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CFP: Victorian Poetry Special Issue: Ballads (12/15/2015; Winter 2016)

Victorian Poetry Special Issue: Ballads
Winter 2016
Deadline: December 15, 2015


Edited by Letitia Henville, University of Toronto

This special issue investigates one of the most collected and categorized poetic genres of the Victorian period: the ballad. While ballad collecting dates back to Samuel Pepys in the seventeenth century and Bishop Percy in the eighteenth, nineteenth-century ballad scholars were the first to try to classify all ‘authentic’ folk verses, most famously with Francis James Child’s seven-volume The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882-1898), which attempted to pin down every version of every popular ballad and to categorize all regional variants.

Yet as folklorists and other collectors sought to catalogue and fix the forms of the ballad, Victorian poets continued a literary tradition of mixing and blending the ballad with other forms. As with John Gay’s ballad opera, The Beggar’s Opera, or William Wordsworth and S.T. Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, the Victorians’ ballad-writing frequently manipulated ballad conventions at the same time as those conventions were being codified and stabilized by literary critics, essayists, prosodists and ballad scholars: witness William Maginn’s Homeric Ballads, John Davidson “A Ballad in Blank Verse,” Rudyard Kipling’s Barrack-Room Ballads, or Nora Hopper’s Ballads in Prose. Ballads were equally at home in Chartist newspapers, illustrated gift- books, popular magazines, and volumes of aestheticist poetry. Joseph Bristow has noted that the ballad is “a poetic form whose dimensions were explored by almost every nineteenth-century poet who gained attention in his or her own time,” and the ballad proved an ideal medium not only for nostalgic and ethnographic impulses in the period but also for formal and conceptual innovation.

How are we to understand these competing impulses: the desire to collect and classify on the one hand, and the fluidity of the form on the other? This special issue will welcome articles that investigate the Victorian ballad’s borders, looking across international boundaries at the origins of this nationally-inflected form, looking across chronological periods as a ‘primitive’ form spoke to modern concerns, and looking as well across generic boundaries to better understand Victorian conceptions of this highly popular genre. In the diversity of its production, the Victorian ballad affords an opportunity to reflect on the way poetic genres are constituted in both discourse and practice.

Central questions will include: What distinguishes Victorian practices of ballad writing, collecting, and editing within the longer history of balladry? How, for Victorians, did the ballad tradition fit into broader histories of literature? What relationships obtained between the Victorians’ endless collecting and taxonomizing of ballads and their own compositional practices? How do ballads travel across time, media, and national borders? How might further consideration of balladry help us to theorize categories of genre and form, as well as the boundaries of a national literature and a literary-historical period?

Some topics that a special issue on Victorian Ballads will address:

  • Ballad forms, meters, rhythms, and hybrids
  • Ballad collecting, editing, parodying, and translating
  • Ballad imitation and appropriation
  • Literary, broadside, and folk ballads (and their overlaps)
  • Ballads of occasion: comic ballads, crime ballads, political ballads, etc.
  • Ballad mediums: the broadside, the periodical, the anthology, the voice
  • The ballad and its others: the lyric, the epic, the song, the dramatic monologue
  • Transnational or European balladry; French, German, Scandinavian comparison influence, or parallels
  • Transatlantic or global approaches; the ballad as national song in America and Australia
  • The narrative form of the ballad
  • The gender of balladry
  • Reading ballads and ballads in circulation
  • Evolving criticism and theories of balladry

The organizers invite the submission of essays of 20-25 manuscript pages by December 15, 2015, for publication in Victorian Poetry (Winter 2016). Please follow the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition. Early expressions of interest and proposals of topics are also welcome; please contact the editor: letitia.henville@gmail.com

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