Happy (Recent) Birthday, Jane Austen!

Autograph note concerning the "Profits of my Novels, over and above the £600 in the Navy Fives" ca. March 1817

Detail of Jane Austen’s autograph note concerning the “Profits of my Novels, over and above the £600 in the Navy Fives” ca. March 1817. The Morgan Library and Museum.

Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775, and we want to highlight a few items around the web marking the occasion:

  • At Ms. Magazine Audrey Bilger (Professor of Literature, Claremont McKenna College) notes that on the occasion of Austen’s birth “Most likely much of the attention will focus on Austen as a writer of romances. Each of the novels concludes in marriage, after all, and the marriage of Elizabeth to Mr. Darcy is a particularly happy ending. We should also pay tribute, however, to Austen’s early adoption of feminist ideals and her insistence that women’s voices and experiences be taken seriously.”  Read her account of “Five Feminist Footnotes” to Jane Austen’s work here.
  • At the British Newspaper Archive, Ed King highlights the advertisements and newspaper notices for some first editions of Austen’s novels in the early nineteenth century.  The post includes images of the original newspapers (which are normally available only to subscribers).
  • The Morgan Library maintains an online version of its 2010 exhibit “A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy” which includes images of Austen manuscripts owned by the Morgan, video of luminaries such as Cornel West, Fran Leibowitz, Colm Tóibín, and others describing what Austen means to them, and more.

Dogs of the 18th Century

Brown and White Norfolk or Water Spaniel Date, 1778.  By George Stubbs (1724-1806, British).  Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Brown and White Norfolk or Water Spaniel Date, 1778. By George Stubbs (1724-1806, British). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Scholars date both the beginnings of modern pet-keeping and modern discourses of animal rights to the eighteenth century.  Here is just a small sampling of recent scholarly work on dogs in eighteenth-century life.

Laura Brown‘s book Homeless Dogs and Melancholy Apes (Cornell University Press, 2010) shows

how the literary works of the eighteenth century use animal-kind to bring abstract philosophical, ontological, and metaphysical questions into the realm of everyday experience, affording a uniquely flexible perspective on difference, hierarchy, intimacy, diversity, and transcendence. Writers of this first age of the rise of the animal in the modern literary imagination used their nonhuman characters—from the lapdogs of Alexander Pope and his contemporaries to the ill-mannered monkey of Frances Burney’s Evelina or the ape-like Yahoos of Jonathan Swift—to explore questions of human identity and self-definition, human love and the experience of intimacy, and human diversity and the boundaries of convention.

Lynn Festa‘s article on the English Dog Tax debate of 1796 was published in the journal Eighteenth-Century Life in 2009.  The abstract describes it thus (full text of the essay is available here):

Drawing on Parliamentary debates, print polemics, and satirical prints, this essay traces the rhetorical erosion of seemingly categorical distinctions between human and animal, animate and inanimate, person and thing, in the controversy that arose around the 1796 imposition of a tax on dogs. The passage of this seemingly slight piece of legislation created impassioned debates about the nature and welfare of animals, about the rights of individuals to possess or keep property, and about the way the kinship felt for animals tampers with the seemingly self-evident borders of kind. At a moment in which sentimental humanitarian concern with the rights and interests of animals had reached new heights, the taxation of dogs seemed to reclassify the animal as a thing and to draw into question the relation between humans and their ostensible best friends. Although proponents of the bill endeavor to proceed as if dogs can be considered on the same terms as other kinds of taxable luxuries (devouring resources that might better be devoted to humans), opponents of the tax focus on the bonds of mutual dependency and reciprocal obligation that tie humans and animals together, arguing that the right to keep a beloved entity such as a dog expresses a distinctively human need to keep something beyond mere, bare, necessity. Inasmuch as humanity is expressed and inheres in the relation people take to other creatures, the seeming superfluity of the dog embodies the essence of what allows, or enables, people to act as humans.

Chi-ming Yang, in “Culture in Miniature:  Toy Dogs and Object Life” in Eighteenth-Century Fiction examines porcelain dog figurines (particularly of the pug and King Charles spaniel, breeds imported from Asia and domesticated in England) produced in China and sold in England in the eighteenth century.  She argues:

The toy dog, a small but far from trivial commodity, mediated relations of racial, sexual, and species difference and helped establish a luxury market for the pet as a racialized fetish object that continues to this day.

The Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, published by the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, produced a Special Issue on “Animals in the Eighteenth Century” in December 2010.  While the full contents are only available to members and institutional subscribers, anyone can read abstracts of the articles at the link above.

Bernadette Paton of the Oxford English Dictionary charts the changing uses of dog-related vocabulary over time and notes that the eighteenth-century is an important turning point:

Until the eighteenth century small dogs kept as pets were regarded with some disdain (hence the negative connotations of lap-dog) but they enjoyed luxuries their outdoor counterparts could only dream of. But from the mid-1700s compounds attesting to the dog as a favoured and nurtured pet begin to appear, and they multiply and flourish throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth century. They include comforts like dog baskets (earliest in 1768 Catal. Household Furniture, ‘A dog-basket and cushion’), dog biscuits (specialized dog treats, from 1823), dog food, dog doctors (first recorded in 1771 Tobias Smollett’s novel Humphry Clinker, ‘A famous dog-doctor was sent for’), dog hospitals (from 1829), and dog soap (first use 1869). The first reference to the dog as ‘man’s best friend’ appears in 1841, at a time when dogs began to be sentimentalized, and to be seen as having, if not souls, then at least personalities and feelings (perhaps because the industrialized city no longer needed them as outdoor working or guard animals, while the rabies vaccination developed in the 1880s reduced the threat they posed).

Two articles in the Colonial Williamsburg Journal describe the dog’s life in the eighteenth century for a non-academic readership: “The Eighteenth Century Goes to the Dogs” (including a quiz matching eighteenth-century dogs to their famous owners) and “Personable Pooches.”

And someone has collected a vast array of eighteenth-century portraits of pets (many of them dogs) and their owners on Pinterest.

Eric G. Wilson on Keats & Weirdness

Benjamin Robert Haydon, “John Keats” (c. 1846). Pen and brown ink on wove paper. 9 1/8 x 7 3/8in. (23.2 x 18.7cm). Signed, dated and inscribed, in pen and brown ink, LC: John Keats 1816/ copied by B.R. Haydon from his/ original sketch. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. B1977.14.4160.

Friends and followers of The 18th-Century Common will likely want to read Professor Eric G. Wilson’s recent essay, entitled “Poetry Makes You Weird,” published earlier this week on the website of The Chronicle of Higher Education. 

Wilson’s piece reminds us of what happens with the convergence of poetry and nature and especially the “weird” but wonderful ways in which poetry (with all of its cherished oddities) possesses a unique ability to unlock the familiar and make it uncannily alive and rich and strange.

18th-Century Balloonomania!

An exact representation of Mr Lunardi's New Balloon as it ascended with himself 13 May 1785

An exact representation of Mr Lunardi’s New Balloon as it ascended with himself 13 May 1785. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Richard Holmes’ The Age of Wonder describes the balloonomania that seized France and England in 1783 when competing impresarios ascended in the first hot-air balloons.  Beyond Holmes’ chapter, there is even more balloonomania to explore.

Today, Thomas Keymer examines the venerable Samuel Johnson’s interest in balloons and human flight throughout his career in a post for the Oxford University Press blog:

Initially, Johnson saw huge potential in balloons for advancing human knowledge, and subscribed to a scientifically motivated scheme for high-altitude flight, which, he wrote, would “bring down the state of regions yet unexplored.” He was fascinated by thoughts of the view from above, though he couldn’t imagine seeing “the earth a mile below me, without a stronger impression on my brain than I should like to feel.” But in time Johnson grew more sceptical about the value of balloons—fragile, combustible, impossible to direct—for either transportation or science, and disease preoccupied him instead: “I had rather now find a medicine that can ease an asthma.” He never makes the analogy explicit, but it’s clear from his last letters that, consciously or otherwise, he came to associate his bloated, dropsical body with a sinking balloon, and his difficulty in breathing with an aeronaut’s struggle to stay inflated. In a gloomy, earthbound message just weeks before death, he seems to glimpse the void in Montgolfier shape. “You see some ballons succeed and some miscarry, and a thousand strange and a thousand foolish things,” he tells the enviably youthful, mobile Francesco Sastres: “But I see nothing; I must make my letter from what I feel, and what I feel with so little delight, that I cannot love to talk of it.”  [Read Keymer’s complete post here. ]

Gilbert King recently described the life of Sophie Blanchard, the first female aeronaut of the balloon craze in a post for Smithsonian Magazine’s website.

