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Romantic Parody - A Special Issue of Romanticism On the Net

  • John Strachan

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  • John Strachan
    University of Sutherland

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This special issue of Romanticism on the Net seeks to introduce the often neglected pleasures of Romantic parody to a wide audience. Entertaining but critically insightful, in turn acerbic and admiring, parody is both an important interpretative method and a significant creative form in its own right. The old critical orthodoxy that the Romantic period is not one which manifested much significant comic writing is crumbling; the last few years have seen an upsurge in attention to Romantic period parody and satire, with the publication of important monographs and scholarly editions [1] and this issue seeks to contribute to ongoing debates surrounding these writings. The special issue attends to a range of parodic writings, spanning the ideological gamut from the Anti-Jacobin to John Thelwall, and addressing the use of parody by figures both neglected (W. F. Deacon, D. M. Moir) and celebrated (William Cobbett, S. T. Coleridge). It attends to parody's critical engagement with Romanticism and to the nuanced use of the form by Romantic authors themselves.

1999 is an appropriate time for this special issue, as it marks the bicentenary of two key events in the history of the form: the publication of perhaps the greatest anthology of parodic writing, Poetry of the Anti-Jacobin, and the birth of William Frederick Deacon, one of the finest practitioners of the form and whose Warreniana (1824) has only James Hogg's The Poetic Mirror to rival it in post-Napoleonic parody. Both the Anti-Jacobin and Warreniana have recently been provided with scholarly editions in Graeme Stones and John Strachan's five-volume edition Parodies of the Romantic Age (Pickering and Chatto, 1999) and both are discussed here. It is the Anti-Jacobin which Kenneth R. Johnston addresses in his essay, 'Romantic Anti-Jacobins or Anti-Jacobin Romantics?'. From the publication of its first number in late 1797, this periodical was an arm of government at a time of national crisis and its urgent, hilarious and unscrupulous parodies set about the range of liberal and radical opinion. One of the Anti-Jacobin's principal targets was what it labelled the 'NEW SCHOOL' of poetry and Johnston argues that the journal's engagement with the school was deeper than has hitherto been imagined, extending beyond Southey and Coleridge to the figure we now denominate its most significant member, William Wordsworth. He makes a provocative and original case that the highlight of the last issue of the Anti-Jacobin, 'New Morality', offers a coded message to Wordsworth and that, in return, the poet replied to the journal in his most important early poem and most significant critical document: 'Tintern Abbey' and the preface to the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads (1800). Deacon's Warreniana is a remarkable collection of parodies which imagines a world where the notable manufacturer of shoe polish Robert Warren, whose famous advertisements often employed jingle verse, has engaged the most notable writers of the day - Byron, Coleridge, Scott and Wordsworth amongst them - to eulogise his product in their own particular styles. It is the subject of my own essay, which sets Deacon's work in its context of early-nineteenth century developments in advertising and examines other late Romantic period parody and satire, by Thomas Moore and William Hone amongst others, which engages with contemporary marketing. Deacon is also one of the principal themes of Chris Koenig-Woodyard's essay, 'sex/text: "Christabel" and the Christabelliads', which ably surveys the parodic response to Coleridge's 'Christabel'. Koenig-Woodyard builds a case for the critical significance of the seven verse parodies of 'Christabel' which were published between 1816 and 1832, and offers a sustained discussion of their imitative critiques of Coleridge's supernatural and sexual atmospherics. Koenig-Woodyard's account of 'Christabel' parody is well complemented by Steven E. Jones's '"Supernatural, or at Least Romantic": The Ancient Mariner and Parody', which examines the parodic response to a still more notable Coleridgean poem. However, Jones's focus is also upon Coleridge's role as a self-parodist and upon the way in which parody shaped the poet's revisions of his poem. Jones argues that parodic manoeuvrings are at the heart of Coleridge's 1817 revisions of the Ancient Mariner; here parody serves to enhance the metaphysically transcendent and aesthetically symbolic nature of his text. Adeline Johns-Putra's essay sheds valuable light on an area of Romantic period women's writing - burlesque poetry by women - which has hitherto been neglected. Her essay is an important discussion of the politics —both parliamentary and sexual—of female-authored burlesque and the implications for women of assuming the role of Juvenalian satirist. Moving from matters of gender to those of race, Marcus Wood's essay is a timely meditation on the role of parody in Romantic period discussions of race and the way in which William Cobbett and John Thelwall, despite their adopting radically opposed positions on the Atlantic slave trade and colonialism, both operate forms of Burkean parody in their writings on these issues.

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