This essay examines Leigh Hunt’s three major autobiographical texts: Lord Byron and Some of His Contemporaries (1828), The Autobiography of Leigh Hunt (1850), and the second edition of the Autobiography (1860). From the earliest to the latest of these texts, Hunt transforms himself from the controversial author of The Story of Rimini and famous theatre critic to an editor of essay collections with a fading literary reputation. In both versions of the Autobiography, Hunt reuses and revises previously published passages, and these alterations highlight his changing self-image, especially his movement away from the literary spotlight.
This essay explores the ways that Herbert Croft’s ultimately unsuccessful literary career epitomized the late eighteenth-century world of struggling authors, pursuing their fortune along whatever paths seemed to be the most promising or, failing that, most available, across a far broader range of genres than we normally acknowledge in our accounts of professional authorship in this period. It explores Croft’s failed plans to produce what the Gentleman’s Magazine called the “Oxford Dictionary of the English Language,” but also on his considerable efforts to promote this and other literary projects. The second half of the essay focuses on Croft’s Letter to the Right Honourable William Pitt, which was printed in early March, 1788, at the end of a trip to London, and which was intended to generate support for his dictionary project. If the Letter to Pitt was remarkable for the dexterity with which Croft aligned his argument for the importance of a particular form literary professionalism with a set of related assumptions about the connections between public virtue and the national good, its many tensions foregrounded some of the paradoxes that were implicit in this process. Like many of the newspaper ads for his other works, the Letter to Pitt offers a compelling example of the extent to which Croft’s promotional efforts resulted in more intriguing literary texts than the works they were intended to promote.
Labeled by Louis Peck a “bibliographical hazard,” Tales ofTerror has long suffered from two misrepresentations: 1) it has been frequently attributed to M.G. Lewis, although no external evidence exists to support the claim; and, somewhat paradoxically, 2) it has been dismissed as a mere burlesque of Lewis’s Tales of Wonder, despite the fact that the majority of its poems treat Gothic themes in a serious manner. The parodic spirit pervading Tales of Wonder stems in part from Lewis’s attempt to anticipate and defuse critical alarm about his Gothic works. The writers of Tales of Terror carry on this double-edged treatment of the Gothic, especially in the volume’s “Introductory Dialogue” between a defender and opponent of Gothic poetry. The destabilizing presence of a satiric voice in ballads specifically selected for their recovery of a more forceful, authentic, and native idiom of poetry also raises an interesting secondary question: whether Gothic ballads can be free of the ironic consciousness they were originally and ostensibly designed to exclude.
This essay argues that Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s notoriously disjointed poem “Christabel” displays a consistent concern with repetition: thematically, formally, and psychologically. By looking at the pervasiveness of echoes, I show how “Christabel” produces a coherent exploration of repetition, first in terms of paralysis, and later in terms of creativity.
In “Ode to the West Wind” Percy Shelley represents the instability of the archive and the tenuousness of literary transmission through allusions, via Dante’s Divine Comedy and Virgil’s Aeneid, to a formative period in the history of the book: the period from roughly the first century BCE to the fourth century CE when the classical volumen or scroll was giving way to the codex of cut and sewn pages or “leaves.” By registering the poet’s own anxieties over the survival of his poetry and the perils of fragmentary dissemination through the image of “leaves dead” by which his two great precursors imagined the afterlives of departed souls, Shelley’s prophetic ode speaks to our own anxieties over the possibility of archival displacement and dispersion in a digital age while reaching back two millennia to the re-establishment of state religion, transformations in writing practices, and the founding myth of the Cumaen Sybil in Augustan Rome.
