On Point

This essay offers the phenomenon of theatrical points to consider the transformative power of these multi-sensorial highpoints in metropolitan Georgian theater.  Defined by the OED as a gesture, vocal inflection, or some other piece of theatrical technique used to underline a climactic moment in a speech, role, or situation, points often coincide with a play's textual highpoint, which they also surpass by temporarily stopping the show and shifting attention to the embodied significance of words.  They are brief, stunning, and highly anticipated moments and thus add to the suspension and extension of time as experienced in theater.

Brief Encounter: de Man on Wordsworth, or The Irony of “The Rhetoric of Temporality”

In “The Rhetoric of Temporality,” Paul de Man invokes allegory and irony as two distinct perspectives on the question on time: the former responding to an epistemological problem by transposing it into temporal sequence and the latter collapsing temporal sequence into simultaneity. This leads him, however, to imagine the possibility of texts that would “overcome irony.” When he examines “A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal” as an example of such an overcoming, de Man’s own text, however, encounters the accident of an irony that opens a window onto the instability of his pedagogical distinction between irony and allegory—an instability that hinges on the necessity of “reading” irony’s brevity in narrative terms.

Keats's Mask

Biographical fascination perversely clings to Keats—the poet of “no self,” of “no identity”—in a manner that can feel exasperating to Keats critics. The spell cast by the materials of Keats’s brief life is, however, deeply bound up with the impersonal, allegorical style that his most influential readers see as central to the poetry’s radical modernity. Keats’s life and death masks bring this truth into focus. The mask, like the image of the Poet as it emerges in Romanticism, bears the trace of the singular lost person. Suggesting the capacity of the withdrawn, formal image of the biographical subject to mobilize affects of pathos and loss, the mask suggestively binds the “sentimental” treatment of Keats’s death to current accounts of his work that locate its distinctiveness in its refusals and critiques of the gestures of lyric subjectivity.

Formal Remainders: Wordsworth, Brevity, and Being Cut Short

This paper reconsiders a shrinking set of Lucy poems from Lyrical Ballads (1800) in light of the longer ballad that precedes them: “Ellen Irwin, or the Braes of Kirtle.” Here Wordsworth thematizes death through a constellation of always working but not always living bodies. Moving throughout the corpus of each poem, these bodies embark upon trajectories not marked off by life but designated more simply by movement itself, by the turns and lines that shape the dead as well as the living. Be it the affect of the flesh, the linear gait of a horse, the orbit of the moon, or even the muted work of figures newly mantled by the earth, each metaphorical turn shadows the aesthetic work demanded by each line. Scripting a counter-intuitive formulation—you think that lyric poems are about people, they’re not—the poems reclaim the human body for deep time and ultimately announce the limits of what poetry and humanity as a whole can do.

Introduction: Too Much, Too Little: Of Brevity

What might romantic minimality and brevity suggest as alternative additions to our critical vocabulary in romantic studies? How do they allow us to think differently—and briefly—about a constellation of questions and perspectives that throw into relief the necessity to think through the small, negligent, obscure, too little or too much, the ephemeral, the mere there is, the all but not there? The authors of the position papers collected for this issue were each asked to respond to just these kinds of prompts, and to keep their arguments operatively brief. Conciseness and intensification in service of our theme of brevity and minimality was the order of the day. The space between stanzas, like the disappearance of a ruin into history, became equal considerations for reflecting on the brevity of things that the larger “life” of romanticism cannot ever ignore.

Shelley and the Hermeneutics of Abbreviation

This essay addresses Percy Shelley’s exploration of linguistic brevity as a temporal and spatial phenomenon. Beginning with Shelley’s rethinking of John Horne Tooke’s account of grammatical abbreviation and of the tropological and iconographic significance of the figure of the wingéd Hermes (Mercury), the essay also draws intertextual connections in Shelley’s poetry to Horace’s “Ars Poetica” and to the “Homeric Hymn to Hermes.”

The Minimal Unit

The minimal unit in romantic-period writing maintains the uneasy status of being in time as well as out of it: both temporalized as a condition of occurring and sufficiently freestanding to withstand incorporation to any narrative in which the present would be captured by the future in becoming anterior and contained or, in the case of poem like Shelley’s “Mont Blanc,” in bringing “vacancy” to some larger account. Closer to an instance of “stopped time,” the minimal unit marks an interval where time proceeds just enough for something monadic to occur as a pathway (or detour) to something else--some other timescape, some other world or stratum, some recessive consciousness--of which the unit is now an apprehendable trace.

Playing with Independence: Using Multiplayer Online Narratives to Explore Independent and Interdependent Tensions in Romantic-Period Literature

This paper discusses the outcomes of a multi-year project to engage undergraduate students in active and constructive encounters with Romantic period themes and contexts via web-based, multi-user gamespaces. Interactive, participatory learning environments, akin to humanities “lab” spaces where controlled experimentation and exploration can take place, encourage students to innovate, create, share, and play together. This pedagogical strategy engages students with the complexities, advantages, and difficulties faced by the intersection of independent and interdependent approaches to creativity, communication, and action during the Romantic period, allowing them to become performatively involved in experiential situations (as players/classroom citizens and as builders/authors) that reflect the thematic issues that they are studying.


This collection combines studies of pedagogical history in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century with discourses about innovations taking place in today’s classrooms. By including essays on both topics, we hope to expose the breadth and richness of educational debates in Romanticism, to shed light on new ways to teach Romantic texts, and, finally, to encourage readers to find links between—and potentially answers to—the pedagogical problems facing educators both today and two hundred years ago.

Universal Truths, Unacknowledged Legislators: Teaching the First Sentence of Pride and Prejudice

The following essay replays a close-reading, word-by-word in-class exercise of Pride and Prejudice's opening sentence: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that single men in possession of good fortunate must be in want of a wife." In our close reading students and I explore how, in Austen's hands, her famed use of free indirect discourse and irony deflate transcendental assumptions about gender and class. With this deflationary gesture, Austen’s turning of these tropes allows us to see, in turn, how her work connects to the biopolitical imperative to extend the lifespan of the human species that Foucault sees emerging in the eighteenth century. On our reading, though, irony, as developed by Austen, provides a powerful tool for questioning such an imperative in our own time of planetary peril.