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1818/2018: “The Tax of Quick Alarm”

October 13, 2018

Johnson Center, George Mason University
Tax of Quick Alarm

© Trustees of the British Museum

This one-day symposium will gather distinguished scholars of Romanticism to explore the complex literary, cultural and political developments of  Britain in 1818 and their resonances today. The event will include a plenary, a morning and an afternoon panel of speakers, and a closing roundtable discussion. Along with key texts of the younger Romantics such as Frankenstein and Endymion, the year was marked by notable activity in comedy and satire (Byron’s Beppo, Peacock’s Nightmare Abbey), the periodical press (e.g., the newly restructured Blackwood’s Magazine), and the lecture hall (Hazlitt, Coleridge). Still, in the “hot chronology” of Romanticism, 1818 may seem to run at a cooler temperature, with radical political activity quieter and the seismic shocks of earlier crises still reverberating. The non-punctual, unsettled character of this post-Waterloo, pre-Peterloo moment, however, makes it a compelling object of study at our current historical juncture. Its bicentennial will see the first major US election under the current administration, and the planned vote for Brexit ratification. How, then, do the texts of 1818 illuminate the horizon of our own present?

We take our title from the conclusion of Austen’s posthumously published Persuasion (dated 1818), in which Anne Elliot pays for the glory of being a sailor’s wife with “the tax of quick alarm”: her “felicity” comes with the price of “dread of a future war.” This transaction, in which exchange is reformulated into extortion and alarm is at once endemic and deferred, provides a useful index to the Restoration period of the late 1810s. Austen’s phrase is also suggestive today, as alarm, relentlessly taxing, threatens to replace, or perhaps becomes indistinguishable from, concern and engagement. How is alarm registered, magnified, satirized, displaced, or suppressed in the cultural materials of the year before Peterloo? How do languages of legitimacy and illegitimacy, grievance and reform, consensus and dissent, caution and incautiousness, limit and possibility echo between 1818 and today? How are political and cultural dynamics of change and stasis understood in each moment? Please join us for a lively and thoughtful day-long discussion.

Keynote Speaker

Mary Favret (Johns Hopkins University).

Confirmed Speakers

Katey Castellano (James Madison University), Tara Ghoshal Wallace (George Washington University), Mark Parker (James Madison University), Mark Schoenfield (Vanderbilt University), Orrin N.C. Wang (University of Maryland), Kim Wheatley (College of William and Mary).

Symposium Schedule

  • 10:30: Registration and coffee, pastries
  • 11:00-12:00: Keynote Address: “Paying the Tax of Quick Alarm,” Mary Favret, The Johns Hopkins University
  • 12:00-1:30: Session 1: Exile, Anonymity, Influence: Journalism across Boundaries
    • Mark Parker, James Madison University, “New Media: Blackwoods in 1818”
    • Kim Wheatley, College of William and Mary, “‘Shadow and sunshine’: Blackwoods Magazine on William Wordsworth in 1818”
    • Katey Castellano, James Madison University, “William Cobbett’s Self-Imposed Exile in 1818”
  • 1:30-2:30: Lunch (on own)
  • 2:30-4:00: Session 2: Perpetual Motion: Walking, Circulation, Mania
    • Mark Schoenfield, Vanderbilt University, “Public Secrecy: Blackwoods Magazine and the Public as Confidant”
    • Tara Ghoshal Wallace, George Washington University, “Taxing and Alarming Walks: Anne Elliot and Jeanie Deans”
    • Orrin N.C. Wang, The University of Maryland, “The Gothic Zany”
  • 4:00-4:30: Coffee break
  • 4:30-5:30: Roundtable: “Thinking 1818/2018.” Moderator: Deborah Kaplan, George Mason University (Emerita)

Getting there

George Mason is easily accessible by car or by Metro (to the Vienna/Fairfax-GMU stop on the Orange Line). A free shuttle connects the Metro station with the campus.

Information on getting to the Fairfax campus can be found here:

Metro shuttle information can be found here:

Co-sponsored by the George Mason University College of Humanities and Social Sciences; the George Mason English Department; the George Mason Department of History and Art History; the George Mason Program in Cultural Studies; the University of Maryland English Department; the University of Maryland Center for Literary and Comparative Studies; the Washington Area Romanticists Group; and the George Washington University English Department.


October 13, 2018
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Johnson Center, George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030 United States


Eric Eisner, Kristin Samuelian, and Teresa Michals