English | English Literature 1790-1900
L641 | 27024 | Williams


11:15a – 12:30p TR

Although the terms of M.M. Bakhtin’s influential distinction between
novelistic and poetic discourse (the latter “unitary and singular
[. . .] outside of which nothing else exists and nothing else is
needed”) have been widely questioned, they could serve as a gloss on
both prominent 19th-century formulations of poetry and recent
critical defenses and critiques.  We’ll look at classic period
descriptions of poetry’s autonomy and also recent critiques which
target that autonomy as illusory—for example, Jerome McGann’s
critique of poetry’s idealizing function or Alan Liu’s account of
poetry’s erasure of history by a reified concept of nature.  We’ll
also, however, focus on approaches which question poetry’s drive for
autonomy, including Sarah Zimmerman’s dialogic reconceptualization
of lyric and Isabel Armstrong’s notion of the double-voiced poem of
the Victorians.  One topic, in keeping with Bakhtin’s invidious
distinction, will be the relation of poetic and novelistic
discourse, in the course of which Elizabeth Barrett Browning will be
a key case, as will Celeste Langan’s discussion of Wordsworth’s
détente with the conventional typography of prose.  Yet another
topic is the doubly anxious (and highly self-conscious) nature of
Victorian poetry, whose autonomy seems challenged both by its
relation to the Romantics (Andrew Elfenbein will be helpful here)
and by its disadvantageous relation to the novel.  Duncan Wu’s
Romanticism:  An Anthology and Thomas Collins’ Broadview Anthology
of Victorian Poetry and Poetic Theory (with whatever needed
supplement) will be our main texts, from which students should
expect, at the very least, readings from Charlotte Smith, William
Blake, William Wordsworth, Anna Letitia Barbauld, S.T. Coleridge,
John Keats, Percy Shelley, Felicia Hemans, Lord Byron, L.E.L., E.B.
Browning, Robert Browning, Tennyson, D.G. Rossetti and Christina
Rossetti.  As this list indicates, the necessary limits of a one-
semester course drive me more towards the first half of the century
than the second.  Required writing will include some short
treatments of poetry (in an effort to be sensitive to students’ need
to gain practice at dealing with poetry) and a conference-length
paper.