Modernity's Mist: British Romanticism and the Poetics of Anticipation

Modernity's Mist: British Romanticism and the Poetics of Anticipation

Modernity's Mist: British Romanticism and the Poetics of Anticipation

Modernity's Mist: British Romanticism and the Poetics of Anticipation


Modernity's Mist explores an understudied aspect of Romanticism: its future-oriented poetics. Whereas Romanticism is well known for its relation to the past, Emily Rohrbach situates Romantic epistemological uncertainties in relation to historiographical debates that opened up a radically unpredictable and fast- approaching future. As the rise of periodization made the project of defining the "spirit of the age" increasingly urgent, the changing sense of futurity rendered the historical dimensions of the present deeply elusive.
While historicist critics often are interested in what Romantic writers and their readers would have known, Rohrbach draws attention to moments when these writers felt they could not know the historical dimensions of their own age. Illuminating the poetic strategies Keats, Austen, Byron, and Hazlitt used to convey that sense of mystery, Rohrbach describes a poetic grammar of future anteriority--of uncertainty concerning what will have been. Romantic writers, she shows, do not simply reflect the history of their time; their works make imaginable a new way of thinking the historical present when faced with the temporalities of modernity.


This Chamber of Maiden Thought becomes gradually
darken’d and at the same time on all sides of it many doors
are set open—but all dark—all leading to dark passages—We
see not the balance of good and evil. We are in a Mist—We
are now in that state—We feel the “burden of the Mystery,”
To this point was Wordsworth come, as far as I can conceive
when he wrote “Tintern Abbey” and it seems to me that his
Genius is explorative of those dark Passages.

John Keats

This book explains why Romantic writers felt they could not fully know the historical dimensions of the age in which they were living and describes the poetic and narrative strategies they used to convey that “burden of the Mystery.” Whereas numerous critical studies have focused on the Romantic imagination of the past—describing Romanticism as a form of memory or mourning, or as the longing elicited by ruins—the “burden” of Modernity’s Mist comes from the Romantic propensity to imagine the present in its relation to futurity. Romantic-period writers understood their world to be shadowed by a dark futurity, even inhabited by it. This book focuses, more specifically, on literary shapings of anticipation that envision the present in the terms of an unknown and unpredictable time, yet to come. Situating this temporal logic within an intellectual history of concepts of time and the historiographical debates of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, I argue that the Romantic poetics of anticipating futurity offer a historically engaged imagination of time that accounts for the epistemological uncertainty of the “present.” For any relation to the present, according to these writers, contained something stubbornly elusive insofar as it had to take into account a sense of uncertainty associated with futurity: the radical unpredictability of what was to come and of how the present would look from that inaccessible future vantage.

The Future Anteriority of Mist

Modernity’s Mist focuses primarily on the work of John Keats, Jane Austen, and Lord Byron, with shorter readings of works by William Hazlitt and . . .

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