Novel Prospects: Teaching Romantic-era Fiction

Prospecting Pedagogy

Let me make the novels of a country, and let who will make the systems
—Anna Laetitia Barbauld, “On the Origin and Progress of Novel Writing” (1810)

Prospect: n. 1.a. The action or fact of looking out or towards a distant object etc. b. A place providing an extensive view. 2. a.An extensive or commanding view of landscape. b. A person’s range or scope of vision. 3. The appearance presented by something. 4. That which is visible or seen from a place or point of view; a scene, a landscape. (New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary)

  1. There has been a sea-change in the past two decades in the field of Romantic literature. Initiated by the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution in 1989 and strengthened in 2007 by the anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain, attention to the last decades of the eighteenth century and the first decades of the nineteenth as historically distinctive and culturally contested is well-established. Driven by related changes in the history of the novel and in literary historicism, prose fiction in particular has become a hot property for Romanticists.[1] Continued interest in women writers both radical and conservative, a sustained focus on the material conditions of literary production and the rise of print culture, continuing claims for popular and gothic fiction as worthy of attention, and the expansion of period studies to intersect with fields ranging from Women’s Studies and Black Studies to Cultural and Postcolonial Studies (to name a few), have all contributed to make the novel of greater interest to teachers of Romanticism than ever before. From a much-neglected genre for Romanticists, narrative fiction has become a consistent feature at conferences, in special issues of journals, and the subject of monographs and collected essays.[2] No longer the poor cousin of Romantic poetry, the “Romantic” novel is coming into its own.

  2. The growing interest in fiction from 1789-1830 raises difficult questions for scholars, however. Beyond noting its date of publication, how can one legitimately identify a novel as “Romantic” and more importantly, what is at stake in making such a claim? Do most novels written during this period fit well with our understanding of “Romanticism” as a literary and cultural movement, or do they pose challenges to such an understanding? This notoriously cannibalistic genre—popular in England, Scotland, Ireland, and beyond the British isles in the new world, France and the German states—includes the philosophical romance, the Jacobin and anti-Jacobin English novel, the moral tale or conduct narrative, domestic fiction, novels of sensibility, seduction narratives, the national tale, gothic fictions, and the political novel, merely to name a few. The range of material considered as “Romantic-era fiction” and the list of authors who might be included on course syllabi continues to expand, posing particular problems for survey, period, genre, and topical courses. Perhaps most importantly for teachers of Romanticism, how do we teach these works? How does teaching these novels impact the grand narratives or counter-narratives with which we frame our teaching (what William St. Clair in The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period has referred to as dominated by either the “parade” or the “parliamentary” model of literary history)? Where and in what contexts do we teach them, and how do we invite our students to find their way into these texts and their many purposes? Finally, does studying these works offer particular possibilities for students not only to learn content (formal, genre, period, history, political or cultural issues), but to learn how to engage in scholarship itself by participating in ongoing literary debates that these texts engender? Does our engagement with Romantic scholarship impact our pedagogical practices, and ought it?

  3. In her influential 1980 essay “Dancing Through the Minefield” Annette Kolodny described the intersection of pedagogy and literary canons, arguing that:

    We read well and with pleasure, what we already know how to read; and what we know how to read is to a large extent dependent upon what we have already read (works from which we’ve developed our expectations and learned our interpretive strategies). What we then choose to read—and, by extension, teach, and thereby “canonize”—usually follows upon our previous reading. Radical breaks are tiring, demanding, uncomfortable, and sometimes wholly beyond our comprehension. [3]
    This is an important reminder for those teaching Romantic literature; first, we tend to come to the field with a sense of a well-established and canonical tradition, even if we consider our own work counter-canonical in some respects. Additionally, Romantic fiction is developing its own sets of conventions as well; we tend to specialize in particular kinds of works and to consider certain texts as foundational to that field. But on what basis do we do this? Should foundational works be chosen because they are the “best” and have stood the test of time, because they fit well with or helpfully revise conceptions of “Romanticism,” or because we can document their popularity through book sales, reprints, periodical reviews, or inclusion in anthologies and collections? As teachers, don’t we participate in constructing and reconstructing canons and period narratives in building our courses, and how transparent should or can we be about these processes? Some of our students may go on to become publishers, writers, reviewers, and even academics, and our choices have direct and lasting impact upon the future of our field beyond our own scholarly record of articles and books. In this way we bear responsibility for what will continue to be read and even on what will make its way back into print or fall out of print.
  4. Finally, Kolodny reminds us that trying to break out of familiar and comfortable lineages is exhausting—intellectually exhausting—and difficult to maintain. One implication of this is that thinking about teaching Romanticism in ways that challenge traditional narratives, conventions of generic affiliation, or even national literary traditions should be difficult. When it becomes easy, we are no longer pressing against the boundaries of what we think that we know. As teachers this is something we recognize; a student who is deeply challenged may express discomfort or frustration, but often with patience and perseverance those great teaching-moments of break-through or insight follow. But no one can sustain this kind of work alone, hence the need for serious and open discussion of teaching as the most actively engaged form of outreach we perform.

