To finish our series of interviews from the 2017 Shelley conference in London, Anna Mercer talks to us about her experience of organising the conference and her hopes for its continuation in 2019. The Shelley Conference took place in September 2017 at Senate House, London, University of London and was co-organised by Anna Mercer and Harrie Neal.
Delegates gather at Senate House to hear Prof Kelvin Everest’s keynote lecture.
What did you hope to bring to light about the Shelleys by dedicating a conference to these two important Romantic writers? Why choose 2017 as the year to inaugurate such a project?
Our Call for Papers highlighted the fact that other ‘big’ figures from the Romantic period have their own dedicated annual, biannual or semi-regular conferences. The Coleridge Conference, for example, is an excellent celebration of STC and his circle. It provides delegates with a 5-day residential conference, including a mix of panels, social gatherings over drinks and dinner, and unique excursions. The Keats Conference, also highly enjoyable and well organised, is held at Keats House in Hampstead and occupies the space for a weekend in spring; speakers deliver their research papers in the grounds of the poet’s old home. These existing events are at once academically rigorous and highly welcoming. There is also the Wordsworth Conference, and there are various regular Byron-centric events. In contrast the most recent Percy Bysshe Shelley conferences took place in 1978, 1980 and 1992.
2017 has offered us the opportunity to change this. This decade provides an exciting few years of bicentenary projects relating to both Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley (see Romantics200, one of our sponsors). Using the excellent opportunities which PhD study at the University York provided us, Harrie Neal and I set about to plan the next generation of Shelley conferences — or at least have a go!
Prof Kelvin Everest was my supervisor as an undergraduate at the University of Liverpool, and I approached him in the first instance, so I could learn more about the conferences he had organised at Gregynog in the past. I’m sure he won’t mind me saying that his response was one of huge encouragement. He admitted that he felt such warmth and excitement thinking back to his old Shelley gatherings, and he offered his support as a part of the conference board. Subsequently, Kelvin’s emotional and insightful keynote talk was undoubtedly one of the highlights of The Shelley Conference 2017. (To view our Q+A with Everest, visit: https://k-saa.org/shelley-conference-kelvin-everest.)
It was vital that we joined the Shelleys together in this conference to celebrate both authors’ works. Increasingly, MWS and PBS are valued as intellectual equals in a reciprocal collaborative relationship. We were certain we wanted our event to reflect this positive development in scholarship.
During planning, we knew of some scholars that — if they were able and willing to present — would demonstrate the remarkable research going on in the world of Shelley studies today. However, I was even more gratified by the number of new researchers I met and whose work I discovered. We were not disappointed when we received such a range of high quality abstracts. Once we had read these contributions, we knew the panels would be something any Shelleyan would be excited about.
From the panel on ‘Mary and Shelley Together’. From left to right: Anna Mercer, Liz Denlinger, Joanna Harker Shaw.
The conference hosted a diverse range of papers and lectures on Mary and Percy that took place across several sessions and parallel panels. What sorts of dialogues did you see emerging between the papers and panels? How do you see (or hope to see) these conversations developing after the conferences closes?
I certainly hoped to show how the Shelleys provide opportunities for incredibly different types of study. PBS and MWS are two established and renowned authors. However, you could argue they are neglected in terms of modern-day readers outside of a university syllabus. How is new scholarship reassessing their writings? How can we find new readers for the Shelleys’ works? We hoped to answer these questions in our programme of speakers.
We had papers that showed careful and detailed research into, for example, feminism and women’s writing, poetics, the social nature of creativity, and close manuscript study. These themes necessarily stood out to me because of my personal academic interests. I hope other delegates would have come away buzzing with ideas related to completely different research techniques and findings, and that they would have found something useful with regards to their own work. Our choice to accommodate many speakers in parallel panels should have encouraged this.
At the conference, I also learnt a lot about subjects I do not work on and am completely new to. I heard some stunning papers deconstructing the Shelleys’ use of language. I do believe conversations will develop successfully because of the delegates’ very apparent openness, and their positive reactions to one another.
It was also important to us to host a conversation between the two most comprehensive editions of PBS’s poetical works — I was pleased by how many delegates attended the informal optional session by Prof Nora Crook and Prof Michael Rossington. This panel was Rossington’s suggestion and I also appreciate the help he gave us as a member of the advisory board.
From the conference dinner. Delegates raise a glass to Mary and Percy!
How do you intend to continue the legacy of the 2017 Shelley conference in future years?
We sincerely hope that we have started a revival. It would be great to organise the next ‘Shelley Conference’, perhaps in 2019. Many of our wonderful conference delegates have offered to house us at their institutions in the future! The next few years will surely be full of exciting Shelley events to celebrate 200 years since the publication and/or composition of major works, including of course Frankenstein and The Mask of Anarchy. Preparations will also almost certainly begin for the commemoration of PBS’s death in 2022, something I hope to be a part of.
Perhaps the lack of a Shelley conference can be linked to the Shelleys’ nomad type lifestyle(s): the Keats-Shelley House in Rome is their dedicated museum, but there is no ‘Shelley’ house or definitive Shelley location (unlike Dove Cottage or Keats House), despite the signs that mark their homes in Italy, and the blue plaques that can be found dotted around London. Who knows if this lack of a ‘Shelley’ base will change in the coming years. Incidentally, the Shelleys’ various abodes in London were one of the reasons behind our choice of the capital for our conference location, as well as the city offering an international appeal.
We are hoping to publish an edited collection, or journal special issue, including some exciting new work on the Shelleys from the conference. More on that soon — keep up with us on Twitter, on Facebook, or our website, and please don’t hesitate to contact us with questions.
Link to Call for Papers: https://theshelleyconference2017.files.wordpress.com/2016/07/cfpthe-shelleyconference-2017.pdf