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The Romantic Imagination and the Subject of Pleasure

ENGL 250.301
instructor(s):
MW 3-4:30

What is the purpose of poetry? One of the answers proposed by Wordsworth in the revised preface to Lyrical Ballads is "homage paid to the native and naked dignity of man, to the grand elementary principle of pleasure, by which he knows, feels, lives and moves." Though versions of this statement have been part of defenses and apologies for poetry since Aristotle, Wordsworth, his small circle of friends and a larger group of their enemies believed that he meant something revolutionary and possibly dangerous by it. Using the claims of the Lyrical Ballads Preface as a guide, we will focus on what might be beneficial or dangerous about poetry and poets who try to provide certain kinds of pleasure. We will try to develop a sense of the social role of the poet as well as examining how feelings and representations of pleasure and pain are supposed to establish the ideal community of poets and readers imagined by Wordsworth, Coleridge and co.. Our reading will draw on much of the poetry and some of the prose written by Wordsworth, Coleridge and their circle from 1797-1802. We'll read most of Coleridge's major poetry from "Aeolian Harp" to "Dejection," Wordsworth's two-part Prelude of 1799, "The Ruined Cottage," "Salisbury Plain", and, of course, Lyrical Ballads. Supplementary readings may include Dorothy Wordsworth's journal, essays by Hazlitt and Charles Lamb, reviews and satires of Wordsworth and Coleridge by their journalist contemporaries, and Byron's Don Juan for a different and perhaps more familiar order of pleasure. Students are also welcome to delve into philosophers whose work influenced Romantic ideas of mind and sensation--Locke, Hartley, Rousseau, Godwin--or they can investigate the politics of pleasure in the late 18th century in speeches by Burke, Fox, Paine, and others on the French Revolution.

Requirements: 1 3-5 page paper on a single poem. 1 10-15 page seminar paper. In class presentation or reading response to be determined.