School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics

Staff Profile

Dr Bysshe Coffey

British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellow

Background

I am a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow. Educated at the Universities of Cambridge and Exeter, I was awarded a starred first, two commended distinctions at master’s level, and a doctorate during which I was an Huntington Fellow. I have recently finished my first monograph, Shelley's Broken World and assist Nora Crook with volumes 7 and 8 of The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley (Johns Hopkins University Press). With Nora Crook and Anna Mercer, I am preparing an edition of the Shelley notebook at the Library of Congress (MSS. 13, 290). I was awarded a Carl H. Pforzheimer Jr., Research Grant by the Keats-Shelley Society of America in 2021.


As we approach the bicentenary of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s drowning, his work seems as timely as in the years between the death of his first editor (Mary Shelley) and his first centenary. During this period (1851-1922), Shelley was canonised in the anglophone world, Europe and even the Far East. Streets were named after him. My British Academy project examines the phenomenon of 'High Shelleyanism', the international cast of Shelleyans, Shelleyites, and Shelleyphobes, and the differing ideologies and methodologies of the poet's numerous editors, amateur and professional. But it aims beyond textual scholarship and colourful competing personalities. It charts the diffusion of Shelley’s works through cheap reprints, illustration, music and networks of influence.


I am constructing an annotated digital gallery of illustrated editions of Shelley, visual representations of the poet, and musical settings of his verse between the years 1851-1922. The website, which is in its initial stages, will go live in 2021.


I believe that reading the best imaginative literature is a vital form of liberation from our increasingly narrow and trifling media culture.


I have Classical Greek, Latin, French, and Kernewek.  


Specialisms


  • The poetry, thought, reception history, and editing of Percy Bysshe Shelley.
  • Shelley's Classical Reading / Scholarship, and, more widely, Greek Scholarship in the Romantic Period.
  • Verse culture and prosody between 1700-1950.
  • I am a patron and sceptic of the ancient quarrel between poetry and philosophy.
  • Textual scholarship / Principles / Forgery / Book History.
  • Canonical Debates and the Idea of ‘Great Books’.
  • The history of literary criticism and theory, especially its cliques and schools, fads and fashions.
  • The Criticism of F. R. Leavis / Kenneth Burke / William Empson / Harold Bloom.
  • Leo Strauss, his influence, principles, and students. 


Shelley's Broken World: Fractured Materiality and Intermitted Song (Liverpool University Press, October 2021)



My first monograph comes out this October. The book offers a provocative and profound reassessment of Shelley’s poetic art and thought. Bysshe Inigo Coffey returns to a peculiarity of Shelley’s expressive repertoire first noticed by his Victorian readers and editors: his innovatory use of pauses, which registered as irregularities in ears untuned to his innovations. But his pauses are more than a quirk; various intermittences are at the centre of Shelley’s artistry and his thought.


The book aims to transform the philosophical, scientific, and aesthetic contexts in which Shelley is positioned. It offers a ground-breaking analysis of his reading, and is the first study to refer to and include images of the unpublished ‘Marlow List’, a record of the books Shelley left behind him on his departure for Italy in 1818. Shelley’s prosody grew to articulate his sense that actuality is experienced as ruptured and fractured with gaps and limit-points. He shows us the weakness of the actual. As we approach the bicentenary of the poet’s death, Shelley’s Broken World provides an exciting new beginning for the study of a major Romantic poet, the history of materialism, and prosody.



'Shelley’s Broken World is a considerable achievement: intellectually adventurous, with many unexpected twists and turns in the argument and in the material. Coffey writes with distinctive eloquence. The range of reading is very impressive, but I especially like the confidence with which Coffey draws on the whole of Shelley's output, from the grandest central things to all manner of usually unconsidered texts. The close reading, tremendously insightful on pauses and rhymes, is a constant pleasure.'


Kelvin Everest, University of Liverpool


'A major contribution to the rich field of current Shelley studies, Shelley's Broken World offers a strongly original reading of the poet’s work and thought as embracing "intermittence" in varied ways. Through illuminating readings of less discussed poems (including "Rosalind and Helen" and "Ginevra") as well as more familiar ones (Alastor, Peter Bell the Third, Epipsychidion), Bysshe Coffey unearths a Shelley whose poetry inhabits gaps, interruptions and pauses. This thoughtful, ambitious monograph, the first critical study to engage with the recently discovered "Marlow list" (a record of his books the poet left behind on departing for Italy in 1818), establishes its voice persuasively, striking out its own path with assurance while engaging generously with criticism since Shelley's death and taking on, impressively, the complex history of his text.'