You can explore the Smithsonian Museum’s array of ceramics, textiles, paintings, furniture, and other objects commemorating and capitalizing on the balloonomania by browsing the collection The Birth of the Balloon at the National Air and Space Museum website.

Paul Keen’s new book Literature, Commerce, and the Spectacle of Modernity, 1750-1800, (Cambridge University Press, 2012) includes a chapter on Balloonomania; you can read a brief extract of the chapter here.

Cognitive Science and the Humanities in 18th-Century Studies

Characters and Caricatures: subscription ticket for 'Marriage à la Mode' (1743).  William Hogarth

Characters and Caricatures: subscription ticket for ‘Marriage à la Mode’ (1743). William Hogarth. Yale Center for British Art, Yale Art Gallery Collection, Gift of Chauncey B. Tinker, B.A. 1899

“This is your brain on Jane Austen…” declared the recent Stanford news description of the work of Natalie M. Phillips on fMRI brain images of graduate students reading Austen both attentively and in a more leisurely mode.  The story of this research collaboration among “neurobiological experts, radiologists and humanities scholars” was featured by news outlets around the world, indicating the broad appeal of research that applies the newer tools of cognitive neuroscience to humanities analysis.

Phillips’ work with cognitive scientists develops that of cognitive humanities scholars such as Alan Richardson, Jonathan Kramnick, Blakey Vermeule, and Lisa Zunshine.  These pioneers in the field of what some call “Cognitive Cultural Studies” ask how the new research on the brain should impact our analyses of cultural production in the eighteenth century.  Phillips augments this work by actually producing some of the new research on the brain.  While this collaboration between literary and scientific scholars seems exciting and new, in some ways it actually returns to the eighteenth-century model of discourse in which poetry and chemistry, music and astronomy mingled interactively (as Richard Holmes’ The Age of Wonder amply details).

The 18th-Century Common seeks contributions to a Collection on Cognitive Science and 18th-Century studies in which scholars engaged in this work–as well as those who critique it–will give readers tantalized by Natalie Phillips’ research on “your brain on Jane Austen” opportunities to learn more.

Meanwhile, here are some preliminary avenues of exploration:

The Afterlife of Mary Shelley (in New York City)

Frontispiece of the 1831 edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; engraving by Theodor M. von Holst. Private Collection/Bridgeman Art Library.

In January, The Kitchen (self-described as a “non-profit, interdisciplinary organization that provides innovative artists working in the media, literary, and performing arts with exhibition and performance opportunities”) in New York City will unveil its exhibition, entitled “Radiohole:  Inflatable Frankenstein!”.  The exhibition will explore the “tumultuous and tragic life of Mary Shelley,” author of the (in)famous (and brilliant) novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus (1818) and wife of British Romantic author, Percy Bysshe Shelley.

The Shelleys have been the subject of numerous recent exhibitions in Manhattan.  The Kitchen’s provocative exploration of Shelley and her Frankenstein follows in the wake of the New York Public Library’s Shelley’s Ghost:  The Afterlife of a Poet, which investigated “the literary and cultural legacy” of the Shelleys and their Romantic-age circle of authors and fellow intellectuals this past February 24th-June 24th at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building’s Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Gallery.  Indeed, the literary and cultural reputation of the Shelleys is alive and well in New York.

18th-Century Feminism, Women’s Poetry, and an 18th-Century Library

Portrait of a Lady, Unknown artist (18th century), British. Yale Center for British Art, Gift of Dr. Ruth Ivor.

This week the Tumblr for Eighteenth-Century Fiction highlights a fascinating list of articles from the journal’s archive on feminism in eighteenth-century literature and culture, with links to articles on Burney, Wollstonecraft, Defoe, and more.

