Romantic Poets and the Culture of Posterity

Romantic Poets and the Culture of Posterity

Romantic Poets and the Culture of Posterity

Romantic Poets and the Culture of Posterity


This original book examines the way in which the Romantic period inaugurates a tradition of writing that demands that the poet should write for an audience of the future: the true poet, a figure of neglected genius, can only be properly appreciated after death. Andrew Bennett argues that this involves a radical shift in the conceptualization of the poet and poetic reception, with wide-ranging implications for the gendering of the poetic canon, and for understanding the work of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley and Byron, paradigmatic figures of the Romantic poet.


For the future is the time in which we may not be, and yet we must imagine we will have been.

(Gillian Rose, Mourning Becomes the Law)

I cannot imagine being dead: therefore I don't believe that I will ever die. Since reason, hearsay and everything that I see and hear present irrefutable evidence that it is the ultimate destiny of all living beings to cease to exist, I must construct a story of survival which will compensate for the fact that I will finally and without question die and which will negotiate the disparity between the impossibility of imagining my own death on the one hand and its inevitable occurrence on the other. It is for this reason that I resort to one or more of a number of strategies for survival. If I am able to produce children I can be genetically encoded into my offspring; if I am loved I will have a temporary afterlife in the memories of those who survive me; if I am a politician or military leader, programmed into the future of my nation will be an ineradicable trace of my existence, I will survive as history; if I believe in God, then I can imagine for myself an afterlife of the soul; given sufficient cash, cryogenics will enable my body to be preserved after my death for future restoration; any attainment of fame or infamy, even that which brings me to public notice for a mere fifteen minutes, can provide me with a sense that I have made an indelible mark on the world; if I write books, then the paper, this paper, will preserve that part of myself which I identify in writing: inscribed in text, now, I will survive in a bookish afterlife.

During the eighteenth century, the textual afterlife becomes increasingly important as an impulse for the production of poetry and increasingly prominent in the theory of literature. Writers, artists and other manufacturers of cultural artefacts have a perennial fascination with the immortality effect, the ability of a poem, novel, statue, painting, photograph, symphony to survive beyond the death of the artist. But during . . .

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