This book offers a revisionist account of poetry and embodiment from Milton to Romanticism. Scholars have made much of the period's theories of matter, with some studies equating the eighteenth century's modernity with its materialism. Yet the Enlightenment in Britain also brought bold new arguments for the immateriality of spirit and evocative claims about an imminent spirit realm. Protestant religious writing was of two minds about futurity, swinging back and forth between patience for the resurrected body and desire for the released soul. This ancient pattern carried over, the book argues, into understandings of poetry as a modern devotional practice.
A range of authors agreed that poems can provide a foretaste of the afterlife, but they disagreed about what kind of future state the imagination should seek. The mortalist impulse--exemplified by John Milton and by Romantic poets Anna Letitia Barbauld and William Wordsworth--is to overcome the temptation of disembodiment and to restore spirit to its rightful home in matter. The spiritualist impulse--driving eighteenth-century verse by Mark Akenside, Elizabeth Singer Rowe, and Edward Young--is to break out of bodily repetition and enjoy the detached soul's freedom in advance. Although the study isolates these two tendencies, each needed the other as a source in the Enlightenment, and their productive opposition didn't end with Romanticism. The final chapter identifies an alternative Romantic vision that keeps open the possibility of a disembodied poetics, and the introduction considers present-day Anglophone writers who put it into practice.
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About the Author:
Dustin Stewart, Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, specializes in the literature and culture of the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with broader interests in poetics and theology. His first book, titled Futures of Enlightenment Poetry, has recently been published by Oxford University Press.
About the Speakers:
Sophie Gee is Associate Professor of English at Princeton University. Gee has written numerous books including Making Waste: Leftovers and the Eighteenth-Century Imagination (Princeton University Press, 2009) and The Scandal of the Season, a comedy of manners set in eighteenth-century London, and a retelling of Pope’s "The Rape of the Lock."
Julie Crawford is Mark Van Doren Professor of Humanities at Columbia University. Her book, Marvelous Protestantism: Monstrous Births in Post-Reformation England, was published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2005, and her most recent book, Mediatrix: Women, Politics, and Literary Production in Early Modern England, was published by Oxford UP in 2014.
Christopher Brown is Professor of History at Columbia University. His publications include Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism and Arming Slaves: From the Classical Era to the Modern Age. He is now at work on two projects, one on British experience along the West African coast in the era of the Atlantic slave trade, and a second on the decline and fall of the British Planter class in the era of abolition and emancipation.
Alan Stewart is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Among his publications he has authored The Cradle King: The Life of James VI and I, the First Monarch of a United Great Britain; Shakespeare's Letters; and, most recently, the second volume of The Oxford History of Life-Writing covering the Early Modern period.