London-Paris Romanticism Seminar: Literature and the Senses, 10 March 2017, Senate House, London


The next meeting of the London-Paris Romanticism Seminar, on Friday 10 March, will feature an international panel on Literature and the Senses. For this, the second of our seminars with paired speakers from the UK and France, we are delighted to welcome two outstanding scholars: Rowan Boyson of King’s College London, whose talk is entitled Common Airs: Sensuality, Smell and Freedom in Romantic writing c.1798-1805, and Sophie Laniel-Musitelli of the University of Lille, the title of whose paper is Sentient Matter: Sight and Sound in Shelley’s Last Poems. Their abstracts appear below.

The seminar will be held in the Bloomsbury Room at Senate House (ground floor, G35), starting at 5.30. The papers will be followed by a discussion and a wine reception, to which everyone is invited. Admission is free.

Rowan-BoysonRowan Rose Boyson is Senior Lecturer in Eighteenth-Century Literature at King’s College London, where she has taught since 2012. Previously she was a Junior Research Fellow at King’s College Cambridge and studied for her PhD at Queen Mary, University of London. She is currently working on a book about smell and the senses, and has published articles and chapters on this topic in relation to Wordsworth, Shelley and eighteenth-century aesthetics; she has also recently written on Rousseau, Romanticism and idleness. Her first book, Wordsworth and the Enlightenment Idea of Pleasure (CUP, 2012; 2016) won the University English Early Career Book Prize.

Sophie Laniel-Musitelli is Associate Professor at the University of Lille and a Junior Fellow at the Institut Universitaire de France. Her research focuses on the interactions between literature, science and philosophy in the Romantic era. Her publications include “The Harmony of Truth”: Sciences et poésie dans l’oeuvre de P. B. Shelley (PUL-ELLUG, 2012), two co-edited books, Romanticism and Philosophy (Routledge, 2015) and Romanticism and the Philosophical Tradition (PUN, 2015), and the co-authored Muses et ptérodactyles: La poésie de la science de Chénier à Rimbaud (Le Seuil, 2013). She is also the author of several articles and book chapters on Erasmus Darwin, William Blake, William Wordsworth, Percy B. Shelley, and Thomas de Quincey.


ABSTRACTS      Literature and the Senses: An International Panel

Common Airs: Sensuality, Smell and Freedom in Romantic Writing c.1798-1805  

Historians of science have long argued that “air” was a freighted political as well as chemical topic from the late seventeenth century onwards. This paper begins by exploring how the right to air and pure atmospheres became part of late Enlightenment and post-French revolutionary thinking, prior to the emergence of what Steven Connor has dubbed the ‘Victorian cult of ventilation and fresh air’. Building on recent aesthetic theories and literary histories of the air and the atmosphere (Connor, Jayne Elizabeth Lewis, Gernot Bohme), I consider a specifically literary and metaphorical extension of this theme, via the idea of the ‘scent’ of freedom and the experience of selfhood enabled by fragrant and / or clean air. I will trace this image through writing by S.T. Coleridge, Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin and Percy Shelley. Larger ramifications will include the claim that the modern ‘sense studies’ field is underpinned by ideas of sensory liberation and expansion dating from this time, and suggestions about how such images might inform twenty-first century arguments for rights to unpolluted air.

Rowan Boyson


Sentient Matter: Sight and Sound in Shelley’s Last Poems

P. B. Shelley’s last poems — especially “To Jane. The Recollection,” “Lines written in the Bay of Lerici,” and “The Triumph of Life” (1822) — are sites of tensions between poetic vision and embodied sensation. In these poems, Shelley reflects on the fate of light and sound once they reach the humours and integuments of the eye and the ear. These poems explore the powers and limitations of sentient matter: light appears as a symbol for intellection but also as the product of physiological processes at work within the eye and the brain. Sound is represented both as a vibratory phenomenon and as a symbol for poetic measure. Indeed, Shelley’s last poems offer a meditation on the periodicity at the heart of poetic form. Scientific discourse on the vibratory nature of light and sound is thus reflected and deflected by the supple and regular structures of Shelley’s last poems, which trace the emergence of transient beauty through an aesthetics of propagation and dispersal.

Sophie Laniel-Musitelli


We hope you can join us for this special event.

David Duff (Queen Mary University of London)

London Director, London-Paris Romanticism Seminar