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This essay examines Joanna Baillie’s 1812 play, Orra, in order to interrogate the longstanding opposition between personification and romantic interiority. Since Wordsworth, the personified abstraction has been considered anathema to romantic conceptions of passionate or lyrical interiority. Drawing on recent critical discussions of the close relationship between passion, personification, and personhood, I suggest that Baillie’s play represents deep interiority via the most un-Wordsworthian figure imaginable: personified passion. In so doing, she employs a seemingly archaic, extravagant figure in order to stage the deep, unknowable interiors which are the ostensible hallmark of the modern individual.
Marjory Fleming was a child diarist who wrote during the Romantic period; her diary was published during the Victorian era. Her text and its reception offer a test case for how “thing theory,” as synthesized by Bill Brown, might provide a theoretical approach that productively reconsiders the categories of “the child” and the child author.
This essay shows how the metaphor of “planting” assumes a cluster of meanings beyond horticulture in the romantic age. I pursue the associative dimensions of that figure as an index of both sexuality and obliquely imperial concerns in Wordsworth and his critics. The promiscuity of this word disrupts a received image of the poet as stodgy, self-directed, and somehow verbally and otherwise chaste. I reexamine frankly moving passages from the “memory fragment,” two-book Prelude and from the elegy “Peele Castle.” At the same time the essay heeds the injunction David Simpson offers in the title of his recent essay, “Wordsworth and Empire—Just Joking,” by pursuing the trace of Wordsworth’s possible jokes and the way they extend rather than nullify his resonance to world-formation. As with the “planted” snowdrops of the Prelude, planting in general as a linguistic maneuver displays limit areas over which Wordsworth presumes an ambivalent control, and may not acknowledge willful desires when indeed they are projected.
Lord Byron’s Don Juan is a poem which depends on gendered literary traditions for both its originality and its intelligibility. In the harem episode of cantos V and VI, we can recognise a libertine fantasy, an Orientalist premise, and a picaresque adventure, but also some traces of epic, the gothic and literature of sensibility. Yet, these tropes are consistently complicated in the poem and used to undermine the gendered foundations of their traditions. This essay considers the formulation of such subversions through explicitly literary paradigms: what signs of gender are referred to, and how are they made intelligible as fictional constructs? By interrogating the use of gendered tropes, their formation as intelligible concepts within literary history, and their negotiations with sexualised conventions of narrative, I intend to highlight the discrepancies in the heteronormative construction of these literary paradigms and Byron’s use of them to suggest sexual fluidity.
The catastrophic worldview, which has been formalized into various scientific theories (punctuated equilibrium, chaos, tipping points), covets disaster as its aesthetic, with entropy and negentropy as vying principles. At the close of the eighteenth century, science centered around the new findings of Geology, and scientists like Cuvier, Lamarck, and Buffon debated the predominance of gradual change through time versus sudden, widespread calamities or ‘punctuations.’ This essay investigates Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selborne (1789), a non-fiction, late eighteenth century natural history chronicle of a single parish through decades of close environmental observation. Its epistolary form conveys an aesthetic of discrete, close readings of nature through time, and the chronicle breaks off with the catastrophic effects of the Laki volcanic eruption of 1783. I suggest ways in which White’s famous work is unusually precocious in ecological methodology, a particularly fruitful angle because my reading goes against the perennial critical reception of Selborne as a tome of Enlightenment balance and economy. Instead, I argue that White’s work is a distinctly modern vision of catastrophic change in nature that foregrounds the contemporary science of Chaos Ecology.
If the 1707 Act of Union removed the immaterial legal and political border between England and Scotland by merging them into the single kingdom of Great Britain, it could not erase the almost impassable natural boundary dividing the twin sisters. This tangible geographical barrier remained as a magnificent reminder of a former separation, thus questioning the disappearance of the national frontier.
The confrontation between abstract and concrete boundaries, which is at stake in historical Scotland, is staged in Walter Scott’s The Heart of Midlothian set a few decades after the Union. The heroine’s physical journey across the Anglo-Scottish border gradually takes on a more symbolic significance as she trudges through the marches to redeem her sinful sister.
In studying the novel, I will analyse the series of embedded tangible boundaries present on the British territories and show how they are constantly crossed by the protagonists. This physical crossing of concrete borders often goes with the mental crossing of abstract barriers. Overstepping a physical boundary can lead to transgressing moral and societal limits as it is exemplified with the Scottish Borders, a den of iniquity and unlawful transactions. External borders can thus embody more internal boundaries and serve to map territories of the mind.
Walter Scott’s Waverley Novels provide an excellent means of illustrating the multifaceted print market in nineteenth-century Britain. Not only was each novel an upmarket best-seller, but pirated copies, stage adaptations, abridgements, and collected editions transformed each story for readers across class and socio-economic differences. There was also considerable market differentiation within each of these forms. For example, the traditional chapbook, featuring tales such as Guy of Warwick and Robin Hood, was altered by publishers adapting both out-of-copyright and current novels for various audiences. The form, content, price, and length of these new chapbooks were designed to attract and develop different parts of a broad downmarket readership. Accordingly, this case study of Scott’s The Heart of Mid-Lothian (1818) as chapbook from 1818 to ca. 1830 describes the transformation of an upmarket novel for a popular print form influenced by publishers, readers, and socio-historical circumstances.
A close examination of Dorothy Wordsworth and William Wordsworth’s writing indicates that they considered themselves as living in poverty for some years before their case was settled with Lord Lowther. Both their material circumstances and contemporary definitions of poverty led them to identify themselves as “poor.” This article examines that self-identification and its evidence in their writings. Finally, William Wordsworth’s poem, “Last of the Flock,” indicates that he rejected a narrow parish view of poverty for a wider view that included the right to own some property.
Julia Kristeva’s work on the semiotic and the symbolic seems particularly relevant to Blake’s poem The Book of Urizen insofar as she is concerned with how we develop as speaking beings and how language both disguises and reveals evidence of a previous state of union with what she calls the maternal chora. These ideas allow for an interesting reading of Blake’s concern with the splitting off of Urizen from the Eternals and how this splitting off enables him to emerge as a signifying subject who bears traces of traumatic loss and upheaval, or of what Kristeva would term “the abject.” Abjection is a key concept for Kristeva and plays an essential role in what she describes as the “melancholic imagination.” Abjection in Urizen manifests as a sort of paranoid repression and repudiation of the drives, of mutability, multiplicity, the body, and the Other. Urizen, throughout the poem, becomes overtly identified with the Symbolic Father and becomes himself the bearer of symbolic codes, legislator of rational discourse and semantic meaning.
In his two-part medical treatise Zoonomia (1794-1796), Erasmus Darwin—physician, scientist, popular poet and grandfather of Charles Darwin—begins with a conception of living matter in order to envision an organic system of nature, in which the individual and the environment are not only interdependent, but also reciprocally determining. This essay contextualizes Darwin’s materialism within a wider debate over the status of “mere matter” in the Romantic era through a reading of section 39 of Zoonomia, “Of Generation,” alongside David Hartley’s psychological theories and Joseph Priestley’s thinking on the nature of matter. I argue that the perceived threat of materialism lies in the ways in which these systems of thought rethink the operation of causality, reorient conceptions of teleology, and thus rewrite the nature of the relationship between the human subject and material nature. A reading of the critical contemporary reactions to Darwin’s popular poetry further suggests that the same shifting conceptions of teleology, causality, and subjectivity drive Romantic era revolutions in aesthetic form.