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TestThis section includes a diverse body of critical work representative of the rich and enduring critical heritage pertaining to Romanticism. From the beginning, Romanticism has never been short of critical approaches. Indeed (see ‘Critical Concepts’), many of the ‘Big Six’ Romantic poets themselves were critics of genius (Samuel Taylor Coleridge in much of his prose, especially in the Biographia Literaria (1817), and John Keats throughout his peerless letters), or colossal figures in the history of criticism (William Wordsworth and Percy Bysshe Shelley, most notably in the former’s ‘Preface’ to the Lyrical Ballads (1800) and the latter’s A Defence of Poetry (1821)). There were many critics of genius among the prose writers of the age, such as William Hazlitt, Mary Wollstonecraft, Leigh Hunt and Thomas De Quincey. And the work of the Romantic poets themselves, and Wordsworth in particular, featured fairly prominently in early university curricula from the later nineteenth-century onwards.
Whether informing the work of Victorian and Edwardian poets/critics (for example Matthew Arnold and Thomas Hardy) or providing a prick to kick against (as per the modernists Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot), Romanticism has been a shaping presence in the history of modern poetry and modern criticism for many decades. Though it should be more nuanced, given that there were interesting accounts of the Romantics in the 1920s and 1930s, conventional accounts of critical history have some truth in them in maintaining that Romanticism was under critical siege from the Modernist movement in the period between the first and the second world wars, and that it was not until the post-war period of the late 1940s and 1950s that literary criticism of the Romantics returned to the critical fore, with the early work of such figures as Harold Bloom, David Erdman, and Northrop Frye. Certainly, since the 1950s Romanticism has been the host to a significant number of important critical approaches, whether formalist, historical, or psychological, whether preoccupied with ideology, gender politics, or race, and all of these approaches are represented here.
Romanticism is fecund, with critical children of many types. While the formalist approach of the New Critics from the 1950s onwards famously examined the Romantic poem as a ‘thing in itself’, set apart from the contexts in which it was produced, there is also a long history of ideologically-driven accounts of Romantic poetry, from Erdman’s characterisation of a radical Blake as a ‘prophet against empire’ (in the 1954 study of that name) and the historical work of Marilyn Butler in the 1980s and that of Nicholas Roe and others since the 1980s, to the New Historicist account of Jerome J. McGann and Marjorie Levinson in the 1980s and 1990s which accused the Romantics of acting in ideological bad faith and ignoring enormous political issues such as the plight of the poor and dispossessed (Wordsworth in ‘Tintern Abbey’) or the massacre of ‘Peterloo’ (Keats in ‘To Autumn’).
Also in the 1980s, the ‘theory wars’ which convulsed British and some American English departments took root in Romantic studies. The Yale School of Paul de Man, J. Hillis Miller and the great Wordsworthian Geoffrey H. Hartman was much influenced by the philosophical thought of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida (who was long associated with Yale University), and applied his deconstructionist method to Romantic poets such as Shelley and Wordsworth, tracing those moments (‘aporia’) when the poet’s supposed claim to posit a transcendental signifier was overcome by the plenitude of language itself (remaining, in Wordsworth’s phrase ‘something ever more about to be’).
While the New Historicists attacked what they saw as the willful political blindness of Romantic poets, more recently ecological critics such as Jonathan Bate (in Romantic Ecology: Wordsworth and the Environmental Tradition (1991)) have examined the proto-environmentalism of writers such as Wordsworth. The Romantics have also been examined in fascinating ways in recent years, in queer, postcolonial and disability studies, and again, this database contains examines of fascinating work in each of these areas. There has also been a willingness to reexamine the literature of late Georgian England to widen the critical scope of Romantic studies, with accounts of comparatively neglected literary areas as such as Romantic era satire and poetry, the literature of science, and children’s literature. However, the most seismic change in Romantic critical approaches in the last thirty years has pertained to matters of gender, with a new willingness to examine the work of the canonical poets such as Keats or Coleridge in terms of their depiction of and attitudes towards women and a concomitant drive to study, edit and argue the claims of two generations of Romantic era women poets, from poets active in the 1780 and 1790s (such as Charlotte Smith and Mary Robison) to those who came to poetic maturity in the post-Napoleonic period (such as Felicia Hemans and Letitia Elizabeth Landon).
This Resource contains a variety of primary and secondary sources dealing with these issues. In terms of primary sources, it contains the full text of such collections as The Selected Writings of William Hazlitt (edited by Duncan Wu), the Works of Mary Wollstonecraft (edited by Marilyn Butler and Janet Todd), and the Selected Writings of Leigh Hunt (general editors Robert Morrison and Michael Eberle-Sinatra). It also contains many secondary sources, from R. L. Brett’s Fancy and Imagination and W. J. B. Owen’s Wordsworth’s Literary Criticism, published in 1969 and 1974 respectively, though to contemporary journal articles dealing with some of the recent critical approaches which have ensured that Romanticism continues to remain at the cutting edge of critical enquiry, from Anne K. Mellor’s ‘Thoughts on Romanticism and Gender’ to Mark A. Mossman’s ‘Disability, Ireland and the Wild Irish Girl’, from Kate Flint’s ‘“More rapid than the lightning’s flash”: Photography, Suddenness, and the Afterlife of Romantic Illumination’ to Susan Wolfson’s ‘Keats and the Manhood of the Poet’.