  5. The very term “Romantic-era novel” itself is in some ways problematic. First, the terms “Romantic” and “novel” are not universally accepted as congruent. Secondly, the “Romantic era” is more fluid than even our dates suggest, reaching arguably quite far back in traditions of sensibility and melancholia and certainly well beyond 1830 in the novel tradition. Romanticism as a movement was broadly transnational, yet the “Romantic-era novel” as we use it here tends to reinforce a narrowly British vision and the dates we’re using to bracket the period of strictest focus, 1789-1830, are implicitly British dates. Although in this period “Britain” importantly reaches out to include (or seeks to appropriate) the margins of the British isles, there are also strong links between British Romantic writing and German, French, and American literature with Goethe, Rousseau, de Stael, Genlis, and Brockden Brown as major figures of influence and transmission. Yet, by framing this discussion with the “Romantic-era novel,” though we evade the strong claim that there is “a” Romantic novel and that we know precisely what that is (a highly divisive claim), we do tend to privilege a lens that is more narrowly nationalist and British. One area for further work is a more trans-national account that will challenge dominant narratives of Romanticism differently, though this need is hampered certainly by the institutional practices that locate most of us within national literary traditions and at least in anglophone countries, set “English” aside from “Modern languages.” The problematics of the term “Romantic-era novel”—both the hesitation between historical period or artistic movement, and the implicitly limited focus on British fiction and its influences—remains in need of scholarly and even teacherly intervention. Quite simply, some of the most provocative work on Romantic literature and fiction has come from scholars located in comparative literature.[4] Other kinds of boundary-crossing, however, are more in evidence here: first in giving serious attention to prose fiction in a tradition more celebrated for lyric verse, secondly in attending to a wide generic range beyond the more commonly invoked gothic fictions, and thirdly in inviting contributors to traverse the expected divide between scholarship and teaching—our “work” and the “work” that we do.

    This Issue

  6. This edition of Romantic Pedagogy Commons was generated in response to a discussion on the listserve of the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (NASSR). Regularly, those who specialize in teaching Romantic literature posted requests for suggestions of novels they might include in their courses. In some instances, the course was one that focused on the nineteenth-century novel and the instructor recognized a gap in the syllabus between the late eighteenth century and the Victorian era. Other instructors wanted to know what novels might be included productively in a Romanticism class, while some were interested in options beyond commonly used works such as Frankenstein, Sense and Sensibility, Mysteries of Udolpho, The Monk, or Waverley. For those of us working in this field, there is an awareness that the ongoing conversation about this fiction needs to move from the pages of academic journals and conference panels into the classroom. This issue is an attempt to build this bridge.

  7. What are the implications of this collection? First, we assert that Romantic-era fiction can productively and, by extension, should be taught, and taught in a wide range of courses. Teaching these novels affords a real opportunity, as these essays suggest, for engaging students with the problems of historicity and historical mediation, with readerly experience and interpretive communities, with representing religious faith and human difference(s), and with an expansive range of genres and hybrid genres. Secondly, as these essays show, teaching these texts can effectively enhance students’ understanding not only of Romantic literature (poetry and prose) but of the nature of scholarly inquiry itself. One of the liabilities of teaching Romantic-era fiction—that we are still learning about it and defining it—is also one of the characteristics that make it most pedagogically significant. It invites inquiry about how academic fields are composed and implicitly confronts questions about aesthetic value. It demands an understanding of cultural contexts, if only to explain why these novels have been ignored for so long. [5] Further, it can put into question the notion that some kinds of writing are merely “contexts” while others are legitimate objects of study.

