gave my paper in the afternoon session, and missed most of the morning in last-minute preparation. Speakers included Lorne Mook, William Pidduck, Dometa Wiegand BrothersAllison DushaneLinda L. Reesman, Lloyd Davies, and Julian Knox. Nicholas Halmi delivered the first plenary of the conference on Coleridge and Spinoza, much discussed afterwards. I’d be grateful for any details that other delegates can supply of what I missed in these papers.

I gave my paper on the politics of education and the Southey/Coleridge involvement in the Bell/Lancaster controversy in the afternoon. It led on to interesting discussions with Jeffrey Barbeau, and was generously referenced during his subsequent wide-ranging talk on Sara Coleridge and religious education, as well as by Andrea Timár. I’ll upload notes to my website for anyone interested. The afternoon was filled with a three-hour Quantocks hill walk, most memorable to me for conversations with Karen Swann on Wordsworth, ‘Salisbury Plain’, and the state of the world in general. After supper, a coach took all fifty-or-so delegates to Nether Stowey, where we ran leisurely relays between the pub and Coleridge cottage. The cottage is newly restored to something closer to its state during Coleridge’s residence. Above all, perhaps, the ‘low-burnt fire’ of Frost at Midnight can now be seen – or could, if lit.

The cottage tour was then appropriately followed by the highlight of the day – the flaming torchlit walk up to Stowey Castle. Our pitch torches blazing in the darkening streets, we set off up the hill looking like a congregation of dressed-down druids – Alan Vardy and Alan Bewell in particular looking the part. A dim sense of the cultish hung suspended over the Coleridgean crew – though it was later said that one man putting out his bins gave us a glance and carried on as though nothing could be more ordinary. Thus confirmed in Geraldine secrecy, we reached the stile, climbed over, walked the thin and treacherous path around the hillside, and were at the castle. We heard poetry as the torches burnt down and went out. Paul Cheshire then re-enacted Coleridge’s February 1801 ‘exertion of genius in making a paper-balloon’, and we watched like adult little Hartleys, ‘almost insane with Pleasure’, as ‘carrying up a bit of lighted Candle into the clouds’ went from ‘idea’ to event.

part 2
part 3

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Gothic (Political) Imagination

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