Sexual Power in British Romantic Poetry

Sexual Power in British Romantic Poetry

Sexual Power in British Romantic Poetry

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.

Excerpt

In the current historical reassessment of romanticism, gender has rightly become a major area of scholarly and critical focus. the work on gender has unfolded in at least four directions. a major effort is now under way (led by Stuart Curran) to recover the work of women poets who wrote during the romantic period and who have been forgotten by literary history. Several critics, especially Marlon Ross and Anne Mellor, have begun to identify and investigate a tradition of women's writing that developed against the canonical (masculinist) literature of the period. Still other critics, such as Barbara Schapiro and Laurie Langbauer, have investigated the psychological and cultural dimensions of the feminine during the romantic period, with particular attention to mothering. Finally, as seen in the work of Ross and Alan Richardson, some critics have begun to examine the way (male) romantic literature appropriates, or colonizes, things feminine. Perhaps the most salutary effect of these critical and scholarly efforts to foreground the fact, place, and function of gender in the romantic imagination is that they have begun to raise important questions concerning some of romanticism's most closely held assumptions about the nature and character of human experience and to provide a means for critically questioning those assumptions. in doing so, moreover, feminist criticism has brought new intellectual energy to the study of romanticism, focusing certain nuances of romantic expression and meaning and opening up romantic texts and culture to new levels of understanding.

One important question that has begun to press to the surface of critical discussion in the feminist investigation of romanticism is whether the romantic imagination is essentially masculinist -- that is, whether . . .

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