  8. Questions of authorship are also foregrounded, given that many of these authors were not members of the traditional literati: more women produced novels in this period than did men; this period includes identifiable autodidacts and laboring authors; many writers were dissenters or evangelical Anglicans; many of these writers lacked traditional classical Oxbridge educations; some began as actors or as translators; some were motivated by didactic or political causes across the political spectrum; most wrote for money. Finally, the reading history of these novels itself helpfully contextualizes and situates our own readings and expands the purposes of reading “old” books beyond the classroom. Given recent media reports that leisure reading is declining, it is imperative to sustain a larger reading community. Because of their own direct interest in engaging readers through emotional response, humor, intellectual critique, political appeal, and a sense of belonging to a special community of readers, these novels are particularly valuable for this project. Finally, the availability of excellent digital resources in this field can augment the kinds of reading and writing that draw our students in and offer a range of inventive and varied pedagogies.

    Romantic Studies Now

  9. Given the wide range of print and electronic editions and resources that are available to us, now is a good time to work with Romantic-era fiction. No longer restricted to a few representative novels, ranging from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (initially only in the 1832 edition) and Walter Scott’s Waverley to Jane Austen’s mock-gothic Northanger Abbey or her dyadic Sense and Sensibility, or even Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho, thanks to Broadview Press, Valancourt Press, University of Kentucky Press, and online resources such as Chawton House (, the Corvey Project (, Eighteenth-Century Contents Online (ECCO, subscription based database), the Women Writers Project (, and the Orlando Project (, we are gaining a more expansive sense of the literary landscape that produced these landmark texts. Courses on gothic fiction can now go beyond Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto, William Beckford’s Vathek, Anne Radcliffe’s The Italian, and Matthew Lewis’s The Monk to include Charlotte Dacre’s Zofloya, Eliza Parsons’s The Castle of Wolfenbach, Marie Roche’s Clermont, Francis Lathom’s The Impenetrable Secret: Find It Out! or Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Zastrozzi. It is now possible to teach all of the “dreadful tales” mentioned in Northanger Abbey, or to include Sophia Lee’s 1782 The Recess as a predecessor to either Radcliffe or the historical novel. Nor are we restricted to gothic fiction: not only the novels of Walter Scott and Jane Austen, but period fiction by Robert Bage, Maria Edgeworth, Susan Ferrier, William Godwin, Elizabeth Hamilton, Mary Hays, Elizabeth Helme, James Hogg, Elizabeth Inchbald, Charles Lucas, Hannah More, Amelia Opie, Sydney Owenson, Jane Porter, Mary Robinson, Charlotte Smith, George Walker, and the full works of Mary Shelley are now available in affordable classroom editions. Translated works by non-anglophone writers are available in some of these online resources, and in some cases the translations themselves were the work of British “Romantic” writers.

  10. The diversity of the essays in this collection is evidence that we have moved beyond the hunting and gathering project of recovering Romantic-era fiction. Scott, Austen, Shelley, and Radcliffe are here, but some of these authors’ less frequently taught works receive more attention here or are resituated by being paired with less familiar works. This edition also stakes a claim for Romantic-era fiction as essential to our understanding of the period; we acknowledge this when we include “the gothic,” Austen or Frankenstein on our reading list for a Romanticism survey. With these changes surely comes an obligation to teach these novels when we teach Romantic literature. Yet for some of us this material has become important only since our time in graduate school or as junior scholars. Isolated into individual institutions and reliant on published work or conferences for a sense of how this field is developing, where are we to develop our sense of how to teach this material and prepare our students to become better and more thoughtful readers or even future teachers of this material?

  11. By contrast, for some the “Romantic novel” isn’t even a question, but a recognized and respected field, a familiar dissertation and course topic. We need to talk with each other. Some universities and colleges have faculties that represent this area well, but in others senior figures in the field are absent and dedicated course offerings come around only rarely. For many of us, cross-talk across different national traditions is constrained by departmental structures. What do we lose by reading only in a single language tradition, even as we acknowledge the influence of thinkers such as Rousseau, Genlis, or Goethe on British fiction?

