Reading Wordsworth’s Prelude implicates us immediately in the politics of autobiographical writing — which deliberately elides, to use Felicity Nussbaum’s words, “the subject’s fragmentations and discontinuities.” But at the same time, one cannot help suspecting that the seemingly reasonable expectation of factual correctness in autobiography can also mask a deep denial of these essential fragmentations and discontinuities in the name of truth.
Wordsworth’s revisions of the Prelude afford an insightful means of understanding these issues: here the imperatives of narrative self-constitution far outweigh the imperatives of literal facts. But the misdating of crucial events — such as the composition of the Glad Preamble — do not detract from its validity as autobiographical writing, but rather gives evidence of the self-problematising nature of origins. In fact, the interest in works such as the Prelude lies not in how closely they adhere to historical particularities, but how tenaciously their metaphoric transcendence resists reduction back to these historical particularities. Romantic subjectivity makes no clear distinction between self and the outer world of phenomena — and also it seems between self and self. This becomes abundantly clear in Wordsworth’s appropriation of Dorothy’s experience. In the Prelude this process is traceable eminently through the process of textual revisions as the present study argues.
Not unlike the inexplicable phantasm, the Gothic novel has appeared to materialize from nowhere. Few critics have been able to explain why Gothic novelists were fixated upon the tropes of persecution, oppression, and the reclaimed birthright or why indeed they sought to resurrect a seemingly regressive, escapist folk-tale-like form despite the success of the "realistic" novels of Fielding, Richardson, and Smollett. Even fewer have been able to explain why Gothic novelists displayed so much awareness of gender issues before the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792. This essay begins by taking a rare glimpse into British reformist discourses of the late eighteenth century, focusing on contemporary allegations of incipient despotism and the widened appeal for universal (male) enfranchisement while also examining the new populist discursive strategies deployed by reformist writers. It demonstrates how the central themes and discursive strategies of Gothic novels from 1770 through 1800 conform to those found in contemporary reformist writing despite their lack of overt references to politics. On a larger scale, this essay shows how political discourse affects the shaping of literary genre and, conversely, how genre affects the shaping of political discourse in the rise of the so-called public sphere.
The use of opium, often in the form of laudanum, was a constituent element of the Romantic Imagination. Coleridge, Thomas De Quincey, and Charles Lloyd were all subject to its bondage. In Scotland the literati of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine were aware of its prevalence. James Hogg had a ‘perfect horror’ of the effects of laudanum and gave great offence to John Gibson Lockhart when, in his Anecdotes of Sir W. Scott, he revealed that Lady Scott had taken opium. In one of the ‘Noctes Ambrosianae’ published in Blackwood’s, probably written by John Wilson (himself possibly an opium user) Hogg’s persona, accompanied by De Quincey, also a Blackwood’s contributor, speaks eloquently about its horrid effects. Hogg parodied Coleridge’s poetry and was familiar with the unfathomable hell into which opium’s usage plunged its ‘eaters’. The nightmarish experiences of Robert Wringhim in Hogg’s Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner reflect those of Coleridge and Lloyd and their devilish sense of confusion of identity and insane impulses. Hogg would also be aware of The Stranger’s Grave written by George Gleig, another frequent Blackwood’s contributor. He returned to the self-persecuting theme of the doppelganger in his story called Strange Letter of a Lunatic.
This paper questions the traditional German view that Goethe (1749-1832) was a ‘Classical’ and not a ‘Romantic’ author, by situating his works within the context of the European Romantic movement as it has been theorised in the work of M.H. Abrams. Taking issue with Jerome McGann’s critique of Abrams as outlined in The Romantic Ideology (1983), the paper argues for a partial resuscitation of Abrams’s thesis in Natural Supernaturalism (1971): namely, that Romantic literature and philosophy undertakes a secularisation of Western religious/philosophical thought-systems. Likening Abrams’s sweeping and synthetic approach to the Romantic period to a Kantian ‘Idea of Pure Reason’, the paper contends that broad literary/historical periodisations like that offered in Natural Supernaturalism can still retain a contingent and provisional theoretical utility, particularly in relation to understanding trans-national literary/philosophical movements like Romanticism. Within this argumentative context, Goethe’s works are viewed as being a case in point. Challenging the mainstream German theory that Goethe’s works belong predominantly to two literary movements which existed discretely from the Romantic movement –‘Storm and Stress’ and ‘Weimar Classicism’ – the paper argues that Goethe’s entire oeuvre undertakes a sustained exploration of a philosophical issue which is central to trans-national European Romanticism as characterised by Abrams: the relationship between the human subject and the objects of nature. Works by Goethe considered in the paper include The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) and the Neo-Kantian scientific essay ‘The Experiment as Mediator between Object and Subject’ (1792).
One of the common mysteries of art, and a barrier to our understanding of Coleridge's claim that natural form lies at the heart of knowledge, is the problem of how it is that art can embody meaning in its sensuous forms—for instance, in visual, tactile or auditory "images." To our common way of thinking, this seems mysterious, for we usually think of thinking as something which is propositional and linguistic, or (though less popular these days) as being in some sense "pure" and above both the senses and language. But while propositional thinking is certainly a dimension of our mental experience, we should not let it blind us to the more fundamental ways in which we perceive and understand the world through the senses. Thus we should not think of syllogistic argument as the paradigm for thought, as the Anglo-American philosophical world has tended to, nor should we think of thought as paradigmatically linguistic in the way the literary theory of the last thirty years has suggested. Rather, we should find that paradigm in those moments when we are looking at the world (looking out of the window at a tree, for instance). Concrete sensuous form, or image, I shall argue, provides a more fundamental paradigm for thought—a paradigm which art brings to the fore, and which is also fundamentally Coleridgean.
"The Sorrows of Yamba", published in 1795 by Hannah More in her Cheap Repository Tracts series, was one of the most popular and frequently reprinted antislavery poems of its time. Recently it has become popular once more, as a classroom text included (usually under More's name) in teaching anthologies, in anthologies of women's poetry, and in a selected edition of More's work. But the poem is not solely by Hannah More, who never signed it with her characteristic "Z." Following a stray reference by Wylie Sypher, I have located several versions of the poem signed by "E.S.J." and "Eaglesfield Smith." These versions are about half the length of the version in Cheap Repository Tracts: the material added (almost certainly by More) entirely change the tone and purpose of the poem, from a "slave suicide" poem to one that instead has the heroine converted by a passing missionary. More also adds a good deal of pseudo-dialect to the poem, making Yamba less tragic and dignified and more helpless and child-like. Recovering Smith's ur-version of the poem allows one to see two distinct strains of British anti-slavery discourse at work, one tragic and sentimental (and vaguely liberal), the other Christianizing and infantilizing (and distinctly reactionary). Far from underwriting a spurious unity as Foucault suggests in his critique of the individual author, concentrating on the authorship question in this instance reveals the ideological and formal discontinuities that critics have missed in this important antislavery poem.
While Keats's early publications were frequently derided by contemporary reviewers as puerile, the ode 'To Autumn' elicited generally approving comments. Indeed, the poem raised hopes in conservative quarters that Keats had, at last, 'grown up'. According to more recent critical orthodoxy, 'To Autumn' is regarded as having achieved a supreme, unimpeachable maturity. The overwhelming majority of scholarly addresses to the poem praise its poise and steadiness as it moves, resignedly, towards finality and closure. Countering such readings, I argue that 'To Autumn' actually represents one of Keats's most sustained and piercing attacks on the logic of mature power.