‘Romantic Science, Poetry and Gender: The Life and Letters of Eleanor Ann Porden’ – Adeline Johns Putra

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Nathan Leigh, a third year Drama and English Literature student at Edge Hill, reviews the first of Romanticism at Edge Hill’s Seminar Series 2016

Dr Adeline Johns-Putra of the University of Surrey launched straight into her presentation titled ‘Science, Gender and Poetry in the Romantic Age: Eleanor Ann Porden.’ Considering that title, one would expect to learn about how Porden tied in with the broader picture of gendered politics and the science of the time period, however, as it turns out, you would be pleasantly surprised. Not only do we look at Porden, we look at her inspirations, her personal life and the impact her work may have had, as well as the political and scientific forces that were at play around it: arctic exploration

First we were briefly told of Porden’s life, before focusing on one of her poems: The Arctic Expeditions. From here we looked not only at her poem, but also branched out onto the article she based her poem on (or, as may be argued, wrote in counter to). This anonymous article (which can now be identified as the work of John Barrow) published in Quarterly Review argued for exploratory voyages into the Arctic regions of the globe due to the rapidly melting ice surrounding Greenland and the ‘Lost Colonies’.

As we delve deeper into Barrow’s role in the British Arctic expeditions and his interests in several significant areas, including the British admiralty, we learn that his interests in the expeditions are focused more on controlling trade routes, rather than the more pressing eco-critical questions and answers that fast melting ice should be raising. We go on to learn that Barrow in turn was influenced by a William Scoresby (who in turn inspired the infamous Captain Ahab in Moby Dick), a renowned whaler and keen explorer. Scoresby was interested in both the scientific and the business opportunities that the elusive ‘northwest passage’ may provide, whilst Barrow had his eyes firmly focused on the trade. In contrast to this, Porden is believed to have written the poem which opened up this presentation as a reminder that the scientific aspect of the expeditions to investigate this newly discovered phenomena should be the primary focus, rather than securing more opportunities for Canadian-British exchanges. In brief, it is simply a matter of Barrow’s fancy being deflated by Porden’s more factual focus, though his expeditions did indeed go ahead.

The lecture completed, a few question were asked, though everyone seemed either too shy or satisfied with the presentation to say anything. However, as always, the real discussions came after the lecture with an ample addition of wine and nibbles. Discussion veered across numerous subjects: the topics discussed in the lecture, the import of nature in fantasy writing, the adaptations of said fantasy novels and near infinitely onwards until the clock ticked past seven.

Overall, a great evening with a charismatic lecturer, filled with in-depth analysis, which I would heartily recommend to any interested in learning more