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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 6 Gender and Imagination in “Lamia” and “La Belle Dame sans Merci”: John Keats 125

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Chapter 6 Gender and Imagination in “Lamia” and “La Belle Dame sans Merci”: John Keats R The female demons of “La Belle Dame sans Merci” and “Lamia” resist the schemas that attempt to contain them, and actively undo the conclusions that the poems present. The Lady of “La Belle Dame sans Merci” and the eponymous heroine of “Lamia” are both subject to narratives that seek to position and/or expunge them, and they both defeat the design of these narratives by generating poetic residue that engages readers’ interest long after the stories are concluded.1 The residual engagement of readers with the women raises a set of questions: Are the female characters of these poems in an antagonistic relationship with the convention, structure, and design of the poems that they inhabit? Or, are the convention, structure, and design of these poems somewhat more expansive than hitherto assumed and thereby somewhat more radical than they have been given credit for? If we answer the first question in the affirmative, at the very least, we emerge with a sense of demonized female identity, which is a strategy of debasing the women through nomenclature. If we, then, go on actively to condemn the demonic identity of the women, we essentially repeat the attempt of the narrative and deny the poetic residue. If, however, we seriously engage with the poetic residue, we accept a dual invitation to re-signify subversive female identity and to enlarge the space of the poems. In this interpretive scenario we are obliged...

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