Wordsworth's Gothic politics : a study of the poetry and prose, 1794-1814
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This thesis argues for the deep implication of William Wordsworth’s writings over the period 1794 to 1814 in contemporary discourses of the Gothic. My investigation pivots upon the analogy offered in the preface to The Excursion (1814) between the incomplete epic poem The Recluse and a ‘gothic Church’, and aims, through a reconstruction of its literary and historical contexts, to establish the interpretative value of this figure in reading Wordsworth. I begin with a survey of previous critical approaches to, and a new close reading of, Wordsworth’s Gothic figure for his œuvre. I then trace the history of Gothic as a term in British public discourse since the English Revolution, showing how its contested status in the Revolution controversy of the 1790s inflects such texts as the preface to Lyrical Ballads (1800), the ‘Liberty’ sonnets of Poems, in Two Volumes (1807), and the Preamble to The Prelude. I then move to a series of detailed historical readings of Wordsworth’s key Gothic texts, starting with Salisbury Plain (1794). Recovering the network of associations that made Salisbury Plain legible to Wordsworth in 1793-4 as a map of British history, I show how the poem first subverts and then restores the English Gothic narrative of ‘Celtic night’ giving way to ‘present grandeur’. I then turn to Wordsworth’s Burkean prose tract on the Napoleonic Wars in Spain, The Convention of Cintra (1809), reading it in the context of the Gothic imagery of the conflict, and then arguing on this basis that it forms a vital part of the ‘gothic Church’ of The Recluse. Building upon this reading, I then argue that The Excursion’s advocacy of Andrew Bell’s ‘Madras’ system of ‘tuition by the scholars themselves’ shows Wordsworth’s progressive Gothic politics in action. In concluding, I turn to reconsider, in the light of the preceding chapters, in what sense Wordsworth can be called a Gothic poet.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: Restricted until 25th June 2017
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations
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