Michael Rossington, Newcastle University


'Shelley’s Broken World brilliantly rips up what we thought we knew about the poet, so as to start thinking anew. With wit, erudition and conviction, Coffey probes a series of generative "limit-points" to Shelley’s expression: manifest yet non-palpable sensuous phenomena that resist reductive materialisms; the revisions and deletion of his compositional process; the gaps and omissions in the poet’s personal library. Bringing together the otherwise cloistered fields of prosody, history of the book and manuscript studies, Coffey restores to us to the freshness, vitality and elusiveness that define Shelley’s achievement.'


Ewan James Jones, University of Cambridge


'Once begun, few readers will wish to pause their reading of Bysshe Inigo Coffey’s dazzling account of the "pauses of matter and life" in Shelley’s poetry. Displaying its subtlety, intelligence, and generosity from the outset, Shelley’s Broken World seeks to do justice to F.R. Leavis’s notorious strictures on Shelley – which, Coffey shows, Leavis in fact revised toward the end of his life – by arguing that "Shelley had a firm grasp upon the weakness of the actual". The book does a superlative job of bearing out this claim. Along the way, it illuminates pretty much the whole of Shelley’s life and work, as well as a host of other figures from Heraclitus to Harold Bloom. I struggle to think of another book on Shelley that combines such breadth of scholarship, subtlety of appreciation, and critical sophistication as are so abundantly in evidence here.'


Ross Wilson, University of Cambridge


'This richly-documented and engagingly-written – indeed, elegant – book is a highly valuable, even innovative, contribution to the interpretation of Percy Bysshe Shelley's writings, English Romantic poetry in general, and the influence on both of philosophical, scientific, and earlier literary works sometimes overlooked, many of which have never been connected to Shelley or Romanticism as convincingly as they are here. It is, in addition, distinctive in Shelley scholarship in focusing on his openings of spaces, interstices, and silences in his work and their intimations of a fractured world where there are gaps between parts of it, yet where those parts are still turning out towards emerging connections, like words on a page. Coffey shows powerfully how these openings suggest states of between-ness and in-distinction that really lie at the heart of human awareness and its experiences of the material world, even though those levels are usually repressed in everyday consciousness. Such "concealed life in pauses and breaks" (Coffey’s phrase) is here brought forward, first, in older philosophies of both materiality and prosody that now emerge as influential on Shelley in ways we have too long ignored and, second, in his brilliant uses of the performative aspects of poems to call attention to moments of suspended animation caught between the dissolution and the renewal of thought, matter, and their relationships with each other. This process leads throughout to perceptive close readings of selected Shelley poems that are among the most revealing we now have, ones that general readers, students, and their teachers can apply to other works by him – and by some contemporaries and successors – not directly studied in this account. It is a pleasure to recommend an academic study that is at once a stylish "good read" and a provocative challenge for us all to examine Shelley the poet more carefully while, at the same time, learning how he expanded the possibilities of poetry in ways we have not understood until now.'


Jerrold E. Hogle, University of Arizona


'Shelley’s Broken World is an exhilarating, original contribution to the study of Shelley’s poetry and poetics. It reads a series of passages from such seemingly disparate poems as Alastor, Epipsychidion, and the Triumph of Life with remarkable assurance and deft sensitivity to how the poetry is performed by and in the reader. Its goal is not so much to provide a reading of a particular poem as a whole, as to demonstrate how "various intermittences" – "poetic, cognitive, spiritual, bodily" – are a hallmark of Shelley’s poetic practice, and constitute a subject deeply in need of further understanding. These intermittences appear in both Shelley’s prosody itself and the thematics involving sleep, trance, madness, and death that the verse embodies and explores. Along the way, there are some eye-opening close readings. The splendid discussion of the title and opening two lines of Epipsychidion is in itself a revelation.'


Neil Fraistat, University of Maryland


'A fine study of Shelley’s airy arts of breath and pause, as diverting as it is scholarly. Bysshe Inigo Coffey has many new things to say about the poet’s extensive reading and the way it helped shape many of his greatest writings, and he traces the rich philosophical, religious, and scientific resonances of the poetry with great critical grace. Sympathetic and sharp-eyed, in Shelley’s Broken World Coffey offers a deeply informed and stylishly written account of the many ways that Shelley’s complex genius sought, in his own words "something beyond the present & tangible object".'


