Romanticism and the Heritage of Rousseau

Romanticism and the Heritage of Rousseau

Romanticism and the Heritage of Rousseau

Romanticism and the Heritage of Rousseau


This new book by a leading scholar presents a timely and thorough-going critique of recent thinking on Romanticism. Beginning with the conviction that Rousseau may well have been the most important cultural figure of the last quarter millennium, Thomas McFarland confronts the misplaced emphases and serious misreadings of recent new historicist, post-structuralist, and feminist Romantic criticism. Using Rousseau as a guide and influence, McFarland looks at the work of six important scholars--including Jerome McGann, Marilyn Butler, and Paul deMan--and argues that the "new orthodoxy" is signally unable to perform the ultimate task of criticism: to discern quality . In its place, McFarland advocates attention to the "texture" of the cultural fabric of Romanticism, in order to restore our sense of what Romanticism is, and to allow us to hear again its distinctive voice.


The arguments of this book issue from a conviction that Romantic studies in the last quarter of the twentieth century have gone significantly astray. Very striking editorial successes have been achieved -- no scholar can be unaware of the magnificence of the Collected Coleridge or of the Cornell Wordsworth. The new edition of De Quincey, now in progress under the general editorship of Grevel Lindop, promises to revolutionize De Quincey studies. But such unarguable achievement in editing hardly finds a parallel in interpretational studies. A great, and indeed, ever-augmenting number of books and articles appears. Many of these, however, are redundant; many more are devoted to quasi-sociological endeavours - ethnic studies, feminist studies -- that however important they may be thought to be in a larger social context, are hardly more than ancillary to what is already known about Romanticism.

A small but significant number of interpretational and theoretical studies, however, bears directly upon the main reality of Romantic culture. Produced by important scholars, these studies warrant, and have received, the most serious attention. Working in synergy, they have tended to direct attention away from the consideration of the personal and the qualitative, and rebestow it upon the socio-historical and the political. Though they are by no means identical, and even in some instances not compatible, in their combined effect they have nevertheless managed to result in what has become a reigning orthodoxy of attitudes and approaches.

The present volume attempts to shake the foundations of that new orthodoxy. On the one hand, it mounts a polemic against certain works that figure importantly, now and in recent years, in the reconceiving of Romanticism. On the other, by attempting to consider in renewed depth certain central collocations of Romanticism, it attempts to hear once more the plangency of Romantic activity. It brings to bear, in the latter endeavour, an unusually dense incidence of quotation. To whatever extent so much quotation might make it difficult to read the book rapidly, that extent, it is hoped, will prove justified by providing a sense of the variety, complexity, and resonance of Romantic phenomena.

A briefer and less ramified version of Chapter 3 was delivered as the inaugural paper for the Oxford Interfaculty Seminar: Restoration to Reform 1660-1832, at All Souls College in the University of Oxford; and . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.