Sibylline Leaves: Chaos and Compilation in the Romantic Period

deadline for submissions: 
October 15, 2016
full name / name of organization: 
Birkbeck College, University of London

Keynote Speakers:

Deidre Shauna Lynch (Harvard) and Seamus Perry (Oxford)

July 2017 marks the bicentenary of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poetry collection Sibylline Leaves and Biographia Literaria, which he had initially planned as an introduction to the poemsFor Coleridge the collection included ‘the whole of the author’s poetical compositions’, from those already published in Lyrical Ballads to those taken down on ‘loose papers and [in] numerous Common-place or Memorandum Books […] including Margins of Books & Blank pages’. While Coleridge ennobles his poems through an allusion to Virgil’s Cumaean Sibyl, their ‘fragmentary and widely scattered state’ also evokes the cheap materiality of newspapers. For William Hazlitt Biographia was no more significant a work than the ‘soiled and fashionable leaves of the Morning Post’ from which it was supposedly composed. From the prophetic to the everyday, through the high and low traditions of flying leaves, this conference focuses on the materiality of Romantic collections.

This conference invites participants to investigate the play of papers between proliferating ‘snips’, ‘scraps’, and ‘scattered leaves’, and the promise of the ‘great work’, complete edition, or philosophical system. We welcome proposals on the metaphorical, material and political implications of the ‘leaf in flight’, and on the composition, publication and reception of romantic poetry in relation to a diverse range of collections and composite texts: miscellanies, anthologies and beauties, multi-volume or serialised fiction, magazines and newspapers, annuals and albums, common-place books and notebooks, catalogues and guidebooks, encyclopaedias and dictionaries. Revisiting 1817 in 2017 might also involve rethinking the connections between seemingly disparate texts and diverse media in the twenty-first century. How do we read around and make connections within such texts now? How does poetry interact with the paratextual pressures and juxtapositions of these media and genres? What potential do digital tools and platforms offer for representing and reading these collections and tracing connections between them?

Topics might include:

  • The compilation, publication and reception of Coleridge’s Sibylline Leaves
  • The relation of Sibylline Leaves to composite prose works, eg. Biographia Literaria
  • ‘Flying leaves and penny publications’: newspapers, political propaganda and the diffusion of knowledge
  • The ‘phantasmal chaos of association’: metaphors and materialities of order and disorder
  • Connections within collections: the mechanics of indexing, footnotes, contents pages, errata, advertisements, paratexts, editorial groupings and interventions, text and image
  • Collections, collaboration, and the dynamics of authorship
  • Contested collections: literary invention, literary property, republication
  • Practices of recollection, common-placing, annotation, extra-illustrating and album-making
  • Ephemera, playfulness and popular entertainment
  • Romantic reimaginings of the classical tradition of sibylline leaves
  • Uncollected papers, literary remains, posthumous order

Please submit a 500 word abstract by 15 October 2016 to

Conference organizers: Marianne Brooker and Luisa Calè
Click here for a PDF version of the CfP for circulation.