Determination in the Passive Voice (Wordsworth and Williams)

The problem of determination takes particular shape during the nineteenth century, as it becomes increasingly difficult to disentangle the concept of determination from Marxism on the one hand (as Marxism focuses attention on the ways preexisting conditions fix a course of events) and Romanticism on the other (as determined comes also to mean "unwavering" or "persistent"). In this essay I track these two competing definitions of determined through the writing of Raymond Williams and William Wordsworth. As critical concepts open to caricature, Romanticism and Marxism are sometimes placed in tension: where Romanticism prioritizes the power of the individual will, Marxism prioritizes the external forces that condition it. But the texts we choose to read closely often challenge the characterizations we bring to bear on them. Williams, for instance, struggles against Marxism’s focus on economic determinism and Wordsworth concludes Book I of The Prelude—a poem that celebrates certain forms of self-determination—by foregrounding the importance of "determined bounds," bounds that have been determined by others. In this way, both writers are sensitive to the various and sometimes competing senses of "determination" in their work. In placing Wordsworth alongside Williams my interests turn grammatical, for Williams and Wordsworth are often drawn to the passive voice in their writing about determination. If both writers share an interest in determination and its various and competing connotations, what can we learn about the concept from attending to the grammatical, even stylistic, choices writers make when writing about determination?