Romantic Victorians: English Literature, 1824-1840

By Richard Cronin | Go to book overview

Conclusion

At last I turn, somewhat reluctantly, to the task that the wise and generous reader of my first manuscript noticed that I had shirked. I had set out no ‘period-defining theory’: all I had done was to write a series of essays on some of the writing produced between 1824 and 1840 that most interested me. I had not even attempted as much as Virgil Nemoianu in 1984, who, although he accepts that the label he attaches to the writing of these years, the ‘Age of Biedermeier’, does not name a literary movement, still claims for it a loose coherence, a ‘Grundgefühl’. 1 I decided to place my last chapter, ‘Domesticating Romanticism’, at the very end of my book in part as an acknowledgement of Nemoianu, for what can be a clearer instance of the ‘taming of romanticism’ than the replacement of an erotic love between brother and sister, an incestuous love that can never be socially accommodated, by a love between first cousins that, as Henry Alford found, can enjoy the blessing of the church, the approval of his family, and be happily acknowledged by all his parishioners.

And yet I cannot quite bring myself wholeheartedly to agree with Nemoianu's characterization of the period, in part because his account of the Romanticism that was tamed seems wholly implausible. Nemoianu claims the authority of Abrams, Bloom, and Hartman, but his Romanticism is a good deal more colourful than theirs. At its core is a drive towards a ‘paradisial recovery of unity’, and, like a very different kind of core, it proves ‘unstable and explosive’, which ‘explains why early death becomes almost a norm’: ‘Core romanticism results in suicide, misadventure, disease, drugs, madness, and the guillotine’. 2 But Keats, it seems proper to note, was not snuffed out by Romanticism any more than by an article: he died, like many before him and many afterwards, of tuberculosis. Kleist may have killed himself, but so too did Beddoes, and so, almost certainly, did Letitia Landon, and it was

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