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  • Of Coleopterans and Chameleons:Romanticismo británico, or 英國浪漫主義
  • Olivia Loksing Moy (bio)

Julio Cortázar, a great aficionado of John Keats, once categorized the world into two types: coleopterans and chameleons. In a chapter entitled "Casilla de camaleón," he offers his own rendition of the hedgehog and the fox, branding bad literary critics as coleopterans: those philosopherand politician-types who sacrifice or ignore "everything that has its origins beyond the span of their chitinous wings."1 Chameleons, by contrast, are flexible and open to the world.

Romanticists are, by nature, more akin to the chameleon than the coleopteran. The higher calls for universal liberty, equality, and fraternity impel us to embody the spirit of resistance and revolution until those ideals are truly extended to all—regardless of citizenship, ethnicity, or language. Around the time of the Cuban Revolution, Cortázar also [End Page 152] gleaned in Keats's chameleon poet an expressly political message of sympathetic identification: the unfailing recognition of the other as equal.2

Conscientiously opening our field to include more multilingual scholarship—focusing on translations, adaptations, and receptions of the British Romantics—could capture that spirit of the chameleon, particularly through Luso-Hispanic and Asian connections. Until recently, German, French, and Italian have traditionally dominated comparative studies in Romanticism. But in the midst of a political climate so brazenly antagonistic toward Spanishand Chinese-speaking Americans—from vituperative accusations of "murderers and rapists" to taunts of "kung flu" and "the Chinese virus"—institutionalized hate speech has led to deportations, family separations, and a marked spike in hate crimes. What better way to counteract the xenophobia emanating from the White House than to model multilingual scholarship adopting those other tongues? We might promote scholarship that lies beyond the comfortable parameters of whiteness in Anglophone literary study, all while honoring the contributions of Latin American or Asian texts, authors, and translators.

The fruits of such multilingual research are already varied and plentiful, with new discoveries that promise to "load and bless" our discipline: We can trace the phenomenon of Byromania in 1845 Brazil, where, for students at the University of São Paolo, it was all the rage to "byronize" ("… foi consagrado à mania que então grassava de byronizar").3 We learn of centenary commemorations of Shelley's death in an 1922 issue of El Universal, a radical Venezuelan newspaper: "El Poeta Shelley—Con Byron y Keats,—El Prometeo

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Figure 1.

Anaedus brunneus, Coleoptera of North America. Citation: Ziegler, D. (1844). Descriptions of New North American Coleoptera. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 2 [1844–45]: 43–47.

[End Page 153] Libertado."4 We might reexplore Alejo Carpentier's well-known Cuban novel Los pasos perdidos, read against its source text, Prometheus Unbound, which was only fully translated into Spanish in 1994.5 And in China, after the 1919 May Fourth Movement, editors faced the baffling quandary of whether to translate Wordsworth's canonical poems using Classical Chinese characters (古文) or bai hua wen (白話文), the new vernacular designed to be the "real language of men."6 These afterlives bring Wordsworth (华兹华斯), Keats, Byron, and Shelley studies from Caracas to the Andes Mountains, to Buenos Aires and Beijing.

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Figure 2.

Furcifer verrucosus, warty chameleon. Courtesy of Eugenia Hauss, 2017.

Multilingual scholarship enriches our field while building upon important existing work in transatlantic, comparative, and Black Romanticisms.7 It invites collaboration from Latinx and Asian scholars across disciplines, as well as engagement with non-Anglophone publications and universities—thus augmenting antiracist commitments already embraced by institutions such as the K-SAA and the Bigger Six Twitter collaborative. As The Last Man portended, the current pandemic has reframed us as world citizens who are all potentially subject to the same fate. Traversing new languages in English Romantic studies rewards us, in turn, with an even more global Shelley, a yet more international Byron, a still more universal Keats. [End Page 154]

Olivia Loksing Moy

Olivia Loksing Moy is Assistant Professor of English at the City University of New York, Lehman College and the author of The Gothic Forms of Victorian Poetry (Edinburgh University Press, 2021...


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