This article concerns the question of influence evident in the transatlantic relationship between William Wordsworth and Ralph Waldo Emerson. I argue that influence is linked vitally to light—celestial or the northern lights (i.e. aurora borealis)—, which is evident in the prose and poetry by Wordsworth and Emerson. Electromagnetic energy conducts a circuit; this is reflected also in the transatlantic crosscurrent of the precursor and progeny. Notably, Wordsworth’s “The Complaint of a Forsaken Indian Woman” (1798) and his Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1802) influence Emerson’s The Poet (1844), which has been informed also by Michael Faraday’s Experimental Researches in Electricity (1839). The matter pertaining to influence is inextricably connected to electromagnetism, light, and aurora borealis that appear in the work by Wordsworth and Emerson. Inspiration, then, ultimately can be derived from a celestial source in relation to the terrestrial.
This essay focuses on Matthew “Monk” Lewis’ poem “The Isle of Devils,” which appears in his Journal of a West India Proprietor. The poem relates the story of a shipwrecked woman, Irza, who finds herself at the mercy of a “Fiend” on an unnamed island that lies somewhere off the coast of Africa. With an analysis of the splitting of binaries such as colonizer/colonized, fertility/barrenness, mothering/murder, and poison/antidote/pharmakon contained in the poem, this essay investigates the dynamics of colonization. I discuss miscegenation and hybridity in connection with the Fiend and Irza’s children, who perish at the hands of the father following the mother’s abandonment of her family, and in the context of Lewis’ Journal. By way of a Derridean approach, the seemingly contradictory action of healing/harming in the poem gives way to a reading of the Fiend and Irza as equally to blame for the bloody demise of their island family, and one can call into question who—and what—is “monstrous.”
This article argues that there is a direct connection between Blake’s rejection of conventional Enlightenment aesthetics—namely, of tropes pertaining to light and darkness and void and chaos—and a space of liberty that is opened for the reader. This space, which I term the “exemptive sublime,” is free from interpretive mandates and even orthodox assumptions. To illustrate the affiliation between Blake’s radical aesthetics and the radical space of liberty that is created for the reader, I first briefly consider how even in some of his earliest works, such as “The Little Black Boy” and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake is already complicating notions of light, darkness, and void. I then turn my analysis to the verbal and visual designs of the opening plates in The [First] Book ofUrizen to demonstrate how Blake boldly reorganizes Enlightenment epistemological and ontological discourse so that places of void and darkness become places of productive insight. In its characteristic emphasis on the importance of inspired Vision over empirical sight, Blake’s composite art opens not just a space of liberty in which to question hegemonic doctrine, but also a space for ethical reflection.
In this article I explore what I consider to be a fundamental association between Coleridge’s philosophical ideas of polarity, symbol, and translucence, and his more pathological bipolar condition (manic-depressive psychosis and melancholia). I take it that Coleridge’s sublimating theory of polarity (two opposing poles united in their opposition, both struggling against each other, and yet effective by benefit of the other) draws its energy from his psychical and somatic illness, whereby the abyss of squalor that the poet and philosopher recurrently finds himself in is the constitutive pole of his prodigious imagination. Simultaneously, my aim is to problematise what many critics identify as a feminine or non-Oedipal sublime by showing that Coleridge implements such a position, but pays for it with his suffering body. This is not to suggest that the feminine sublime is inevitably pathogenic; rather, my purpose is to critique any overly optimistic valorisation of the excess or alterity it speaks of, and to claim that this otherness at least risks the possibility of psychosis.
This article examines the role of sugar in Matthew Lewis’s Journal of a West India Proprietor (1834), arguing that, despite its relatively marginal position as an overt content, the commodity provides a felicitous means of understanding the formal dimensions of Lewis’s text, and its negotiation of racial violence, in particular. Throughout the Journal, Lewis figures the Caribbean sugar estate as a kind of utopia, divested of all that made slavery so anathema to its opponents and, in so doing, discursively echoes the processes of refinement entailed in the production of the very substance on which his wealth and status are predicated. Yet even as Lewis’s colonial record aspires towards a condition of discursive and ideological purity, it can never quite reach its goal: the material realities of racial conflict stubbornly obtrude themselves in stray moments, lingering on in fragmentary and vestigial forms, which vitiate the saccharine visions Lewis seeks to promote.