Sexual Power in British Romantic Poetry

Synopsis

"Will assume a significant role in what is unquestionably the most important area of new, revisionary work in romantic studies.... Watkins extends the work of recent feminist romantic critics who have been developing one of the liveliest critical debates in studies of British romanticism.... Watkins' theoretical analysis of the gender dynamics at work in the logics of Sadeian power, bourgeois capitalism, and romantic idealism offers a new perspective on the gendering of romantic discourse."--Greg Kucich, University of Notre Dame
When a romanticist links sexual violence and visionary idealism, literary critics and scholars take notice. Built on important arguments from the last two decades, this book is a timely contribution to current work in cultural studies generally and in romantic studies particularly.
The central argument is simple but contentious: sadism and British romanticism are both products of an emergent capitalist world order in the late 18th century; they are bound together by the far-reaching cultural logic of that order. Although the vision of one is characterized by sexual violence, of the other by visionary idealism, both express the reality of their historical moment, which was a reality of rigid and masculine hierarchies of value.
Watkins provides a descriptive analysis of these hierarchies of value as they are manifested in romantic poetry and investigates their historical and political dimensions. He also builds upon earlier feminist studies of British romanticism by examining the ineluctable historical and social relations among bourgeois ideology, romantic idealism, and sexual violence in an effort, first, to describe the gender-specific dynamics of the romantic imagination and, second, to recuperate certain utopian and potentially transformative elements within romanticism. The study concludes that, despite its strong masculinist ideology, romanticism in its historical definition is indispensable to a feminist effort to keep utopian thought alive while working to liberate desire from unequal relations of power.
Daniel P. Watkins is professor of English at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. He is the coeditor of Spirits of Fire: English Romantic Writers and Contemporary Historical Methods and the author of A Materialist Critique of English Romantic Drama (UPF, 1993), Keats' Poetry and the Politics of the Imagination, and Social Relations in Byron's Eastern Tales.