This paper takes up Godwin’s fourth major novel, Mandeville (1817), and explores its extreme negativity as a recursive space for the stalled revolutionary energies of what Godwin saw as the only period in British history worthy of “genuine and independent man”: the period of the Civil Wars and the “English Revolution,” which had many resonances with his own time. The novel, which begins with the Irish Rebellion of 1641 and ends on the eve of the Restoration, is a catachresis: a historical novel whose protagonist never enters history as he progressively retreats into the closet of his psychic history. At its centre is the misanthropic protagonist’s “eternal war” on his rival and future brother-in-law Clifford, who prvides an alibi for an almost pathological deconstruction of normativity. The story ends shockingly with Mandeville’s accidental defacement by Clifford, an effraction that dis-figures all schemes of restoration. But the novel is by no means the “domestic story” that Godwin’s publisher wanted to make it, as Mandeville’s damaged life is a symptom, “imprinted by history and the process of history’s destruction of the body” (Foucault). Approaching the text within the political unconscious of seventeenth-century religious politics, I see the fanaticism that provides the text’s historical backdrop and its later secularization as misanthropy as tropes that must be turned back and in on themselves to discern whether history is absolute negation or the site of a dissensus whose potential comes forth warped and convoluted by a culture that represses its underlying contradictions.
This essay proposes a reinterpretation of Charlotte Smith’s role in the romantic sonnet revival. It argues, against the predominant trend in Smith criticism, that Elegiac Sonnets is a counter-sentimental work. Smith’s primary innovation in the sonnet form was a particular way of using its “turn” function to dissociate the lyric subject from an unsatisfying reality. This gesture—the “negative turn”—occurs throughout the many editions of Elegiac Sonnets. Emphasizing this aspect of Smith’s sonnets prepares the ground for a hypothesis about her influence on subsequent generations of poets: similar rhetorical devices can be found in works by Cowper, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats. The phenomenological efficacy of the “negative turn,” in Smith and other poets, can be usefully described via D. W. Winnicott’s psychoanalytic argument for a “right not to communicate.” Smith’s sonnets invoke this right, and provide a crucial poetic technique for dissociating from the coercive facticity of an unsatisfying reality.
Although often heralded as a passionate denunciation of the mayhem of the Peninsular War, Francisco de Goya’s The Disasters of War (1814-1820) was not published during the artist’s lifetime. My wager is to treat Goya’s desistance not as evasive but as intrinsic to the Disasters itself, now seen as an artistic practice and an experiment in living that takes on ruination without necessarily metabolizing it. Goya releases his images by denying them refuge in the visibly social. In what ways are traces of this abstention legible in the aquatints themselves? The fact that the prints remained uncirculated during Goya’s lifetime threads together life and work, wartime and the aesthetic, survival and ruination in ambiguous but mortalizing ways, and puts to us that, for a time, for the decade that they took to engrave, and then for the remainder of his life, the inventor and then the archivist of the series learned to live alongside disaster in a condition that I call “worldlessness.”
This essay considers the doubt and its relation to desire as explored in William Godwin’s Caleb Williams (1794). It argues that the novel’s interest in doubt, and particularly its interest in how doubt organizes legal inquiry, should be read in dialogue with a form of legal doubt adopted within eighteenth-century legal epistemology as a response to problem of legal judgment under uncertainty and now crystallized in the “beyond reasonable doubt” evidentiary standard that continues to organize legal proof in Anglophone law. The essay considers how the novel’s insistence on the ways desire conditions doubt subverts the claims to “disinterestedness” and “reasonableness” that recommend “reasonable doubt” as legitimate and adequate response to the risks posed by judgment under uncertainty. The novel’s ironic treatment of “reasonable doubt” exposes how reasonable doubt is itself conditioned by an “unreasonable” desire to preserve the possibility of legal judgment despite these risks and how this unreasonable, conservative desire ultimately compromises its ability to assess and respond to uncertainty. Through Caleb’s “unreasonable doubt” and the reader’s “doubt-as-suspense,” the novel pursues doubt as raw, affective excess -- doubt as it exists “before” it is disciplined or conditioned by skepticism -- in an attempt to expose the basis of doubt in unreasonable, inaccessible desire and, thus, to call into question its legitimacy as a ground for legal judgment. The essay’s coda considers how the doubt “before skepticism” pursued by Caleb Williams might be generalized as a form of “Romantic doubt” and, further, how this “Romantic doubt” allows us to reimagine the relation of Romanticism and skepticism.
