ENGLISH 451 - Studies in Literature, 1600-1830
Fall 2021, Section 001 - British Romantic Poetry
Instruction Mode: Section 001 is  In Person (see other Sections below)
Subject: English Language and Literature (ENGLISH)
Department: LSA English Language & Literature
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With permission of instructor.
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1. “The desire of Man being Infinite, the possession is Infinite and himself Infinite.” William Blake, There is No Natural Religion [b]; “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

2. “Our destiny, our nature, and our home,/ Is with infinitude – and only there;/ With hope it is, hope that can never die,/ Effort, and expectation, and desire,/ And something evermore about to be.” William Wordsworth, The Prelude, 1805, 6:538-541

3. “’Tis to create, and in creating live/ A being more intense, that we endow/ With form our fancy, gaining as we give/ The life we image…” George Gordon, Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage 3:6:46-49; “…I can see/ Nothing to loathe in nature, save to be/ A link reluctant in a fleshly chain,/ Class’d among creatures, when the soul can flee,/ And with the sky, the peak, the heaving plain/ Of ocean, or the stars, mingle, and not in vain.” Byron, CHP 3:72: ll.683-688

4. "Rise like lions after slumber/ In unvanquishable number – / Shake your chains to earth like dew/ Which in sleep had fallen on you – / Ye are many – they are few.” Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Mask of Anarchy, ll. 151-55

Among today’s scholars of British literature, Romanticism denotes the imaginative works produced during the years 1789 to 1832, or, from the onset of the French Revolution (and of British sympathy with that event), to the passage of the first Reform Bill, a decisive moment in the history of the democratic process in Britain. Students of the period emphasize the variety of practices and positions to be found within this span of time and cultural context. There is an older sense of the term, however, or a qualitative rather than simply descriptive application of the term, “Romantic,” and that older usage that identifies particular themes, forms, values, and anxieties prominent in the literature and art of the period and standing in sharp contrast to the dominant literature of the 18th century.

For the purposes of this course, I’d like to recover one strand of that older usage, one that is inscribed in the etymology of the term (i.e., deriving from or resembling medieval quest romance) as well as in the popular construction of “romantic” today – namely, having to do with idealization, imagination, love, and desire. “Desire,” the foundational term in that trio, is our guide for exploring the poetry of the early 19thcentury. Although we remain mindful of the erotic dimension, we also explore the new role of desire as a motive force for all human action: desire, in short, as the agency of individual knowledge, growth, and identity, and as the means of achieving political freedom, social solidarity, and spiritual redemption. In the face of classical, early modern, and 18th-c denigration of desire (for its irrationality, its association with the body, with appetite, and with extremism), the poets we call “Romantic” make epic and utopian claims—therapeutic and/or transformational claims—for desire. At the same time, the literature explores the dark, disabling side of desire, a host of pathologies including Faustian insatiability, Promethean martyrdom, and enthrallments, fixations, and regressions “far more self-destroying” and, in their effects on others, dehumanizing. In a different spirit, we connect the centrality of desire in the literature to economic change in early 19th-century Britain, changes having special implications for aesthetic production and consumption. In addition to its redemptive and destructive powers, desire fuels and sustains a market economy requiring ever new products, experiences, and images of fulfillment. We correlate those conditions with the poetry’s high arguments for art as a human transformational grammar – a dark art that is somehow at the same time enlightening, promising escape from the rhythms and the horizon of what Blake called “the merely natural.”

Course Requirements:

The syllabus includes works by William Blake; William Wordsworth; Samuel Taylor Coleridge; George Gordon, Lord Byron; Percy Shelley; Mary Shelley; and John Keats. Requirements: 1) weekly Canvas posts for use in discussion section; 2) short, informal oral presentations; 3) three short (5-page) papers.


ENGLISH 451 - Studies in Literature, 1600-1830
Schedule Listing
001 (REC)
 In Person
TuTh 2:30PM - 4:00PM

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