Luisa Turczynski , 14.01.2020

“Late Romanticism: Past and Present”

Conference organized by the KU Leuven English Literature Research Group (University of Leuven, 12.–14.12.2019)

Organizers: Ortwin de Graef, Brecht de Groote, Raphaël Ingelbien, Vivian Liska, Tom Toremans, Pieter Vermeulen, Laura Cernat, Ernest de Clerck, Melanie Hacke

Dates: 12–14 December 2019

Venue: University of Leuven, Faculty of Arts

Conference Report by Luisa Turczynski, Research Training Group ‘The Romantic Model’, FSU Jena

“A sense of ending is upon us, once more. Faced with ecological calamity, the humanities in permanent crisis, and democracy in peril, literary and cultural scholars increasingly turn to concepts that capture the ways in which texts reflect on untimely and precarious survival.” [1]

The above-quoted words open the Call for Papers that preceded the international conference on “Late Romanticism: Past and Present”, hosted by the Faculty of Arts of the University of Leuven in December 2019. They highlight the current relevance of such concepts as lateness, belatedness, and lastness, which reflect and negotiate this pressing “sense of ending” and come to the fore in a remarkable number of contemporary Anglophone literary works. The conference aimed to investigate respective discourses of lateness through its origins in the romantic era, “which has often been credited with (or blamed for) establishing its structures” [2]. The three-day symposium examined the reverberations between past and present lateness from multifaceted perspectives and in a variety of formats.

Theorizing Romantic Lateness: Concepts, Genres, and Biographies

Despite the fact that the interconnected ideas of lateness, belatedness, and lastness were repeatedly referred to as slippery concepts that defy consistent definition, several conference speakers demonstrated their endeavors to theorize the romantic notion of lateness, especially within the panel on “Late Things: Theories of the Late and Last”. For instance, in her talk “‘We are born for lateness’ – Byron, Cixous and the Unbearable Lateness of Being” Miroslava Horová presented Lord Byron’s conception of poetry as an intuitive process connecting past and future possibilities and interpretations, which conceptualizes the present as a liminal, unrecordable feeling. Horová marked this notion of ‘unrecordability’ as a romantic paradox indicating the limitedness of language, which is taken a step further by the French post-structural feminist writer Hélène Cixous. Accordingly, Cixous views the very processes of living and writing as being interwoven with an inevitable lateness of recording thought.Cixous further problematizes our reliance on an anticipatory continuity when imagining the future in a world that is, in fact, devoid of such continuity. Furthermore, in her contribution to the panel, titled “How a ‘human being may be dehumanised’? – Late Coleridge, Modernity, and Belatedness”, Andrea Timár addressed Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s individual and historical sense of belatedness. Timár explored how Coleridge’s conception of belatedness is complicated by his idea of ‘dehumanisation’ and how these concepts could be historicized and related to an understanding of modernity. The panel was rounded off by Gregory Jones-Katz’ talk on “Jewish Critics and Yale Romanticism” that investigated the impact of the Yale professors Geoffrey Hartman and Harold Bloom in establishing a romantic revivalism within American academia, which was stimulated by the professional predicaments they faced as second-generation Jewish academics.

The concept of romantic belatedness itself was further theorized in Tim Milnes’ presentation on “Charles Lamb’s Empirical Elegy” in the panel called “Writing in the Aftermath: Reading Late Romantics”. Milnes addressed the way in which Charles Lamb’s essayistic work elegizes an empirical sense of truth, thus connecting the idea of belatedness to an unprecedented experience of loss that romantic writers grappled with in their novel intellectual landscape of ‘post-truth’. Milnes’ particular interest lay in the form of Lamb’s essays that are situated in-between empirical aesthetics and transcendental lyricism, thus establishing an indeterminate space between the prose of everyday conversation and the poetry of imagination, as well as an ambiguity between the real and fictional. In his contribution to the same panel, titled “The Fold in Romanticism: Dating the End of Romanticism in Biographies”, Brecht de Groote marked the temporality of literary biographies that flourished in the 1820s and 30s as quintessentially late productions. Accordingly, these texts not only detail the lives and acts of key romantic figures but also allegorize their individual lives into the history of romanticism at large, reflecting its inevitable ending. They thus strive to negotiate a transition in history, to ‘digest’ the romantic legacy and, at the same time, to imagine a way forward. A biographical approach was further taken by the panel’s third speaker, Anna Anselmo, who investigated how John Polidori’s biographical sense of misplacement, asynchrony, and belatedness translated into the master tropes of his literary endeavors.

