Literature

The Prose of Romanticism

Is Romantic prose a neutral instrument of representation? Does it struggle to engage questions of experience and sensation in new ways? How should prose be understood in relation to poetic expressiveness? The essays in this volume explore Romantic prose across multiple genres as a kind of performative utterance that redraws the boundaries between the private and the social.

Trusting Experiments: Sociability and Transcendence in the Familiar Essay

This essay briefly explores two developments that produced a remarkable turn in the relationship between philosophy and literature between the publication of Hume’s Treatise in 1740 and the heyday of the Romantic familiar essay in the 1820s: the socialisation of experience by Scottish Enlightenment thinkers and the impact of belletristic periodical culture upon philosophical discourse. These changes were interconnected, jointly exhibiting a swerve away from systematic epistemology and towards a form of essayism. As the literary genre of trusting intersubjectivity par excellence, the familiar essay had functioned as a vehicle for philosophical experiments in communication since the days of The Spectator. And yet, Hume’s idea of an ‘easy,’ conversational philosophy grounded in social correspondence increased the epistemological burden upon essayist beyond anything envisaged by Addison or Steele. The Romantic familiar essay inherits this burden while changing the stakes: thus, while the rewards of essaying for Hume lay in the consolidation of consensus through philosophically indifferent conversation, for Lamb and Hazlitt, they consisted in the promotion of a more limited social solidarity through the production of modes of reading receptive to the authenticity effects of singularity and transcendence.

Concerning the Spiritual in Hogg’s Art

Is there a place for the spiritual in literature? James Hogg's long poem The Queen’s Wake and his sprawling prose narrative The Three Perils of Manappear to literalize an affirmative response by giving play to spirits and other supernatural phenomena. And yet, Hogg’s answer may actually be no, if only because “literature” as imagined by his friend and rival, Walter Scott, downgrades spiritual intensities to the status of cultural differences from everyday life. Hogg did not divide up the world in quite that way, a point with implications not only for the idea of the spiritual, but also, and especially, for literature.

About this Volume

About this Volume

Is Romantic prose a neutral instrument of representation? Does it struggle to engage questions of experience and sensation in new ways? How should prose be understood in relation to poetic expressiveness? The essays in this volume explore Romantic prose across multiple genres as a kind of performative

Incapable of Being Disentangled: On De Quincey’s Impassioned Prose

This article makes the case that perlocution, a notoriously tricky species of speech act, opens up news ways of thinking about De Quincey’s autobiographical writings, particularly Suspiria de Profundis. Because its effects are indirect, uncertain and unpredictable, perlocution helps us understand language’s ability to entangle: readers, writers, memories, experience, events, other texts. That uncanny ability to entangle things—and our inability to ever fully disentangle them—is one of De Quincey’s abiding preoccupations. Its readiest models are the famous involute and the palimpsest, but examples of it exist throughout his oeuvre. De Quincey’s thinking on these and related matters anticipates later theoretical concepts such as Freud’s “tangle of dream thoughts," Benjamin’s verschränkte Zeit (entangled time), and Derrida’s double bind, “which can only be endured in passion.”

The Privatization of Public Life: Free Direct Discourse in Persuasion

"The Privatization of Public Life: Free Direct Discourse in Persuasion" argues for the importance of other narrative techniques beyond free indirect discourse in Jane Austen’s work, such the related but in many ways opposed form, free direct discourse. Paying particular attention to such techniques, I contend, allows us to see the ways in which public discourse in a novel such as Persuasion is repeatedly converted into a medium for private feeling. The result is a strangely fractured view of public life, in which characters fail to share even something as fundamental as time itself.

Sydney Owenson’s Strange Phenomenality

This essay examines Sydney Owenson’s strange syntax—at once ornate and truncated, full of floating modifiers and attributions that remain forever unresolved—as a medium for her explorations of sensation and perception. Tracing the form of her novels in conjunction with her meditations on empiricism, it argues that Owenson’s syntax resists the ontic and formalizing claims of a Common Sense philosophy of perception. Instead her early novels enact, syntactically and therefore figurally, a conception of “life” as ceaseless, formless motion and an ethics of interdependency embodied in what Thomas Reid called “mere sensation.”

James Hogg and the Medium of Romantic Prose

A recent media turn in Romantic studies has foregrounded the ballad—and poetry more generally—as a privileged site for understanding how questions about medium and mediality feature in the writing of the period. But do such questions feature in the era’s prose genres, as well? And is it possible to talk about a medium of Romantic prose as Celeste Langan and Maureen N. McLane talk about a medium of Romantic poetry? In this essay, I suggest that the answer to both of these questions is “yes,” and to show this I turn to the prose tales of James Hogg, a Romantic-period writer who not only recognized bonds of affinity between metrical and prose composition, but also understood ballads and tales to be versions—interchangeable, in a sense—of each other. Like the ballad, I argue, the tale, too, can be understood as a “hybrid oral and textual practice” (in Paula McDowell’s words), a prose form that exhibits a subtle self-consciousness about its own medial status.

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