  12. One goal of a collection like this is to create an electronic cohort and to provide the sense of a vibrant community of teachers committed to the Romantic-era novel under various titles. Institutional range and representation of teacher-scholars at different points in their careers is critical here. Some of the problems revealed and creatively engaged by these essays highlight institutional differences. Faculty who teach at larger research universities, even at regional campuses, may have access to resources that are lacking at smaller institutions. While the worldwide web does make some images and texts easier to locate even for a geographically isolated institution, there is no doubt that a good research library that subscribes to extensive runs of print and electronic journals, that regularly acquires books in the field both primary and secondary, and that subscribes to important text-searchable databases such as ECCO (Eighteenth-Century Content Online) and good image-databases can support teaching differently. Several of the essays in this collection touch on this problem and highlight ways to include more unfamiliar work by using generally available web resources or by creatively working with limited copies by having students work on different texts.

  13. Although some Romantic-era fiction lends itself to teaching with the traditional Romantic canon, Stephen Behrendt’s caution in “Questioning the Romantic Novel” is important for us to consider: “In addressing the Romantic novel, I wonder if we have not been guilty of asking the wrong questions, of looking at the landscape only after first consulting a map, so that we see what we expect to see rather than looking around on our own and seeing what is actually there before us.”[6] This question importantly echoes Kolodny’s concern about teaching that with which we are already familiar, suggesting a new geography for Romanticism, new “prospects” for the novel. While the first step toward teaching this fiction might be to choose texts that work with the existing Romanticisms with which we are already familiar and to link this fiction with previous literary periods, these essays show that these texts can stand on their own and are, more importantly, in conversation with each another. Studying them in their own right as a body of literature yields valuable insights and makes for rewarding teaching. The range of genres and subgenres, of formal styles, of political or cultural affiliation, and of intertextual reference are immense and worthy of sustained focus in the college curriculum.

    Who We Are And Our Contributors

  14. As teachers ourselves at public institutions, one at a large state university near a major metropolitan area with both undergraduate and graduate populations and the other at a very small honors college located in a small city in the southeast, we are alive to issues that are shared but also to those that are institutionally distinctive. Miriam teaches at New College of Florida, a public liberal arts honors college with highly selective admissions, narrative evaluations, and an emphasis on close student-faculty relations. Patricia teaches at Montclair University in New Jersey, a regional state university with a broad statewide teaching mission, larger classes, and a traditional system of evaluation. We both teach focused courses on novels from 1780 to 1830, but likewise we both teach courses that serve multiple populations, from English majors to prospective Education majors or pre-medical students fulfilling requirements for their degrees. Patricia Matthew teaches in a large department with twenty-nine members where she is the department’s specialist in Romanticism, teaching Romantic poetry and nineteenth-century fiction.  Miriam Wallace teaches in a “Division of Humanities” that includes only four specialists in English-language literature, and she is responsible for teaching British literature from 1660 with a focus on the novel and on critical theory.

  15. As scholars some of our questions were very similar, though one of us identifies as a specialist in the Romantic novel, while the other locates her work in the “long eighteenth century.” We do represent some significant differences of scholarly perspective, however. While Patricia focuses more directly on second-generation Romantic novelists, and argues for the merit of treating these works as a distinct and literarily significant field, Miriam focuses more on the works that bridge between the eighteenth-century novel and the earlier Romantic period as a developing “structure of feeling.” As teachers, nevertheless, we both found the essays included here suggestive and inspirational.

  16. Additionally, we both come to this project from the experience of a summer NEH Seminar led by Stephen Behrendt, one on “Rethinking British Romantic Fiction” (2003) and the other on “Genre, Dialog, and Community” (2005), and our experiences with those different seminars also impacted our approach to this collection, with Miriam resisting the parochialism of some approaches to Romanticism and Patricia defending the distinctiveness and aesthetic complexity of British Romantic fiction.