Seamus Perry, University of Oxford


'Percy Bysshe Shelley has long been known by poetry cognoscenti as the Marmite of poets. Carlyle (whom I hate) called him "Weak in genius, weak in character (for these two always go together); a poor thin, spasmodic, hectic, shrill and pallid being" and Charles Kingsley, a founder of Muscular Christianity, compared "the increase of Shelley-reading in Britain in the 1850s to another growing female addiction, the secret sipping of eau-de-cologne". Bysshe Inigo Coffey is without doubt an admirer, who sees Shelley’s poetic intelligence and sensuous experience in harmony like no other with an especially endearing "grasp upon the weakness of the actual". Through new research in the "Marlow List" Coffey meticulously places Shelley in his philosophical and scientific milieux, tracing Shelley’s reading in Kant and Rousseau as well as in medicine, geophysics, astronomy, anatomy and the life sciences. This is a work of scholarly elegance as well as depth on matters of pointing and crux, of "great, last fragments", through the full range of Shelley’s poetry but especially Alastor, Peter Bell the Third, and Epipsychidion.'


Regenia Gagnier, University of Exeter


'This book explores inter alia how the dissolution of the boundary between mind and matter is expressed by Shelley in his dissolution of the boundary between philosophy and poetry. In this he resembles Lucretius, one of numerous poetic, scientific, and philosophical influences on Shelley presented by Coffey with rigorous scholarship. The eloquent passion of his book leaves us with the sense that Shelley was grappling with fundamental problems, and their solutions through poetic imagination, that - even if they no longer concern us - certainly should do.'


Richard Seaford, University of Exeter


'Shelley’s Broken World is a piercingly insightful and gracefully written book that both widens and sharpens our understanding of the poet’s intellectual and poetic engagement with the world. Bysshe Coffey has that rare talent: an ability to combine rigorous historical research with a sensitive, finely tuned ear for poetry. In this sophisticated study, Coffey shows how the pauses, fractures, absences, and breaks in Shelley’s canon are momentous. These textual spaces reflect and express the poet's thinking about politics, society, and human life in general. This book sets new standards in Shelley studies and indeed, Romantic studies.'


Corinna Wagner, University of Exeter


'Shelley was a polymath, and in Shelley’s Broken World Coffey provides one of the best attempts to comprehend the range, sophistication, and meaning of the poet’s mind. Coffey’s mastery of Shelley’s poetry and its contexts is remarkable, and, more importantly, he provides brilliant readings of how the two interact. The European literature and thought that inform poems such as Alastor and Epipsychidion are thoroughly explored, but Coffey is also adept at close readings which tease out Shelley’s sense of absence and vacancy enacted by form and metre. It is refreshing that Coffey manages to take the philosophical implications for any study of materiality seriously without succumbing to jargon or theoretical wandering. Furthermore, his book is part of a tradition, and he engages on every page with Shelley’s best critics and editors, while maintaining a confident and unique critical voice.'


Will Bowers, Queen Mary University of London


'This study should transform our understanding of Shelley’s work. Coffey writes like an angel, and he has an ear for the detailed nuances of metre and rhythm that is rare indeed; better still, he combines this gift with a painstaking archival scholarship and a deeply learned appreciation of the intellectual milieu in which Shelley worked.'


Tim Kendall, University of Exeter


The book is available for pre-order here:


https://liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk/books/id/55137/



Research

RESEARCH PROJECT


British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship
: 
Amateurs and Professionals: The Reception History of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1851-1922)


                                                


PUBLICATIONS

Monograph


Shelley’s Broken World. Contracted for manuscript, completed and delivered to Liverpool University Press. Publication in 2021. 


Articles in Refereed Journals


‘Percy Bysshe Shelley and China’s Gayest Art’. Invited article for ‘Romanticism and Asia’, special issue, guest edited by Peter Kitson. The Wordsworth Circle 51.1, pp. 221–241 (8500 words). 

https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/709153


‘Shelley’s Poetry of Air’. The Wordsworth Circle 50.2 (2019), pp. 219–236 (8200 words).

https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/703688?


‘Wrecked in that Convulsion: Epipsychidion and Rhyme’. The Keats-Shelley Review 33.1, (2019), pp. 60–73 (7050 words) 

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09524142.2019.1611269


‘Shelley’s Kant, Wordsworth, and “Peter Bell”’. The Wordsworth Circle 49.3 (2018), pp. 167–176 (8153 words).

https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/TWC4903167


‘Shelley’s Alastor and “On a Future State”. The Wordsworth Circle 48.1 (2017), pp. 39–46, (6152 words). 

https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/TWC48010039

Article Forthcoming


‘Romanticism and the Polymath’. The Wordsworth Circle, special edition in memory of Marilyn Gaull. Submission due 2020.



Languages


Greek, Latin, French, and Kernewek (I'm a proud Cornishman and take an active interest in the state of the Language). I am studying Japanese as part of the BA project.