Transnational Lateness – Translations, Cultural Transfers, and National Politics

Besides its focus on Irish romanticism as a self-consciously late romantic cultural field, the conference engaged with further transnational constellations of romantic lateness. The respective panel on “Transnational Lateness” was opened by Ernest De Clerck’s talk “Letters from Anywhere: Late-Romantic Magazines Crossing Borders”. It addressed the ways British literary magazines of the 1820s fostered the cultural transfer of the literatures and habits of other European societies by printing “Letters from Anywhere”. However, as De Clerck emphasized, these sections not only illustrate the cosmopolitan ideal of a Pan-European identity, but also served to solidify notions of a particularly British national identity and literature. Hence, they epitomize the ambiguous transnational dynamics of late romantic British literature that ought to be taken into consideration when positioning British romanticism in a European context. James Thomas’ contribution to the panel focused on “English Translations of Occitan Literature, 1823–1844”, understanding such translations as crucial to both the development of Anglophone comparative literature and to the transnational reception of Occitan. Thomas traced how such translations established a hybrid romantic image of the troubadour as a ‘warrior-lover-poet’, which was utilized by late romantic women writers as a key figure for negotiating topics such as gender, identity, and desire. The transnational spread of information central to the 1820s was further addressed in the conference’s closing keynote lecture “The Late-Romantic Information Age”, that was given by Angela Esterhammer. Mapping the era’s unprecedentedly large-scale transmission of information and the rapid transformations that accompanied print proliferation and commercialization, Esterhammer characterized late romanticism as both an age of information and an age-in-formation.

Contemporary Green Legacies of Late Romanticism

As indicated by the above-quoted text passage from the conference’s Call for Papers, a great interest lay in reverberations between past and present lateness. Most remarkably, such reverberations were tackled in the panel “Greening Lateness”, opened by Ross Wilson’s talk “Shelley’s Vines: Rewilding the Ruins?”. Wilson examined Percy Shelley’s images of collapsed human civilizations and the subsequent colonization of their ruins by a resurgent nature against the backdrop of contemporary conceptions of ‘rewilding’ and post-human nature. Depicting nature’s revitalizing power and imagining vegetable growth as being entirely exempt from human purposes and pleasures, Percy Shelley appears to celebrate the belated return to nature and the implied improvement upon human civilization. Wilson associated his reading of Shelley’s work with the contemporary ecological projects of ‘rewilding’ that aim at the large-scale conservation and restoration of wilderness areas. In a similar vein, Milica Zivkovic’s contribution to the same panel, titled “A Contact Zone of the Human and the Inhuman in Mary Shelley’s The Last Man”, called for a reevaluation of romantic texts in the context of our present age, the Anthropocene. According to Zivkovic, Mary Shelley’s late romantic novel ought to be re-read as a (previously unacknowledged) legislator of critical posthumanism as it negotiates the contact between human and inhuman lives and questions romantic anthropocentrism. The often neglected ‘green heritage’ of romantic literature was further addressed by the panel’s third contributor, Christoph Richter-Rodiek. His talk “Back to the Future: Renegotiating Nature in Contemporary British and German Nature Writing” explored exemplary British and German ‘new Nature Writers’ in terms of both their ties to romantic predecessors and their progression to a self-reflexive mode of Nature Writing.

The panel on “Greening Lateness” demonstrated the symposium’s engagement with the recent and relevant re-assessment of romantic literature in light of the current ecological crisis that confronts us with yet another “sense of ending” [3]. This endeavor was also reflected in Sara Guyer’s keynote lecture “Always Untimely, But Never Too Late: Romanticism in These Times” that drew on the afore-mentioned notion of a ‘post-truth’ era and the connected testimonial turn, which frame current ecological problems such as climate change and species extinction as a matter of belief rather than scientific fact. The connection between romanticism and the Anthropocene is further elaborated in Jacques Khalip’s 2018 monograph Last Things: Disastrous Form from Kant to Hujar, which served as one of the reading materials for the conference’s first plenary seminar that Khalip led together with David L. Clark. Last Things discusses the Anthropocene, “our destructive dwelling at the end-of-the-world, […] as yet another trope for the kind of historical situatedness that romanticism appears to always revolutionarily inaugurate” [4].