  17. In both cases, we share the problems of teachers across the country who find their students without wide familiarity even with the most canonical Romantic writers, lacking in real historical knowledge, and limited by minimal exposure to older literature and language. Yet, like the contributors to this volume, we have found our students respond enthusiastically to these novels and even go beyond classroom requirements when properly inspired.  Also like them, we continue to work through the question of how scholarly changes might impact our teaching: do we 1) revise a standard syllabus in the “add and stir” method, 2) create a new unit to incorporate the novel into a standard Romanticism survey, 3) develop a whole new course or set of courses, 4) rethink the core structures of surveys, history of the novel, or common generic conceptions such as “domestic fiction” or “historical fiction” to offer counter-narratives and new approaches?

  18. For example, in a course on the gothic novel, Miriam had students begin predictably with Walpole to set some foundational parameters, Vathek to incorporate questions of homoeroticism and orientalism, read Radcliffe’s Italian and Lewis’s Monk to set up the conventional female vs. male gothic and terror/horror, and read Burke’s essay on “Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful” along with some visual materials to tease out the functions of landscape, poetic effusions, and how the sublime in nature works. We read Dacre’s Zofloya to undercut the simplistic gendering of gothic fiction that associates female authorship with Radcliffean faith in rational explanation and delicate sensibility. Less conventionally, the class also read Godwin’s Caleb Williams in which gothic oppression is revealed to be located at “home” in England rather than safely on the continent and in the past, and Charles Brockden Brown’s Weiland to think about how gothic mystery and tyranny and religious enthusiasm are represented as undergirding the new nation of America. Miriam also assigned Austen’s Northanger Abbey for its double-voiced critique and use of gothic tropes, and the class ended with Frankenstein, which both exemplified some of our larger themes (the sublime, the heimlich elements of the gothic, the problems of patriarchal family order and Enlightenment science, the rewriting of geography and history).

  19. Because her extended scholarly work on the radical writers associated with Wollstonecraft and Godwin, Miriam very much wanted to link the growth of gothic fiction to political novels because so many of them use gothic tropes. But they regularly locate the problems highlighted by gothic archaicism in modern-day Britain rather than a historically and geographically distance “Catholic” context, from the madhouse in Wrongs of Woman and marriage in The Natural Daughter, to the legal system in Caleb Williams, and from aristocratic and male privilege in Victim of Prejudice or Hermsprong, to West Indian slavery in multiple works—including Adeline Mowbray, Belinda and even briefly Emma Courtney and A Simple Story. In part this was an “add and stir” approach because she simply added some unusual choices to a fairly standard reading list for a course on the gothic novel. However, the range of the assigned reading did change some of the questions that students asked. Noting that most of the British gothic novels locate the source of terror and oppression in Catholic Europe (France, Italy, Venice) or occasionally in an Arabian Nights-like “Orient,” many students became sensitized to the ways in which rationality, emotional moderation, and the domesticated picturesque stand as “British” against superstition, extreme emotionality, and the sublime as “other.” This opened students’ recognition of the ways in which some of these novels both encourage readerly enthusiasm while reassuring readers of their own safe homeland. Thinking about how otherness is created and the purposes it serves, and recognizing that many kinds of nationalities and peoples can serve this purpose allowed the class to consider the ways in which racial and ethnic identity are culturally constructed and made significant and how stereotypes work to serve ideological purposes.

