#Shelley200 Roundtable: Shelley and Travel

We are pleased to present the recording of our fifth #Shelley200 event, a ‘Shelley and Travel’ roundtable chaired by Dr Amanda Blake Davis and featuring Professor Nahoko Miyamoto Alvey, Dr Benjamin Colbert, Professor Cian Duffy, and Dr Anna Mercer.

This event was livestreamed on 5th May 2022 and included presentations on different aspects of Shelleyan travel and discussions of actual and imagined travels, travelling fragments, poetic travels, and much more. Along with the recording, we are pleased to include a summary of the event composed by Shelley Conference Postgraduate Helper, Laura Blunsden.

Anna Mercer opened the roundtable with her paper on Shelley and Mary’s first literary collaboration: the 1814 journal in which they recorded daily entries about their elopement to France and Switzerland. Using images of the manuscript, Mercer gestured to the evolution of their narrative persona from ‘I’ and ‘she’ to the collective ‘we’ during the course of the journal. She reflected about how Shelley’s ‘Mont Blanc’ draws upon the paradoxes in the natural world and in human feeling to create what she calls a ‘celebration of uncertainty’.

Building on the discussion of History of a Six Weeks’ Tour, Cian Duffy explored the importance of resituating the Geneva letters in their historical context. He considered the ways that the letters are both original and yet highly conventional: just as Rousseau’s Nouvelle Heloise inscribed the Genevan landscape with cultural connotations which transformed how it was experienced by travellers, Shelley rewrites the cultural significance of Mont Blanc. Duffy’s discussion illuminated how authors of cultural texts fundamentally influence our perception of the world, not by asserting an authoritative view of reality, but by showing how human experiences can be at once subjective and imaginatively shared.

Benjamin Colbert’s talk focused on Shelley’s Italian letters to Thomas Love Peacock between 1818 and 1819. He observed several contradictions in the letters, including Shelley’s claim that he wished them to interest Peacock, rather than a multitude of readers, despite evidence that he and Mary were intending to publish them upon their return to England. Colbert also discussed how Shelley’s disparagement of tourists and attempts to distance himself from travel writers actually causes a kind of cohesion to emerge in his letters: a topic that would be returned to in the questions following the roundtable.

Nahoko Miyamoto Alvey reflected on the history of Shelley’s ‘Fragment of an Address to the Jews’ manuscript, which has itself travelled thousands of miles since Richard Garnett gifted it to Rinkichi Tsuchii in 1902. She provided a fascinating account of the several wars the manuscript fragment has survived, the disasters it has narrowly escaped, and the hands it has passed through, before it was eventually digitised by the University of Tokyo, now available to be read anywhere in the world.

Amanda Blake Davis opened the Q&A session by asking the speakers to speculate where Shelley would have travelled to next if he had lived, before handing over to the audience to ask their questions. Ana Romanelli asked whether any examples of Shelley’s collaborative writing precede the 1814 journal; Lisa Vargo was interested in other contributors and influences; and Patrick Vincent wondered why Shelley wrote so disparagingly of locals he encountered on his travels. Nahoko Miyamoto Alvey’s response wonderfully summarised the evening’s discussion: Shelley sought out an ideal community in every place that he visited and never found it. Had he discovered what he was searching for, his travels, and by extension his poetry, would certainly have ceased.

Useful links:

– Laura Blunsden, Shelley Conference Postgraduate Helper