Romanticism on the Net
An open access journal devoted to British Romantic literature
Number 71, Fall 2018
Table of contents (5 articles)
“The Penance of Life”: The Testimonial Paradigm in Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
This article argues that The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’s curious and much commented on theology is best accounted for by examining it in relation to a shift in religious discourses. The poem evidences a disconcerting shift from a Catholic confessional dynamic to one closer akin to an Evangelical paradigm of testimony. As such, the article begins by accounting for the importance of testimony (and its theological logic) in the Evangelical milieu which spread across Britain during Coleridge’s early to middle years. It next examines Coleridge’s developing religious thought in relation to Evangelical concepts, pointing to the significance of what J. Robert Bart termed a “balance” between “man’s work and God’s work in the process of faith; man’s will and God’s will; rational argumentation and divinely granted revelation; objective evidence and subjective religious experience.” Upon situating Coleridge in relation to Evangelical concepts of witnessing, the article more fully examines The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, focusing on the shift in theological logic that changes a kind of Catholic confessional impulse towards an on-going urge to testimony, finally linking the burning feeling that compels the Mariner’s testimony to the Pentecost event as related in the New Testament book of Acts.
Sensibility, Melancholia, and Subjectivity in Mary Robinson’s Sappho and Phaon
Mary Robinson’s sonnet sequence Sappho and Phaon: In a Series of Legitimate Sonnets (1796) is at once a celebration of the Greek poet’s eminence, as Robinson suggests in the preface, and a commentary on the reason and sensibility dialectic that dominated the 18th century. As such, it dramatizes the conflict between reason and sensibility, which is here also associated with erotic desire, showing the repercussions that the excess of feeling has upon the self without the governing principle of reason. This essay argues that Robinson drew upon the pathology of love melancholy, as well as on sublime and gothic aesthetics, to render the state of disjointed selfhood as a personal and artistic crisis which cannot be sublimated into art, and which subsequently results in the poet’s creative impasse and death. It also stresses the idea that through Sappho, Robinson aimed to represent the figure of the eighteenth-century woman writer, showing the need for a balance between reason and feeling so that desire could be transformed into artistic energy to serve a social purpose within the public sphere, addressing more universal issues of the human condition instead of focusing on private sorrows.
Ann Yearsley, Earl Goodwin, and the Politics of Romantic Discontent
There is a dearth of more substantial critical studies on Ann Yearsley’s tragic drama Earl Goodwin in general, and while the few out there have helpfully illuminated the play’s representation of the historical plight of women and the poor during Anglo-Saxon times, as well as its application to their current predicaments in Romantic-era England and France, they have tended to leave unexplored the ways in which Yearsley simultaneously is clarifying and extending her anger at and frustration with the class- and gender-based discrimination she experienced firsthand in the fallout with her mentor Hannah More over the profits from her first book. This article aims to fill this gap by delineating the many ways in which Earl Goodwin represents, on one level, her ongoing response to the defamation she suffered in the wake of More’s public campaign to ruin her reputation. Documenting the inextricability of the play’s explicit social and political critiques with Yearsley’s ongoing response to the More fiasco should in fact reinforce the extent to which her more familiar initial reactions are as fundamentally politically as they are personally motivated. Earl Goodwin offers readers a positive example of how to respond to abuses of power without resorting to revenge while still actively resisting, always refusing to airbrush the inequities she and others like her (women, the poor, and especially working-class women) continue to face day in and day out, enduring insult and injustice, but remaining undaunted in the commitment to the cause of beneficial social change.
The Religious and Political Revisions of The Prelude
John S. Wiehl
William Wordsworth's multi-decade revision of his poetic masterwork, The Prelude took many forms. In revising this massive work, Wordsworth reduced references to himself as performing a priestly role and to poetry as being ritualistic while increasing references to the vivid belief of the “ancient church” of early Christianity. These concerns mirror the central thrust of the Oxford Movement (or Tractarianism), a push for doctrinal reform within the Anglican church that was a reaction against the political successes of religious minorities and newly-minted, non-landowning voters. Current religiously-oriented criticism of the poem often attacks advancements in secularity, much like Wordsworth's revisions seem to sit uncomfortably alongside the development of a multi-confessional state.
Towards a Reading of Wordsworth’s “Now ye meet in the cave”
Wordsworth’s very early “Now ye meet in the cave” (dating from 1786 or a little later) is a strange fragment. It emanates from a desperate, unidentified speaker and bears on the burial of a mysterious female whose death is yet uncertain. It has been largely passed over by critics, with the exception of Duncan Wu—who suggested the poem might be about Wordsworth’s mother. This article follows this intuition, and explores common features of language and theme with a range of works of Wordsworth’s early youth. The conclusion is that “Now ye meet in the cave” is a significant document, and expresses fundamental, yet inevitably covert, facets of Wordsworth’s sensibility. In broadening this case, the article relates a final close reading of the poem to two important, inter-related contexts. The first is Stanley Cavell’s discussion of Romantic scepticism as a metaphysical fantasy involving the refusal of finitude, and a suspended sense of the world’s existence. The second references recent research in child psychology that demonstrates the automatic unconscious fantasy of a young orphaned child who affectively bargains his knowledge of his parent’s death for the belief that she still somehow is incorporated, within himself, and