  20. Including the fiction of this course in a seminar on the novel is easy and how to do so is readily apparent. In the most current version her department’s “The Novel to 1900,” for example, Patricia has organized the readings around questions of class mobility and utility, beginning with Moll Flanders, moving towards Susan Ferrier’s silver-fork novel Marriage and ending the semester with Hard Times. Including Romantic-era fiction into a traditional Romanticism course proved to be a bigger challenge than she anticipated.  In her first attempt, she tried for the option of developing a separate unit, an extension of her scholarly project to consider Romantic-era fiction as comprising its own distinct place in the history of the novel and within the current, varied constructions of Romanticism.   Her plan to develop a unit on the historical novel, which asked students to read Ivanhoe and Mary Shelley’s Valperga, did not go well. Part of the problem with the unit was its place in the syllabus. Assigning the two novels back to back, at the end of the term wasn’t practical, though students moved easily through both texts after struggling with the opening chapters. The other, more substantial problem was that reading the novels back to back and away from the other readings for the course allowed students to reduce this section to a compare/contrast response. As a result, despite informative lectures and assigning critical readings about the novels, Valperga was read reductively as a response to Ivanhoe— a “feminine” lament for what Scott leaves out. Students focused more on the plots of both novels than on the questions of genre they raised and, in the case of Valperga, Shelley’s implied critique of the ideas espoused in William Godwin’s Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was glossed over completely. In response, rather than read two novels from the same genre in the same unit, Patricia decided to incorporate Romantic novels into larger thematic units over the course of the semester. Thus, in subsequent courses, she has assigned Valperga as part of a unit on the Byronic hero. Students read the novel along with selections from Don Juan and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (the fourth canto works particularly well), as well as Felicia Hemans’s “Casabianca” and “The Wife of Asdrubal.”  While Sense and Sensibility works well on its own with readings from Vindication and writings by Hannah More and Anna Laetitia Barbauld, her students have also engaged in productive conversations connecting the novel to Wordworth’s “Tintern Abbey” and Hemans’s “Evening Prayer, at a Girl’s School.” Mixing genres situates the novels more faithfully, while undercutting the tendency for students to attend solely to plotting.

  21. Believing that pedagogical practices are importantly influenced by one’s institutional location, as well as by one’s teaching appointment, we were eager to have essays from scholars teaching at a range of institutions. The 2007 NSSE (National Survey of Student Engagement)[7] showed that different kinds of institutions show different teaching strengths: research universities are more likely to engage students in oral presentations and in learning communities, while small liberal arts colleges more frequently expect participation in class discussion and value close student-faculty contact. This collection purposefully addresses a range of teaching situations: courses for majors and courses for non-majors, mixed-level classrooms, advanced undergraduate or master’s level courses, units within Literature or Women’s Studies classes, full term courses tightly focused on Romantic Fiction or Romantic Literature, M.A.T. instruction, short term study-abroad courses that could also be adapted for Interterm or summer instruction or even as units of a longer course. As teachers ourselves, both at public institutions but in different regions, we were committed to representing a range of pedagogical practices that could be borrowed or adapted across institutional settings. Our contributors hail from flagship land-grant universities, state university systems and regional campuses, private liberal arts colleges, and graduate departments. Some are hired into lines predicated on teaching Romanticism, but not all, and many of the materials suggested here and assignments described could be used to teach beyond narrowly focused courses on British Romanticism.

  22. We began by asking contributors the following questions:

    1. What are the advantages or costs of naming these works “Romantic” and what is signified by “Romantic” when speaking of narrative fiction?

    2. Are these works primarily of interest to cultural critics or those who seek to add historical context, or do they merit careful literary or even aesthetic examination in themselves?

    3. What reconsiderations of dominant literary narratives does addressing prose fiction demand?

    4. How does teaching this material change or impact pedagogical practice(s)?

    5. What kinds of works must be included to offer a reasonable representation of the richness of this literature?

    6. Are secondary sources required before undergraduates can access these works, or do these novels themselves function most often as secondary materials themselves in a Romantic Literature course? What are the implications of considering some kinds of materials as “secondary”?

    7. What meta-critical issues are addressed through teaching these materials?  How do they invite a consideration of critical apparatuses?

    8. How might literature of this era be taught alongside texts generally included in Romanticism courses?

    Here are questions these essays raised for us:

    1. How do we justify valuable classroom time on texts that many Romanticists haven’t heard of? To whom should such justifications be addressed: curriculum committees, department chairs, deans and provosts, our scholarly peers, students themselves?

    2. What does it mean to teach texts that don’t have the critical apparatus their canonical counterparts enjoy? Is this liberating (students are doing real scholarship) or is this also debilitating (how do we teach texts when there is nothing on which to build or on which to model our requirements of students)?

    3. What work do we want and expect fiction to do for us as readers, students, and scholars? And how do we measure its aesthetic, and cultural value?  To put it baldly:  what makes a novel “good”—so good that it rises above the 11,000 texts contained in a collection like the Corvey Collection?

