“Sick for Home”: the Figure of Ruth in the Romantic Imagination

This essay explores why so many nineteenth-century British writers and artists reimagined the biblical figure of Ruth, beginning with Keats’s "Ode to a Nightingale," which surprisingly depicts Ruth as “sick for home… amid the alien corn.” It also considers works by Felicia Hemans, Thomas Hood, John Adams-Acton, and Grace Aguilar that follow in Keats’s wake but have received little scholarly attention. I argue that Keats shaped a new representational tradition in which Ruth becomes a figure of alienation and homesickness. In doing so, Keats departs from the Bible but aligns with contemporaneous anxieties about psychological, national, religious, and even racial otherness.