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Topics in Romantic Poetry

ENGL 250.301
instructor(s):
TR 10:30-12

This seminar is intended to work across virtually uncharted territory, and therefore it would be helpful if participants had already taken 202 or 50 and had a general sense of what the literary canon of the late enlightenment and Romanticism in Britain entails. Here and there we will invoke standard male authors as countervoices, but the purpose of the seminar will be not to reproduce established literary history, but rather to focus attention on what, at the crucial moment when a woman's literary culture was first widely sustained, were its own particularized components, from class demarcations, to economic exigencies, to subject matter. In this process we will seek to understand inductively what it was like for poets both as individuals and as social representatives to enter into this culture and participate in its challenges and opportunities. Although we will spend ample time with figures like Anna Laetitia Barbauld and Charlotte Smith, the only two women poets of the time available in contemporary editions, we will also explore widely among voices who have never entered classrooms or been the subject of conventional literary analysis and are only available in photoduplicates of original editions. We will be forced to read these historical figures as much as possible not in the predigested state we are used to but as we might read poets of today. As a seminar we will concentrate on the members' individual presentations about particular figures or subjects as well as collective projects, one of which should be an electronic hypertext edition which we will make freely available on the internet. For this seminar to succeed will require that participants come to it with real literary interests--whether formal, cultural, philosophical, sociological, or thematic--they want to pursue: then, after several weeks spent in establishing broad outlines, we can home in on those interests and develop them across a number of poets and the six decades of our time frame. This is not an exclusive club: all women poets--some 800 published at least one volume during these decades--will be welcome; any of their verses--from acrostic to epics--will be valued. I have file cabinets full of photoduplicates; the library is stocked with many others, and electronic libraries also are beginning to offer serious options for a new kind of literary investigation that is both radical and primary.