    4. Or, to spin it a different way, which novels are “good to think with” or “good to teach with”?—there’s one question about which novels stand as important for their innovation, style, literary value of several kinds, or the way that they can function as a kind of nodal moment, and another about what teaches well or what can work well with other materials we are usually obligated to teach.

    The Essays

  23. For us, the key question was what kind of work does Romantic-era fiction do in the classroom, and how should it be considered in our teaching? We sought thoughtful essays that addressed specific pedagogical problems and offered excellent models for teaching this material. We were most interested in essays that blended discussions of the larger questions surrounding the teaching of Romantic-era fictions with the practical issues of bringing these texts to students.

  24. Some of the essays here address specific works and authors, posing questions and offering models for how to approach these works with classes at all levels. Some of them imply full-term courses or even course sequences, while others address smaller units or study-abroad courses. Some emphasize an approach, a pedagogy, a series of practical questions, and even exemplary assignments that could be borrowed to examine different novels. Some offer a larger framework for engaging students with famous works (Walter Scott’s Waverley or Jane Austen’s Persuasion), while others navigate a useful way to use the multitude of newly available electronic and online editions of more obscure or unfamiliar work.

  25. Many of these essays embed practical suggestions for incorporating current scholarly and theoretical issues into the classroom. Mike Goode (Syracuse University) and Evan Gottlieb (Oregon State University) both approach the problems of teaching historical fiction by directly confronting the thorny issues of how history and literature intersect, compete, and steal from each other in this period, inviting students to recognize and critique their own relationship to the historical past and the concept of history itself. In different ways, Stephen Behrendt (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) and Mary Favret (Indiana University-Bloomington) explicitly address canonicity and the history of reading in their essays. Several essays offer intriguing links between lesser-known novels and more familiar ones that make the unfamiliar worthy of attention. Arnold Markley (University of Pennsylvania-Delaware) turns to the specific issues of the 1790s novels, highlighting ways in which constructions of race are particularly crucial in these works, and suggesting moreover that productive engagement with the struggles of women and of people of color need not be limited to courses on the twentieth-century or in area studies.

  26. The NSSE also showed that on average, students study only 13-14 hours outside of class weekly, much less time than faculty believe they need to spend. Moreover, women students were less likely to have consulted or worked with faculty on research outside of class time than were male students. We all know that the kinds of assignments and class-projects that we construct can impact student engagement, and many of these essays directly respond with practical assignments and projects to overcome such disengagement. Derek Furr’s  (Bard College) description of how his students build an anthology of poetry found in or referenced by the novels offers both a way to engage students in active learning and research themselves and a powerful approach to thinking about how poetry served as a common language for many Romantic writers. Behrendt’s approach to managing a multi-level group of students through active engagement offers models for anyone willing to work with archival or digital materials, and reminds us that our students are engaging in scholarship from the moment that they seriously grapple with new texts. Lisa Wilson’s (SUNY College at Potsdam) essay on teaching satire and women’s issues through Mary Robinson’s The Natural Daughter provides practical help with secondary materials while situating this novel generically and pedagogically in ways that reach beyond a narrow conception of “Romanticism.” Daniel Schierenbeck (University of Central Missouri) offers useful models for approaching both familiar and unfamiliar novels by engaging religious enthusiasm, balancing historical knowledge with attention to the multiple purposes served by religiously-inflected writing in our period.

  27. Other essays gesture more broadly to intersections between these fiction’s purposes and histories in ways that can inspire our teaching and situate it as itself a historical practice. Favret’s essay reminds us how useful a larger sense of the history of readership can be, tracing both how Austen’s work has been variously used in wartime, as well as how her novels obliquely recognize national and political conflict despite their apparently local “English” focus. Lesley Walker’s (Indiana University of South Bend) essay reflects on her students’ experience in a short-term study abroad opportunity in London and Paris through her reading of Mme de Genlis’s pedagogical project in Adèle et Théodore. Although the term “Enlightenment” is usually cast as that which British Romanticism discards or rejects, in the larger context of prose fiction and particularly of the novel beyond the British isles, “Enlightenment” carried dangerously revolutionary whiffs. Mme de Genlis in particular wrote novels of education that were widely admired and often translated through the late 1700s and well into the 1800s.[8] Her plan of instruction as Walker aptly demonstrates is both enlightened and gothic, and finally useful in refracting our own pedagogical practices.

