Literature

Teaching Romanticism with the Contemporary

This special issue explores the notion that many of the forms, ideas, and practices inaugurated or exemplified in the Romantic period continue to shape and drive our contemporary discourses. Literary critics, cultural and political theorists, and, indeed, our students continue to encounter new permutations—if not the continued presence—of something that might be called the romantic. But how is the (neo-)romantic expressed in contemporary culture? And how might we best prepare students to listen for and hear its repetitions? How might we teach the romantic alongside the contemporary without either reducing one to the other or eliding important historical, cultural, and social contexts? In response to these questions, the nine essays and three interviews that comprise this volume address the repetitions and reverberations of the romantic as it recurs across genre, period, and media boundaries in popular culture, contemporary political situations, changing classroom dynamics, and the constantly shifting domains of literary and pedagogical practice and production.

Romantic Continuities and Feminist Contemporaries

In Romantic Era Feminism, students engage in deep and broad learning about the 18th and 19th centuries’ intellectual and cultural legacy, and its continuing presence in 20th and 21st century feminism. Among others, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Hays, William Godwin and John Stuart Mill are studied alongside Malala Yousafzai, Azar Nafisi, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, Jessica Valenti and The Young Lords Party’s “Position Paper on Women”; “The Saudi Women Revolution Statement” is read with “The Declaration of Independence” and “Declaration of the United Irishmen”; Rush Limbaugh is heard echoing Richard Polwhele, and Daryush Valizadeh, Rousseau. This dialogue between 18th - and 19th -century feminist and anti-feminist texts, and 20th - and 21st -century ones launches students’ exploration into three areas: 1) the cultural and intellectual history of feminism since the Romantic era; 2) the feminist implications 18th- and 19th- century political discourse, and the arguments used then and now either to support or to suppress those implications; 3) the range and diversity of feminist positions within and across generations, and the role of class, race, and historical context in expanding or limiting the literary and political imaginations of feminists in all eras, including our own. Students also study the lives and works of individual writers, and their intellectual influence on one another; the intersections of abolitionist or anti-racist with feminist imagery, discourse, arguments and action; the second and third waves’ rediscovery, reinvention and revision of earlier feminist critiques of unequal marriage laws, the sexual double standard, employment discrimination and similar issues; and the utility of diverse literary genres for presenting these topics richly and persuasively. Most importantly, by learning that the Romantics are indeed our contemporaries, and by critically examining the assumptions we still share with them, students become more self-conscious, better informed, and more effective participants in the continuously ongoing cultural construction and critique of gender and human rights discourses.

Introduction

This special issue explores the notion that many of the forms, ideas, and practices inaugurated or exemplified in the Romantic period continue to shape and drive our contemporary discourses. Literary critics, cultural and political theorists, and, indeed, our students continue to encounter new permutations—if not the continued presence—of something that might be called the romantic. But how is the (neo-)romantic expressed in contemporary culture? And how might we best prepare students to listen for and hear its repetitions? How might we teach the romantic alongside the contemporary without either reducing one to the other or eliding important historical, cultural, and social contexts? In response to these questions, the nine essays and three interviews that comprise this volume address the repetitions and reverberations of the romantic as it recurs across genre, period, and media boundaries in popular culture, contemporary political situations, changing classroom dynamics, and the constantly shifting domains of literary and pedagogical practice and production.

Affect in the Age of Terror

This essay explains the rationale behind a willfully anachronistic creative writing prompt: if one of the British Romantics were alive today, how would he or she craft a literary response to 9/11 and the ensuing War on Terror? Instead of asking what makes the twenty-first-century experience of terror new, my assignment encourages students to approach today’s affective environment through the medium of British Romantic literature. The following discussion offers a pedagogical framework and theoretical justification for inviting undergraduates to map the untimely affects that fuse the contemporary age of terror with its Romantic-era double. The essay concludes with a survey of exemplary student work.

Legacies of the Romantic Child: Teaching Post-Romantic Constructions of Childhood in Contemporary British Fiction

This article discusses the theme and methodology of the course “(Post-)Romantic Childhoods in British Literature” as previously taught at Bielefeld University in Germany. The course covered constructions of childhood in British literature from the Romantic period and their appropriations in Victorian and contemporary fiction by Dickens, McEwan, Lessing, and Boyne. Reflecting upon the teaching goals and outcomes, we draw on two fields of research into contemporary literature: constructivist childhood studies and the critical study of Romantic legacies. After an introduction to our terminology, the cultural context, and its implications for classroom scenarios, we outline the syllabus in detail, adding handouts, activities, and tasks as illustrative examples.

Romantic Selfhood and the Selfie: Relating to the Novel

This essay offers a defense of the concept of “relatability,” an impulse in students we’ve long derided as unproductive and even ethically suspect. In particular, it aims to sketch out a series of attempts to use contemporary texts to disrupt students’ assumptions about their emotional and psychological distance from Romantic-era fiction. Rather than dismissing talk of readerly identification, I show how I have attempted to leverage my students’ desire to relate in order to launch a discussion of historical reading practices and the emergence of relatability as a value.

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