We are Many:
Sibling Kinship in British Romanticism
My current project explores brother and sister relationships in Romantic-era (1789-1830) poetry and prose. Historically, this moment marked tremendous cultural upheaval, a revolutionary epoch when the hierarchies of monarchical lineage were being challenged by radical ideas about diffusive and egalitarian democracy. Sibling kinship offered one model for these new political orientations.
Traditionally, however, Romanticism as an artistic sensibility has been associated with solitude and autonomy, with the rise of the Enlightenment's neoliberal individualism. We are Many proposes that Romantic writers used siblinghood to embody inter-dependence rather than independence.
In sibling networks, lines between "self" and "other" blur. The Romantics unfolded the complexities of sororal and fraternal dynamics: they explore coexistences of sameness and difference; physical and affective bonds; the persistent need to be situated within the group, even in death; and the constellation of identity that links every "I" to a "we."
Siblings form collective networks. Networks that challenge post-Freudian models of the nuclear patrilineal family that inform 20th-century theory. Networks that shift the linear and reproductive to the cooperative, the horizontal, the sympathetic. Networks that imagine subjectivity as multiple, generating new, even queer possibilities extending across genders, bodies, and minds. Networks that realize the inter-dependence signaled by a feminist—sororal—ethics.
© StudioCanal / Working Title Pictures
William Wordsworth's Poetic Sibling Logic
and the Lyrical Ballads
Building the Bildung of Sisterhood
in Jane Austen's Novels
Inter-Subjectivity in John Keats's Letters and Poems
Frankenstein's Sororal Sympathies
& Mary Shelley's Ethics of Care
Dramatic Futurities: Joanna Baillie's Plays on the Passions
& Percy Bysshe Shelley's The Cenci
Material Culture in Domestic Spaces
My upcoming project, currently in development, examines the historical and cultural significance of objects in 18th and 19th-century literature. In particular, I am interested in ways that everyday artifacts embody cultural ideologies that foster, support, and trouble the production of queer and non-normative communities and spaces, while contending with the colonial and imperial labor often necessary to attain such items.
In Elizabeth Gaskell's mid-Victorian novel Cranford, for instance, teatime bridges divisions across class in this intimate, all-female village. When the town faces financial ruin and tea is commodified, however, the ramifications of England's global expansion strains Cranford's otherwise enclosed, non-reproductive utopia. Earlier in the century, Mary Robinson reinvented poems by Jonathan Swift, reimagining the luxury and quotidian materials of daily London life to forge a uniquely gendered, queer temporality.
Examining these and other physical artifacts, this project attends to the socioeconomic, nationalistic, and ethnic implications of objects in ways that resonate with today's globalized consumer culture.
Victorian tea, which defined Britishness across all classes, was literally carried on the backs of Asian laborers.