Wordsworth in Context
Admirers of William Wordsworth during the nineteenth century tended to see him as primarily the poet of nature whose pastoral vision in the words of Matthew Arnold, "laid us as we lay at birth / On the cool flowery lap of earth." Contemporary critics are likely to see him as a more complex and problematic figure, and the recent celebration of the bicentennial of the French Revolution gave an impetus to studies that situate Wordsworth in the violent context of that equally problematic event. The papers in this volume, first presented at a conference entitled "Revolutionary Romanticism 1790-1990." Place the poet not only in the context of the revolutionary ferment of his day, but also reflect some of the ferment in contemporary English studies. The volume is introduced by M. H. Abrams with a masterful survey of the philosophical and political background to English Romanticism. A very different focus is then given by Keith Hanley, who, in a Lacanian reading of Wordsworth's internal psychic drama, explores two traumas in the poet's life: the death of his mother and the revolutionary terror. The poet's self also forms the subject of an essay by Ashton Nichols, but he sees Wordsworth's creation of an autobiographical identity in The Prelude as an artistic and cultural construct. Essays by several contributors represent a marriage between traditional textual scholarship and issues raised by contemporary theory and criticism, Jonathon Wordsworth discusses the making and remaking of The Prelude, along with other examples of the long poem in English' he emphasizes the shifting nature of both the text and the self and questions traditional assumptions about authorial intention and the possibility of producing authoritative texts. Pamela Woof brings an awareness of recent developments in feminist theory and gender studies to bear on her exploration of the role of Dorothy Wordsworth in the endangering of her brother's poetry, while Jared Curtis uses close textual analysis of a poem that was originally drafted by Coleridge, to raise issues of intertextuality and collective authorship. Such accommodation between traditional scholarship and contemporary trends is by no means universal, and the present volume closes with Helen Vendler's fierce attack on the New Historicism, which she sees as hostile to the lyric impulse. Academic revolutions, as we know, can generate violent debate, but such debate should surely be welcomed as a guarantee of the continuing vitality of the discipline.
Contributors: M. H. Abrams, Keith Hanley, Ashton Nichols, Jonathon Wordsworth, Paul F. Betz, Pamela Woof, Jared Curtis, and Helen Vendler.
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