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Writing the royal forest of Windsor: literature in a contested landscape, 1600-1820


Project Description

This project examines ways in which the literary “space” of texts by, about, or produced in Windsor Forest during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries maps on to, challenges, and re-imagines the geographical, topographical and cultural spaces of the Forest.

Until the nineteenth century, Windsor Forest extended over much of modern-day Berkshire and into surrounding counties. Though it was a royal forest that had been owned by the Crown since the eleventh century, it was nonetheless a supremely contested landscape. The ancient forest law allowed royal agents and landowners to impose arbitrary restrictions on land use and access, but it also provided freedom for politically radical Levellers, recusant Catholics, Anglican non-jurors, poachers (including the notorious Windsor Blacks) and outlaws (including the highwaymen of Bagshot Heath). In the early nineteenth century, enclosure meant lasting social, economic and technological changes to the Forest landscape and inhabitants.

Throughout the early modern period, the Forest was congenial to networks of thinkers and writers, from the cultural circles of recusant Catholic landowners to which the poet Alexander Pope belonged, to the Shottesbrooke ‘college’ of Anglican theologians, to the group that would, in the later eighteenth century, become the ‘Lunar Society’ of Birmingham. Pope’s Windsor Forest (1713) is perhaps the most famous poem on this area, but writers who have celebrated this terrain in verse include Aemilia Lanyer (1569-1645), John Denham (1614-69), Thomas Gray (1716-71) and Mary Robinson (1758-1800).

Over recent decades, research across literary studies, cultural studies and geography has led to a “spatial turn” and the development of geocriticism as a vibrant field of enquiry (Lefebvre 1991; Massey 2013; Tuan 2001; Tally 2013). This project combines such theoretical frameworks with archival research into the particular landscape of Windsor Forest (using, among other sources, the holdings of the Berkshire Record Office and The Royal Archives) and also critical analysis of literary texts produced in and about the Forest. This blend of methodological approaches will lead to a project that pioneers new ways of thinking about the relationship between text, place and space.

Informal enquiries about this project may be made at any time by contacting the project supervisors: Dr Paddy Bullard () and Dr Rebecca Bullard ().

References
Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, tr. Donald Nicholson-Smith (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991)
Doreen Massey, Space, Place and Gender (Hoboken: Wiley, 2013)
Robert T. Tally, Spatiality (London: Routledge, 2013)
Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (University of Minnesota Press, 2001)

Funding Notes

This is eligible to self-funded students or students who have already gained funding from a body external to the UoR.

The candidate should have a first class or upper second class honours degree, and a master’s degree (or equivalent qualification), in English Literature. Evidence of interest in geocritical, ecocritical or archival approaches towards literary studies is desirable but not essential.

How good is research at University of Reading in English Language and Literature?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 27.00

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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