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Real and Imagined Women in British Romanticism

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Gaura Shankar Narayan

Real and Imagined Women in British Romanticism uses feminist ideology and deconstructive criticism to reconstruct the cultural context embedded in Romantic canonical texts. To achieve this end, the book undertakes a close textual study of these texts and places them in the intellectual context of Mary Wollstonecraft’s critique of culture. As a result of intellectual contextualizing as well as theoretical applications, the Romantic imagination, as represented by William Wordsworth and John Keats, emerges as the place where gender division and gender certitude break down. This book intervenes in the traditional critical debates about the Romantic imagination to show that the Romantic imagination, as set forth in these texts, registers the vigorous cultural politics of gender and aesthetics that defined the 1790s and continued to exert influence for decades.

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Chapter 5 Gender and History in The Prelude: Williams Wordsworth 99

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Chapter 5 Gender and History in The Prelude: William Wordsworth R In The Prelude Wordsworth’s increasingly evident desire for a private history born out of his disillusionment with the historical events of his time bears something of a likeness to Mary Wollstonecraft’s critique of Burke’s celebration of the spectacles of history as will be discussed in this chapter.1 Wollstonecraft’s response to Burke in A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790) is strong and clear: “Reading your Reflections warily over, it has continually and forcibly struck me, that had you been a Frenchman, you would have been, in spite of your respect for rank and antiquity, a violent revolutionist; and deceived, as you now probably are, by the passions that cloud your reason, have termed your romantic enthusiasm an enlightened love of your country” (Vol. 5, 44, emphasis added). The crucial phrase is the one in which she voices distrust over the passions inflamed by the spectacles of history.2 Wordsworth also enacts a so-called turn from the spectacles of history and his turn from history in his autobiographical epic calls for comment.3 Geoffrey Hartman points out that “Wordsworth gave birth to modern poetry, not by realism alone or by his class-conscious experiment with language, but principally by a struggle with inactive, otiose, trivialized representations of the sublime. An all too normative sublimity not only occults, with its vapid, unnatural terminology, manual or georgic labor; it also elides a very special kind of ‘action’—that of heart and mind in the...

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