Romantic Literature and Postcolonial Studies

Romantic Literature and Postcolonial Studies

Romantic Literature and Postcolonial Studies

Romantic Literature and Postcolonial Studies

Excerpt

In three decades, the study of Romantic literature has changed dramatically. When I entered graduate school in 1982, a narrow canon still dominated the field, with the six well-known poets at the forefront and Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott inhabiting a kind of parallel universe. Deconstructionists were busily deconstructing Romantic lyrics; a still nascent feminist criticism was rediscovering a few Romantic women writers, such as Dorothy Wordsworth and Mary Shelley. In 1983, Jerome McGann published The Romantic Ideology, with the influential thesis that scholarship on the period was dominated by an ‘uncritical absorption in Romanticism’s own self-representations’ (McGann 1983: 1). The surge of self-critical reflection that followed led many scholars towards historically situated research with a theoretical grounding and a political edge – in short, New Historicism. This trajectory is well known. Like scholars in other areas of literary study, many Romanticists were persuaded that works of literature could not be properly understood in isolation from the historical moment and cultural matrix in which they were produced. But although the late 1980s and early 1990s produced much important historicist work, not until the very end of the twentieth century did a critical mass of scholars of Romantic literature come to see colonialism and empire as crucial parts of that matrix. In 1998, Tim Fulford and Peter Kitson, editors of a landmark collection of essays on Romanticism and Colonialism, could still write that the relationship between the two had been ‘relatively little studied’, with a few notable exceptions (Fulford and Kitson 1998: 1). Writing in 2012, I am able to draw on postcolonial criticism in all areas of Romantic literature. Much more work remains to be done, but there is now a general consensus that the fact of empire and its effects are fundamental to the study of Romantic culture.

With this methodological shift has come a gradual broadening of . . .

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