Romantic Mediacy, Self-Consciousness and the Ideologies of Authorship



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How did Romantic poets react to Wordsworth's preoccupation with immateriality, an illusion of poetic experiences in which the form of poetry itself becomes ironically unnecessary? To what extent is Romantic poetry involved with a counter-tradition of self-exposure, with an awareness of literary experience and meaning as essentially inseparable from its physical form? To address these questions, my dissertation looks in three directions: first, at the evidence of contradictions in Coleridge's lyric poems and, second, at Keats's reflexive alertness to the techniques that Wordsworth often uses to achieve the lyric effects of immediacy and, third, at the changing nature of the Romantic notions of the self and the materiality of text in the wake of Charlotte Smith's experiment with paratext.

Chapter I explores the critical implications of Wordsworth?s emphasis on the mind and individual subjectivity, which involves a myth of Romanticism that genuine poetry can be attained when its production and existence in the material world become paradoxically invisible. Examining the publishing history of Coleridge's poems of poetic failure, and his conflicting motives for re-writing them, Chapter II argues that Coleridge's self-conscious poems have been considered, erroneously, in terms of a deeply private genre in which the poet describes a moment of personal crisis involved with the breakdown of his creative power. In Chapter III, I show how Keats debunks Wordsworthian notions of solitary authorship in the Hyperion poems via his persistent references to the act, artifice and materiality of writing. Reading Beachy Head as a challenge to the Romantic fiction of a unified self, Chapter IV argues that Smith's preoccupation with print apparatuses and discursive modes highlights her refusal to integrate the competing voices and styles she displays in the poem, preventing readers from easily associating the hybrid poetic persona with her earlier lyric ethos. Chapter V builds on the concept of hypermediacy, an awareness and artistic representation of mediation, in order to argue that the ways in which Coleridge, Keats and Smith represent the act, process and materiality of writing indicate a counter-tradition in Romantic literary culture that challenges the predominant Wordsworthian logic of immateriality.