Romantic literature at times features instances of positive negation, that trope whereby a literary text gives a body, face, visible form, or effective agency to negativity. In doing so, it anticipates similar features in modernist critical theory, such as Heidegger’s notion of the possibility of the impossibility of existence, or Bataille’s rendition of the presence of the absence of God. Such figures appear in the late poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, especially “Human Life, On the Denial of Immortality,” which reveal a counterside to his late theological reflections. That poem’s deployment of what Coleridge elsewhere considers to be the “positive state” of “Eternal Death” proposes that without the immortality of the soul, the best instance of positive negation is the living human being, who (in an echo of Milton’s Death) personifies the nothingness she or he must face. Such a figure, the poem suggests, can neither mount a suitable emotion in relation to its nothingness nor make its nothingness meaningful; nevertheless, as something crafted by nature’s “restless hands unconsciously,” the mortal becomes a figure of excess, of what interrupts mere blankness, exemplifying not a dialectical rendition of death but a second-order nullity, and thus can be defined through a Lacanian enigmatic signifier, even if one deprived of any code in which it may make sense. The poem thus anticipates certain a/theological features of recent thought, mapping the human as a site for the assertion of negativity.
This collection thinks the “rights” of the negative against the more common association of the term “rights” with human rights and rights that can be posited. Such rights, despite their seeming liberalism, produce a normative notion of the person which is in the end biopolitical, and moreover, in assuming that rights can always be posited, they assume the primacy of the public sphere. The essays in this collection all resist the current emphasis on the public sphere that has resulted from the absorption of “Romanticism” into the “Nineteenth Century,” and focus instead on Romanticism as a retreat from publication, publicity and consensus. Whether this retreat is absolute negation or a withdrawal that holds something in reserve is a question left open in the spaces between these six essays on Godwin, Charlotte Smith, Coleridge and Goya.
This essay provides guidelines for anyone who wants to plan his or her own study-abroad trip the English Lake District, outlining the advantages and disadvantages of not using a professional touring or educational service. The essay includes information on lodging and transportation, and describes visits to Keswick, Grasmere, Ullswater, Barrow-in-Furness, and Mt. Snowdon.
Over the past half-century, study abroad programs at North American universities have shifted from semester- or year-long immersions in another nation’s language and culture to short-term, professionally focused offering sponsored by students’ majors. Acknowledging these trends, this essay shows how immersive literary experiences like the Wordsworth Trust’s rare book and manuscript workshops can continue to play central and formative roles in study abroad programs designed not only for English majors but students with a range of disciplinary and professional interests.
This collection grows out of a 2014 conference panel at the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (NASSR), in which 5 of our 6 authors shared their varied experiences leading study-abroad courses and field schools to various parts of England and France. These experiences ranged from do-it-yourself plans to full partnerships with third-party organizers, with a similar range of flexibility and cost. Taken together, 5 areas shape the concerns of the 5 chapters: models of study and the logistics of running them; models of leadership; types of assignments and excursions; forms of collaborative teaching and learning; and the value of international education for humanities-based learning. This volume will provide practical and experience-based information about study-abroad programs as well as critical reflection about methods and motives.
This essay provides an introduction to the concept of the “field,” and explores how fieldwork can be brought into humanities-based courses to reinvigorate humanities pedagogy. It provides a detailed survey of digital-based assignments, which we promote because they more readily allow for cultural fieldwork to be multi-modal, shared, and archived. This digital approach enables greater integration between the students’ home and field environments, breaking down artificial distinctions between the two and supporting ongoing virtual fieldwork.