Literatures, Languages & Cultures

What the Victorians Made of Romanticism - revealed!

Professor Tom Mole’s latest book has won the Media Ecology Association’s Dorothy Lee Award. We talk to him about the book’s innovations and about how our students can engage with its themes.

Professor Tom Mole’s book ‘What the Victorians Made of Romanticism: Material Artifacts, Cultural Practices, and Reception History’ (Princeton University Press) has won the Media Ecology Association’s Dorothy Lee Award for Outstanding Scholarship in the Ecology of Culture.

The Award is the latest accolade for the 2017 publication, which was earlier this year commended in the DeLong Prize for Book History presented by the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP), and named as one of the Library Journal’s list of 20 bestselling titles in literary criticism (June 2017 to April 2018).

Tom is Professor of English Literature and Book History, and Director of the Centre for the History of the Book in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC) at the University of Edinburgh.

We asked him why his area of research is important and how our students can engage with its themes.

How literature makes its way in the world

Photo of Tom Mole and his book
Tom with his award-winning book

“My book offers a new way of thinking about how writers from the Romantic period - roughly 1780 to 1830 - were understood by readers in Victorian Britain,” says Tom. “Where earlier critics have tended to focus on how Victorian writers understood Romantic writing - asking how Wordsworth influenced Tennyson, or Byron influenced Browning - my book tells a different story.”

“It’s about the material artefacts that mediated Romantic writers to Victorian audiences. I look at statues, illustrated books, anthologies and sermons, showing how they shaped the reputations of Lord Byron, Felicia Hemans, Walter Scott, Percy Shelley, and William Wordsworth. These things are part of how literature makes its way in the world, and how it gets remade for new generations of readers.”

“The results can be pretty surprising - did you know that the first ever ‘blue plaque’ put up in London was on Byron’s birthplace, or that Shelley was often quoted in Victorian sermons despite being a confirmed atheist?”

Romantic and Victorian literature and Book History at LLC

The School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC) has a number of experts in Romantic and Victorian literature. “It’s one of the things that attracted me to working here”, Tom confirms. “I teach courses for undergraduates on ‘Romanticism: Themes, Genres, Contexts’ and ‘Sex and God in Victorian Poetry’, and many of my colleagues offer similar courses.”   

“The approach I take in the book is called ‘book history’, because it pays attention to the books in which works of literature circulate, and the ways in which their material form affects how we read their contents. I am Programme Director for LLC’s taught postgraduate programme in this area, the MSc in Book History and Material Culture.”

“I also run the Centre for the History of the Book, which hosts seminars throughout the year, and an annual lecture that everyone’s very welcome to come along to: the next one will be in March 2019 with Christopher de Hamel, author of the multi-award-winning 'Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts'.

Find out more about the Centre for the History of the Book

Find out more about our MSc in Book History and Material Culture

UPDATE (NOVEMBER 2018): ‘What the Victorians Made of Romanticism' has been named Research Book of the Year by the Saltire Society in the annual Saltire Literary Awards, “widely regarded as Scotland’s most prestigious book awards" (Creative Scotland).

Are you interested in studying English Literature at LLC?

Based in the first UNESCO City of Literature, we are home to the oldest department of English Literature in the UK, one of the longest established in the world. We offer over 30 undergraduate degrees, masters in subjects from Creative Writing to Book History, and a range of PhDs.

Find out more about studying English Literature with us

Related links

Read about the DeLong Book History Prize on the SHARP website

Read about the Media Ecology Association (MEA) Awards 2018 on the MEA website