Schedule Overview

The following overview only lists the attended events. Please see the link below for the entire conference schedule:

Thursday 12 December

Welcome & Opening Remarks: Tom Toremans and Brecht de Groote (University of Leuven)

Keynote Lecture 1: “Structures of Feeling: Williams, Richards, Wordsworth“, James Chandler (University of Chicago)
Chair: Brecht de Groote (University of Leuven)

Concurrent Sessions 1 1B. Ireland, Young and Old
Chair: Matthew Sangster (University of Glasgow)
Claire Connolly (University College Cork), “The Impending Era: Late formations of Irish romanticism“
Jane Moore (Cardiff University), “Song Forms: Venues, prizes, poetry and performance – Moore, Coleridge & Hemans”
Raphaël Ingelbien (University of Leuven), “James Clarence Mangan’s short fiction and Irish Romantic belatedness”

Concurrent Sessions 2 2B. Writing in the Aftermath: Reading Late Romantics
Chair: David Sigler (University of Calgary)
Tim Milnes (University of Edinburgh), “Charles Lamb’s Empirical Elegy”
Brecht de Groote (University of Leuven), “The Fold in Romanticism: Dating the End of Romanticism in Biographies”
Anna Anselmo (Aosta Valley University), “Out of Step, Out of Time: John Polidori’s Asynchrony”

Keynote Lecture 2: „Dementia Poetics“, Tim Fulford (De Montfort University)
Chair: Pieter Vermeulen (University of Leuven)

Friday 13 December

Concurrent Sessions 3 3A. Greening Lateness
Ross Wilson (University of Cambridge), “Shelley’s Vines: Rewilding the Ruins?”
Christoph Richter-Rodiek (University of Leuven), “Back to the Future: Renegotiating Nature in Contemporary British and German Nature Writing”
Milica Zivkovic (University of Nis), “A Contact Zone of the Human and the Inhuman in Mary Shelley’s The Last Man”

Plenary Seminar 1: “Contemporary Constellations of Late Romanticism: Lastness, Lateness, and other Romantic Leave-takings”
David L. Clark (McMaster University) and Jacques Khalip (Brown University)

Concurrent Sessions 4 4A. Late Things: Theories of the Late and Last
Chair: Simon Swift (University of Geneva)
Gregory Jones-Katz (Chinese University of Hong Kong), “Twilight Romanticism: Jew Critics at Yale”
Andrea Timár (Eötvös Loránd University and Central European University), “How a ‘human being may be dehumanised’? – Late Coleridge, Modernity, and Belatedness”
Miroslava Horová (Charles University of Prague), “‘We are born for lateness’ – Byron, Cixous and the Unbearable Lateness of Being”

Concurrent Sessions 5 5B. Transnational Lateness
Chair: Matthew Sangster (University of Glasgow)
Ernest De Clerck (University of Leuven): “Letters from Anywhere: Late Romantic Magazines Crossing Borders”
James Thomas (Independent), “From Thomas Roscoe to Louisa Costello: English Translations of Occitan Literature, 1823–1844”

Keynote Lecture 3: “Always Untimely, But Never Too Late: Romanticism in These Times”
The Second Annual Geoffrey Hartman Memorial Lecture
Sponsored by the Institute for Jewish Studies (University of Antwerp)

Sara Guyer (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Chair: Ortwin de Graef (University of Leuven)

Saturday 14 December

Concurrent Sessions 6 6A. What the Victorians Made of Romanticism: Romantic Victorians
Chair: Raphaël Ingelbien (University of Leuven)
Julie Donovan (George Washington University), “Irish Romantic Victorians & Harriet Martineau”
Deaglán Ó Donghaile (Liverpool John Moores University), “Oscar Wilde‘s Late Romanticism”
David Sigler (University of Calgary), ““Perhaps you were never in Belgium?”: Expatriate Englishness as Late Romanticism in Charlotte Brontë’s The Professor”

Keynote Lecture 4: „The Late-Romantic Information Age“, Angela Esterhammer (University of Toronto
Chair: Tom Toremans



[1], accessed on December, 21, 2019.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Jacques Khalip: Last Things. Disastrous Form from Kant to Hujar, Fordham Univ. Press 2018.