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Heidi Renee Aijala
My early work with this project explored Charlotte Smith's scientific catalogue of ornithology, A Natural History of Birds, Intended Chiefly for Young Persons - Volume II (1807), alongside her three nightingale poems in Elegiac Sonnets (1786). Initally, work explored A Natural History of Birds, a catalogue which professes to operate as a scientific catalogue where the purpose is simply to give a clinical overview of the six orders of birds. In the catalogue Smith spends considerable time on general description but also includes the rich histories, mythologies and poetics associated with each subject. Thus, A Natural History of Birds is not simply a scientific overview of ornithology. Rather, layers of disparate voices intersect and interact within the text to create a multi-linguistic overview of science, myth, poetics and history. The nightingale entry, for example, rapidly navigates, without transition, from a scientific foray of migratory patterns, to a personal anecdote, to a Greek myth until finally settling on a series of poems. My original thesis claimed that Smith's use of layered vocality assumes that diverse voices can convivially cohabitate. Read in the context of Elegiac Sonnets and, more specifically, through Smith’s nightingale poems, the multi-voice approach reveals a negotiation of space in which feminine subjectivities are residents with, rather than appropriated by, masculinist discourses.
I am revising this essay for quals and, hopefully, for publication. There are two areas of this essay that were considerably weak: first, I intend to develop a more complete archive of late 17th and early 18th c. ornithology and, second, I would like to strengthen the section on the history of nightingale poetry and make this a more prominent focus in the paper. I have started this section of my new research and am learning that poets prior to Smith typically associate the nightingale’s song with mythology. The nightingale, almost always female, is Philomela or is the voice of melancholgy. It seems that Smith may be the first poet to separate the mythological nightingale from the real bird singing in real trees. I am going to persue this hunch and focus on the following questions: "Why does Smith choose to rework the nightingale tradition in the already established, and (at the time) highly unpopular, sonnet form?" and "In what ways does Smith influence the later Romantic poets, such as Wordswor