Recovering Labouring Class and Radical Writing

Impact case study
  • Unit(s) of assessment: D29 - English Language and Literature
  • School: School of Arts and Humanities

Impact

NTU has a long history of recovering, preserving and conserving the works of writers who principally earned their livelihoods through manual labour and craft skills, and the works of radical and neglected writers. The recovery research aims to enhance public and scholarly understanding of these writings, and to make them available through websites, archives, publications, seminars and festivals.

Labouring-class poetry research has a central role in NTU's recovery research. The research defines labouring-class writers as those who principally earned their living through hiring out manual skills, including the poets Robert Bloomfield (1766-1823) and John Clare (1793-1864), both East Midlands farm labourers. Professor John Goodridge has led a number of highly significant projects seeking to raise the profile of such authors, including the major open-access resource Labouring-class poets online. Prior to 2008, this resource held material relating to 600 poets; since July 2008, another 1,060 poets have been added. A revitalised version of the resource was launched collaboratively in April 2013 by a team led by Goodridge. The research team also coordinates the John Clare resources website.

As a result of Goodridge's major contribution to the field, NTU is the international centre for Clare studies.

The launch of Trent Editions in 1998 marked a significant point in the development of recovery research. As an imprint that aims to recover and republish landmark texts by neglected figures in handsome and affordable modern editions, the ethic underpinning Trent Editions is one of preservation and conservation. Trent Editions has published 43 scholarly books with critical introductions, including works by labouring-class poets Robert Bloomfield and William Barnes. The books are sold through the NTU online store and major book retailers.

The research team maintains the Raymond Williams archive, containing letters, manuscripts and tapes relating to radical and neglected writing from the late 18th to the late 20th Century. This archive includes collections relating to Laura (Riding) Jackson, Hilda Morley, Libby Houston, Gael Turnbull, Stanley Middleton and Philip Callow. The acquisition in 2006 and ongoing development of the extensive papers of the influential popular writer and broadcaster Ray Gosling (1939-2014) further strengthens the potential impact of work on labouring-class writing and culture.

The research team maintains close ties with the 500-strong John Clare Society and with the Robert Bloomfield Society and Thomas Chatterton Society, both of which were founded or co-founded by NTU academics.

Staff regularly contribute to the annual John Clare Festival in Clare's village of Helpston, and Goodridge is also Vice-President of the John Clare Society and a senior advisor to the Chatterton and Bloomfield societies. He was in talks with Bristol City Council over the future of Chatterton’s house (2011), and was consulted by the John Clare Trust over their development of Clare's Cottage (2006).

Research background

This research began with Professor Goodridge's monograph, Rural life in eighteenth century English poetry (1994) and an NTU-hosted conference, John Clare and the self-taught tradition. Contacts with the John Clare Society were key to the initial development of this research area at NTU and are ongoing, helping to establish the internal dimensions and external reach of the work. Outputs of the group's research include the John Clare forum (1997) and the edited volume of essays John Clare: new approaches (2000). Goodridge edited the John Clare Society Journal from 1993 to 2007, and was general editor of the six-volume edition English labouring-class poets (2003, 2006).

From 2008 onwards, public understanding of Romantic writing has been influenced by the research team's support for the Romantic Circles editions of The letters of Robert Bloomfield and his circle, The collected letters of Robert Southey and Bloomfield's The banks of Wye. These resources enhance cultural life by preserving cultural capital and enabling public interpretation of it. The primary impact is the conservation of overlooked literary artefacts and a neglected cultural heritage.

The team's research on radical and neglected writing includes:

  • the Perdita project (1999-2005), an AHRB-funded database of early modern women's manuscripts.
  • the Panacea Society-funded Dorothy Gott project (2008-2010), led by Professor David Worral and Dr Nancy Jiwon Cho. The project researched millenarianism, religious and spiritual cultures, and women's writing.
  • Tim Fulford's AHRC, British Academy and Leverhulme-funded involvement in the Romantic Circles' repository of Romantic era writing and culture.

Since its launch in 1998, Trent Editions has had a significant impact on the evolution of recovery research and on public debates around copyright and accessibility. This impact is demonstrated by editorial director John Goodridge's article about the copyright of John Clare's poetry for The Guardian. The article became the subject of a 2010 House of Commons Early Day Motion on the publication of John Clare's poetry.

Trent Editions occupies a distinctive niche among UK small presses and its publication strategy has influenced other small presses, including Cheltenham's Cyder Press and the Library of Wales series, both of which now include titles featuring labouring-class poets.

The Raymond Williams archive continues to expand and diversify and now includes an archive of gay culture and AIDS-related source materials.

A BBC Inside Out documentary on Ray Gosling features information about the Raymond Williams archive at NTU, where Gosling's work is collected.

Evidence

Publications

  • Goodridge, J., 1994. Rural life in eighteenth century English poetry.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
    An "original and inspiring book" – Modern Philology, 96:4, 1999, that centrally represents the "important work that John Goodridge has been engaged in to transform the study of the poetry of labor (and written by those of the labouring classes) in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century." – Romanticism, 6: 2, 2000.
  • Goodridge, J., (gen. ed.) 2003/2006. English labouring-class poets, 6 vols. London: Pickering & Chatto.
    "These attractively produced volumes represent must-haves for all university, research, and literarily-inclined public libraries" – Donna Landry, John Clare Society Journal, 26, 2007; "A massive and carefully conceived anthology" – Brian Maidment, Studies in Hogg and His World, 17, 2007. It has become a standard source-work in the field, routinely cited and drawn on in major monographs such as Keegan, Labouring-class nature poetry (2008); Krishnamurthy, The working-class intellectual (2009), and important essay collections such as Blair & Gorji (eds), Class and the canon (2012).
  • John Clare Society Journal, edited by John Goodridge, 1993-2007.
    "The invaluable JCSJ continues to be an essential resource for Clare scholars" – Year's Work in English Studies, 79, 2001; "lovingly assembled and wonderfully rich" – Keats-Shelley Review, 11, 1997.
  • Fulford, T. and Pratt, L. (eds.), 2009. Robert Bloomfield's The banks of Wye, Romantic Circles.
  • Fulford, T., Pratt, L., Packer, I. (eds.), 2009. The Collected Letters of Robert Southey, Romantic Circles.
  • Burke, T. and Goodridge. J. (eds.) 2010. Labouring-class writing, special number of Keywords, 8.
  • Worrall, D., with Cho, N. J., 2010. William Blake's meeting with Dorothy Gott: The female origins of Blake’s prophetic mode, Romanticism, 6 60-71.
  • Fulford, T. and Pratt, L. (assoc. ed. Goodridge, J.), 2012. The letters of Robert Bloomfield and his circle, Romantic Circles.
  • Goodridge, J. 2013. John Clare and community. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    A major academic study whose early reviews note its clarity and accessibility to non-academic readers and the fact that it "adds another, joyous dimension to this endlessly fascinating figure" – Times Literary Supplement, 10 October 2013.

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