This essay seeks to explore Wordsworth’s ambivalent relation to the commodity culture emerging in England around the turn of the Nineteenth-century. It does so by examining his unpublished poem "The Ruined Cottage" and his preface to Lyrical Ballads in two related contexts: the discourse of advertising and the history of consumer culture, including the institution of peddling. Wordsworth’s promise of the possibility of "enjoyments of. . . a more exquisite nature" available in his poetry if readers are willing to "give up much of what is ordinarily enjoyed" as poetry is similar to the structure of advertisement copy then as now: give up the product you now enjoy for a new and improved one. In the very essay in which he articulates a critique of industrialization and consumerism, Wordsworth unwittingly proposes a consumerist solution to the problem of consumerism. Drawing on the historical work of Colin Campbell and Neil McKendrick, this essay suggests that a dynamic similar to that operating in the preface holds for "The Ruined Cottage" as well. There is a distinct pattern in the poem, particularly in the Pedlar’s visits to Margaret, of intense but fleeting attachment which is similar to the process of consumption in which buyers form an intense attachment to a commodity which is abandoned a short time later as attachments to new products are formed. Far from being an example of the Romantic ideology in which poetry evades history, the poem can be seen as a Godwinian analysis of the ways which social forces and institutions "insinuate themselves" into the most intimate matters (82).
This essay discusses the deployment of maternal imagery in the writings of Charlotte Smith, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Robinson, Mary Shelley, and Maria Elizabeth Robinson and situates it in terms of a Romantic-period idealization of the mother. It argues that for authors who were mothers, maternal imagery functioned both to validate and justify their writing, and to communicate a controlled image of themselves to their daughters and their readers. For daughters who both read and wrote, maternal imagery allowed the recreation of the (absent) mother in print. For both, the familial became a metaphor for the literary and a way of rewriting patriarchy, providing an alternative type of inheritance.
We should not think of aesthetic form in terms of shape, but rather, as Susanne Langer argues, as a reflection of "orderliness" or relation. When thinking of form, we should not think of Keats's Grecian urn (embodying in its shape the beauty of the eternal)--not, at least, if this leads us to think of the urn's reified shape as somehow fundamental and therefore a kind of language. Rather, we should think of the relation between binary code and the image it produces on a computer screen, as prototypically "formal." Such images certainly do have shape, but those shapes are the product of underlying acts (here a set of computer instructions), which accordingly are more fundamental.
This allows us to understand Coleridge's mature insistence on the reciprocal formality of the Father and the Son (for in any case the Son cannot have "shape" in any spatial sense). It also allows us to rehabilitate Coleridge's problematic concept of organic form. Building on Louis Arnaud Reid's arguments against the representative theory of perception, I argue that the qualitative dimensions of everyday sensory perceptions cannot in themselves be characterized by primary qualities like spatial shape, for it is absurd to think that we have anything like Polaroid snapshots floating around within our synapses. Rather, the qualitative dimensions of sensory perception (colour, perceived shape, and so forth) are "presentations" of the relevant aspects of the world--presentations which bear a formal relation rather than immediate likeness to the world. Sense-perception is thus "formal." And we can thus also claim that an art work formally embodies its meanings; that the concept of "form" has work to do; and that form is implicitly qualitative, being characterized by texture, sound qualities, shapeliness, etc..
"The Sublime Turn Away from Empire" argues that the Haitian Revolution—and Toussaint l'Ouverture's role in it—heavily influenced Wordsworth during his early years and that the1802 sonnet to Toussaint l'Ouverture epitomizes the poet's development of the "sublime turn." The Wordsworthian sublime, often interpreted in part as a reaction to the violence of the French Revolution, thus appears in this article as a reaction to the frightening and incomprehensible facts of colonial slavery and revolution—the very realities responsible for L'Ouverture's capture, imprisonment, and eventual death in France's Fort de Joux. In this context, the poet formulates his sublime turn as a turn away from the recognition of material slavery and bondage and toward an imaginative freedom nationed specifically English.
In pursuing the argument, the article reviews the history of the Haitian Revolution together with the history of Wordsworth's poetic development from 1790 to 1802. In paying special attention to the 1802 sonnets, the article highlights Wordsworth's juxtaposition of French slavery and English liberty and draws on work by Laura Doyle and Alison Hickey to argue that Wordsworth's valorization of nature and nation has the effect of sublimating his own, and his reader's, recognition of empire and race. Ultimately, though Wordsworth speaks of l'Ouverture in a markedly admiring tone, he counsels him to submit to Napoleonic tyranny anyway—while taking comfort in the material sublime. The article explores this paradox and concludes by postulating that such a contradiction is characteristic of Romantic-era attitudes toward race and the sublime.