  28. These essays not only emphasize new possibilities for the classroom but also demonstrate that our scholarly interests and teaching need not exist in separate spheres. These essays seek to draw together holistically scholarly concerns with pedagogical practices. While academic faculty frequently complain that they lack time for their own “work” (meaning scholarly writing and research), these essays show the value and richness that comes from understanding one’s work as both teacher and scholar as mutually informative. For those of us whose scholarship focuses on these texts, discussing them in the classroom can be the most productive and rigorous of proving grounds.

  29. We hope that these essays inspire your teaching and contribute to continued scholarship on the novels of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth-centuries.


[1] The history of the novel, particularly the English novel, has developed in recent decades from the dominance of Ian Watt’s “formal realism” in his 1957 Rise of the Novel to include more ideological and Foucauldian approaches (Lennard Davis, Nancy Armstrong), Marxist-influenced work (Michael McKeon), and debates on the origins and sources of what comes to be identified as the “novel” itself (J. Paul Hunter, Margaret Anne Doody, Helene Moglen). Foundational texts directly impacting the study of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century, such as J. M. S. Tompkins’s The Popular Novel in England, 1770-1800 (1961), Marilyn Butler’s Jane Austen and the War of Ideas (1975) and Romantics, Rebels, and Reactionaries (1981), and Burke, Paine, and the Revolution Controversy (1984), Gary Kelly’s English Jacobin Novel (1976) and English Fiction of the Romantic Period (1989), Mary Poovey’s Proper Lady and the Woman Writer (1984), and Claudia Johnson’s Jane Austen: Women, Politics, and the Novel (1988), have been followed since 1990 with an expanding range of critical approaches. (It is worth noting that NASSR itself was founded in 1991.) Work on print culture, on intersections of history and fiction, on the national tale, on women’s writing, and on related genres including drama, biography, and letters have exploded. Some key works that show the range of critical interest in the novel of this period include:

[2] NASSR and ICR both regularly include multiple panels on topics specifically focused on the novel and novelists, but more often work on prose fiction is scattered through the program across topical panels. BWWA (British Women Writers Association) also hosts panels on novels of this period regularly. There have been several special conferences since the late 1990s on the novel from 1780-1832. For example, in 2001, Amanda Gilroy, and Wil Verhoven published a special issue of Novel on "The Romantic-Era Novel” (Issue 34, no. 2), following a well-attended 1999 conference on “Exploring the Romantic-Era Novel” at the University of Groningen, Netherlands. The University of Colorado hosted a two-day symposium on “New Representations of the British Novel 1780-1848” in October, 2000. Recently NASSR has advertised a “supernumerary” conference for March 2008, and one-off conferences on related topics from the French Revolution to the trans-Atlantic world are fairly common.

[3] Kolodny, Annette. “Dancing Through the Minefield: Some Observations on the Theory, Practice, and Politics of a Feminist Literary Criticism.” Feminist Studies 6.1 (Spring 1980): 1-25, 12.

[4] See for example, work by April Alliston, Frederick Burwick, Kari Lokke, Thomas Pfau, Kate Rigby, and David Simpson, to name only a few. At the 2004 NASSR conference, David Simpson gave an important keynote address that called for Romanticists to take on the work of “translation” in the broadest sense—moving across national boundaries, historical time, and literary genres.

[5] William St. Clair in The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004) documents the range and quantity of print publications helpfully and in great detail. Though novels are not the largest category detailed, there was a significant expansion in the numbers of novels published and the size of print runs from 1780 onward.

[6] Behrendt, Stephen C. “Questioning the Romantic Novel” Studies in the Novel 26 (Summer 1994): 5-25, 7.

[7] See Some figures were also reported in “In The Know: Survey of Student Engagement,” in NEA Higher Education Advocate, 24.6 (June 2007): 3.

[8] Thomas Holcroft translated Les Veillés du Chateau in the 1780s, Maria Edgeworth knew her personally and translated Adèle et Théodore in the late 1700s, and The Critical Review reviews a translation, possibly by Robert Charles Dallas, of Sainclair or the Victim of the Arts and Sciences in 1808 (see

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