Readers of The 18th-Century Common should also check out The Aphra Behn Society’s ABO: Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts, 1640-1830ABO is an “online annual publication that serves as a forum for interactive scholarly discussion on all aspects of women in arts between 1640 and 1830, especially literature, visual arts, music, performance art, film criticism, and production arts. The journal features peer-reviewed articles encompassing subjects on a global range” and while it is “intended for scholars and students” we expect it will interest the nonacademic readers who frequent The 18th-Century Common.  We want especially to direct you to the first volume, Women’s Poetry.

The New York Society Library, founded in 1754 as a subscription library, recently cataloged a collection of late 18th- and early 19th-century books.  As their press release explains:

The New York Society Library has recently completed the online cataloging of its Hammond Collection:
1,152 novels, plays, poetry, and other works from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Originally
part of a New England lending library, these volumes date from 1720 to 1847 (bulk dates 1770-1820)
and reflect the popular reading interests of those years, including Gothic novels, romances, epistolary
fiction, musical comedies, and other genres. A number of these books are quite scarce; in a few cases,
the NYSL holds the only known extant copy.

To browse these books as a group in the Library’s catalog: http://library.nysoclib.org/,
search by author for “James Hammond’s Circulating Library.”

While you’ll have to go to New York to actually read the books, we recommend browsing the catalog, wherever you are.

Happy (Recent) Birthday, Sir William Herschel!

Sir William Herschel, detail of an oil painting by L. Abbott, 1785; in the National Portrait Gallery, London. © National Portrait Gallery, London

November 15 was the birthday of composer and astronomer Sir William Herschel (1738-1822).  As a musician who also discovered the planet Uranus, Herschel plays a starring role in Richard Holmes’ The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science (Knopf, 2009), a book that is one of our points of departure at The 18th-Century Common.  On November 15, 2012, the radio program Composers Datebook played Herschel’s Oboe Concerto in C; you can listen the program here.  A short biography of Herschel can be found here.  A collection of the papers of William Herschel, Caroline Herschel, and John F. W. Herschel are housed at the Royal Astronomical Society.   You can see a picture of the 20-foot telescope Herschel built here.  You can explore Herschel’s accounts of his astronomical findings at 18thConnect.org, where I’ve created an “Exhibit” of 4 texts.  Tristra Johnson examines the representation of gender in Holmes’ account of William Herschel and his sister Caroline Herschel for The 18th-Century Common here.

Guns and Austen

The military contrast, print from 1773

The military contrast, print from 1773. Source: ECF Tumblr

Jacqueline Langille, Managing Editor of the journal Eighteenth-Century Fiction, offers a weekly post on the ECF Tumblr that features a thematic collection of articles from the journal’s archives.  The links she posts take you to abstracts of the articles, and from there you can freely download the articles in full.  As many journals charge hefty fees both to institutions and individual subscribers, Eighteenth-Century Fiction must be commended for allowing open access to its articles.  If you are an enthusiast of eighteenth-century studies, you should follow the ECF Tumblr!  This week’s ECF Tumblr post features the entire Special Issue of the journal from 2006 on War/La Guerre, including an essay that is a recurring favorite of my students: Christopher Loar’s “How to Say Things With Guns: Military Technology and the Politics of Robinson Crusoe.”

Susan Celia Greenfield, Associate Professor of English at Fordham University, has been writing a series of blog posts for the Huffington Post this fall called The Jane Austen Weekly.  She makes provocative and convincing connections between Jane Austen and contemporary events, demonstrating the continuing importance of the (long) eighteenth century, which is very much our goal at The 18th-Century Common as well.  This week she reminds us that we learn from Austen’s (in)famous narrative reticence to be suspicious of an unironic desire for narrative control such as we heard expressed repeatedly by both sides in the U.S. presidential campaign.

The Jane Austen Society of North America just released its Call for Papers for its Annual Meeting in Montreal in October 2014.  JASNA is famously open to academics and nonacademics alike, and as such is a real-life model for the kind of meeting of minds that we hope to achieve at The 18th-Century Common.  For all you know, we may even be administering The 18th-Century Common in Regency costumes…