John Murray in 1816

In this course, taught at Simon Fraser University in the fall  of 2016, we will turn back the clock exactly two-hundred years, to explore the literary scene in Britain in 1816. We will focus our attention on four major authors who had works published by the great Scottish- born, London-based publisher, John Murray, in 1816. 1816 was one of Lord Byron’s most prolific, and most tumultuous years, as he separated from his wife and daughter and left England never to return. During this year, Murray published multiple works by Lord Byron, including Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto III, which offered a personal and public mediation on loss, interweaving his own grief with the enormous loss of life occasioned by the Battle of Waterloo and over two decades of war with France; and his apocalyptic poem, “Darkness,” written during the infamous “year without a summer,’ caused by a volcanic eruption in Indonesia that literally spread darkness around the globe. In 1816, Murray also published Jane Austen’s Emma, the last novel to appear in her lifetime. Often considered to be her finest novel, it is also her most insular, as her main character does not leave the small country village in which she was born. Also appearing in 1816 under Murray’s imprint was Coleridge’s gothic fragment, “Christabel,” a poem written nearly two decades before, that had circulated in manuscript for many years as Coleridge had been unable to finish and publish it. Finally, one of the period’s greatest novelists, Sir Walter Scott, published Old Mortality with Murray, a tale set in late seventeenth-century Scotland, and widely thought to be one of Scott’s greatest adventure novels. Through the study of these works we will acquire a strong understanding of the poetry and fiction of the period; the literary conventions and fashions of the day; and the publishing practices that determined how works of literature were written, disseminated, and read. The structure of the course will also provide us with an opportunity to explore the ongoing connections between the Romantics and ourselves, as we seek to understand their own attempts to connect past and present, home and abroad.

Course Objectives:

  • To read some of the most famous authors, and works, of the Romantic period, including Jane Austen, Lord Byron, S. T. Coleridge and Sir Walter Scott.
  • To situate the works of these authors within wider literary culture and the history of authorship and the practices of authorship during the year 1816.
  • To compare the literary culture and social and political concerns of two hundred years ago to today.






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