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