Romantic Selfhood and the Selfie: Relating to the Novel

This essay offers a defense of the concept of “relatability,” an impulse in students we’ve long derided as unproductive and even ethically suspect. In particular, it aims to sketch out a series of attempts to use contemporary texts to disrupt students’ assumptions about their emotional and psychological distance from Romantic-era fiction. Rather than dismissing talk of readerly identification, I show how I have attempted to leverage my students’ desire to relate in order to launch a discussion of historical reading practices and the emergence of relatability as a value.

Pedagogy of the Depressed: Romanticism and the Long Revolution

This essay discusses how a course about 'literature and revolution' invites students to make use of depression as an affective explanation for the history of optimism, disappointment, reluctant transformation, and fear of the future. Students assess their relationship to the ongoing past in which modernity, mobility, self-making, and optimism were first offered as political goals for entire societies, and consider how a 'long revolution' shapes their relationship to the disappointing present, in the literature classroom as a locus, instrument, and effect of radical social transformation.

Romantic Continuities and Feminist Contemporaries

In Romantic Era Feminism, students engage in deep and broad learning about the 18th and 19th centuries’ intellectual and cultural legacy, and its continuing presence in 20th and 21st century feminism. Among others, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Hays, William Godwin and John Stuart Mill are studied alongside Malala Yousafzai, Azar Nafisi, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, Jessica Valenti and The Young Lords Party’s “Position Paper on Women”; “The Saudi Women Revolution Statement” is read with “The Declaration of Independence” and “Declaration of the United Irishmen”; Rush Limbaugh is heard echoing Richard Polwhele, and Daryush Valizadeh, Rousseau. This dialogue between 18th - and 19th -century feminist and anti-feminist texts, and 20th - and 21st -century ones launches students’ exploration into three areas: 1) the cultural and intellectual history of feminism since the Romantic era; 2) the feminist implications 18th- and 19th- century political discourse, and the arguments used then and now either to support or to suppress those implications; 3) the range and diversity of feminist positions within and across generations, and the role of class, race, and historical context in expanding or limiting the literary and political imaginations of feminists in all eras, including our own. Students also study the lives and works of individual writers, and their intellectual influence on one another; the intersections of abolitionist or anti-racist with feminist imagery, discourse, arguments and action; the second and third waves’ rediscovery, reinvention and revision of earlier feminist critiques of unequal marriage laws, the sexual double standard, employment discrimination and similar issues; and the utility of diverse literary genres for presenting these topics richly and persuasively. Most importantly, by learning that the Romantics are indeed our contemporaries, and by critically examining the assumptions we still share with them, students become more self-conscious, better informed, and more effective participants in the continuously ongoing cultural construction and critique of gender and human rights discourses.


This special issue explores the notion that many of the forms, ideas, and practices inaugurated or exemplified in the Romantic period continue to shape and drive our contemporary discourses. Literary critics, cultural and political theorists, and, indeed, our students continue to encounter new permutations—if not the continued presence—of something that might be called the romantic. But how is the (neo-)romantic expressed in contemporary culture? And how might we best prepare students to listen for and hear its repetitions? How might we teach the romantic alongside the contemporary without either reducing one to the other or eliding important historical, cultural, and social contexts? In response to these questions, the nine essays and three interviews that comprise this volume address the repetitions and reverberations of the romantic as it recurs across genre, period, and media boundaries in popular culture, contemporary political situations, changing classroom dynamics, and the constantly shifting domains of literary and pedagogical practice and production.

Zonkey Romanticism

This essay considers the benefits of incorporating creative writing assignments into literary studies curricula, taking the Romantic literature classroom as its key example.

Affect in the Age of Terror

This essay explains the rationale behind a willfully anachronistic creative writing prompt: if one of the British Romantics were alive today, how would he or she craft a literary response to 9/11 and the ensuing War on Terror? Instead of asking what makes the twenty-first-century experience of terror new, my assignment encourages students to approach today’s affective environment through the medium of British Romantic literature. The following discussion offers a pedagogical framework and theoretical justification for inviting undergraduates to map the untimely affects that fuse the contemporary age of terror with its Romantic-era double. The essay concludes with a survey of exemplary student work.

Against Utilitarianism: Two Hundred Years of “Useful Knowledge”

This essay challenges students to think about how we might make the case for the public value of the humanities by grounding our own debates about these issues in a close reading of Percy Shelley’s “Defence of Poetry.” It argues that Shelley’s argument against the primacy of utilitarian pragmatism is not, despite its apparent rhetoric, a lofty and off-putting retreat into elitist claims for the arts, but quite the contrary, a radical and politically engaged account of why the arts ultimately matter more than applied forms of “useful knowledge,” even within the context of social reform.


“What’s new with German Romanticism?”—the question gestures to the important contribution of German-language writing to our understanding of the period but also to the trenchant and suggestive interrogation of the category of “newness” by German Romantic writers. Anxiety about whether anything “new” can ever be said or written about anything is, one could argue, constitutive of both Romanticism and our relationship to it.

For † Friedrich Schlegel †

When, in his commentary on G.E. Lessing’s writings, Friedrich Schlegel describes his aim “to characterize the spirit of Lessing as a whole," he evokes the traditional distinction between spirit and letter that had come to form the point of departure for the hermeneutic enterprise, in and beyond biblical exegesis. Yet the meaning that this distinction assumes in Schlegel’s writings, from his earliest studies of Greek and Roman poetry, to his Conversation on Poetry, is not one that would promise interpretive closure of any kind. Instead, the distinction itself and the infinite demands for interpretation that arise from it can be traced to a dynamic particular to writing, which Schlegel outlines in his philological approaches to biblical scripture, Lessing, and poetry. In my contribution, I seek to draw out the implications of Schlegel's scriptural philology, looking back to its biblical precedents and forward to the kind of reading his intervention solicits.

The Romantic Sentence

This essay explores post-Kantian challenges to the Aristotelian proposition and the rationalist model of proof. The first part focuses on Friedrich Schlegel’s efforts to develop a discourse that could reconcile the demand to speak freely with the demand to speak the truth. The second part shows how Edgar Allan Poe and Stéphane Mallarmé continue Schlegel’s project as they grapple with Romantic ideas about wit and the autonomy of poetic language.