Join us for our next event, on November 2, 2017!

Romanticism, Contingency, and the Counterfactual Imagination”

 with Dr. Emily Rohrbach, University of Manchester, author of Modernity’s Mist: British Romanticism and the Poetics of Anticipation (Fordham, 2016).

Thursday, November 2, 2017 from 5.00-7.00pm. Boston University, College of Arts and Sciences, Room 200. 725 Commonwealth Avenue.

Rohrbach poster

This seminar and book discussion will focus on Modernity’s Mist and subsequent works-in-progress. In Modernity’s Mist, Dr. Rohrbach explores the Romantic imagination of contingency from the combined perspectives of intellectual history and psychoanalytic and narrative theories. Drawing on the work of David Wellbery and Christina Lupton, she understands contingency as entailing the closing and opening of possibilities; in a world of contingency, events unfold in a way that appears anything but inevitable, and there is a prevailing sense that things easily could have turned out differently. Such a situation gives rise to ideas of multiple possibilities, missed opportunities, and the counterfactual imagination. Modernity’s Mist argues that contingency in the Romantic period occurs at the intersection of, on the one hand, an urgency to define the “spirit of the age” and, on the other, a new sense of acceleration and unpredictable futurity. For Romantic writers, the tension between these ideas afforded a world teeming with uncertainties and possibilities.

Focusing on Austen’s Emma and Persuasion as well as Keats’s sonnets, the seminar discussion will extend that interest in Romantic conceptions of possibility and contingency by incorporating another aspect of Romantic modernity: early nineteenth-century reading culture and the technology of the printed book. Taking cues from recent work by Christina Lupton, Andrew Piper, and Joe Rezek, among others, this seminar invites us to think about how Romantic ideas of contingency (the closing and opening of possibilities) can both shed light on and reflect the technology and culture of the codex book, which, unlike a scroll or kindle, can be opened and closed.

Suggested Reading

David E. Wellbery, “Contingency,” in Neverending Stories: Toward a Critical Narratology (eds. Ann Fehn, Ingeborg Hoesterey, and Maria Tatar; Princeton UP, 1992)

Emily Rohrbach, Modernity’s Mist: British Romanticism and the Poetics of Anticipation (Fordham, 2016)

Jane Austen, Emma and Persuasion

John Keats, “On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again”

 About Emily

After receiving her Ph.D. from Boston University and teaching at Hamilton College and Northwestern University, Dr. Rohrbach joined the Division of English Literature, American Studies, and Creative Writing (EAC) at the University of Manchester in January 2016. She has held research fellowships at the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen (Institute for Human Sciences) in Vienna, Austria, and the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities in Evanston, Illinois. She is the author of articles on Byron, Austen, Barbauld, and Keats, and her book Modernity’s Mist: British Romanticism and the Poetics of Anticipation (2016) is part of the new “Lit Z” series of Fordham University Press. Along with Emily Sun, she co-edited the 50th anniversary issue of Studies in Romanticism on Reading Keats, Thinking Politics, for which she co-translated Jacques Rancière’s essay on Keats, “The Politics of the Spider.” Emily is currently principal organizer of the 2019 meeting of the International Conference on Romanticism, which will be hosted by the University of Manchester, to coincide with the 200-year anniversary of “Peterloo.”



Past BARC events have included lectures by Ian Duncan (UC-Berkeley); Alan Richardson (Boston College); Deidre Shauna Lynch (Harvard University); a one-day symposium, Romanticism in the Atlantic World; and a discussion of a recent book by Sara Guyer (U-Wisconsin), Reading with John Clare.

BARC is a friendly organization of teachers, scholars, and other interested parties who meet regularly to discuss Romantic Literature and its legacies. BARC is organized by a team of local Romanticists:

Charles Rzepka, Boston University
Joseph Rezek, Boston University
Jonathan Mulrooney, The College of the Holy Cross


For more information about the group, or to be added to our listserv, email

The Boston Area Romanticist Colloquium is supported by the Boston University Center for the Humanities, Studies in Romanticism, the Boston University Department of English, and the Department of English at the College of the Holy Cross.