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Rowan Boyson. Wordsworth and the Enlightenment Idea of Pleasure

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The Subject of Tragedy Routledge Revivals. Beyond Romanticism. Stephen Copley. Romantic Tragedies. Reeve Parker. Radical Tragedy. Professor Jonathan Dollimore. William Wordsworth - The Prelude. Tim Milnes. The Cambridge Companion to Laurence Sterne. Thomas Keymer. Changing Sentiments and the Magdalen Hospital. Mary Peace. Through close reading of Enlightenment and Romantic texts, in particular the poetry and prose of William Wordsworth, Boyson elaborates on this central theme.

Covering a wide range of texts by philosophers, theorists and creative writers from over the centuries, she presents a strong defence of the Enlightenment ideal of pleasure, drawing out its rich political, as well as intellectual and aesthetic, implications. A timely study of an important concept that offers a much needed account of the strange and heretofore somewhat baffling insistence in Wordsworth's work on the importance of pleasure.

Boyson excels at engaging the reader with an argument that is at once historical, political and philosophical, but that skillfully holds on to the literary and aesthetic There is no doubt that Wordsworth and the Enlightenment Idea of Pleasure offers a significant argument that I hope will both influence Wordsworth studies and open up the positive experiences his poetry offers for further critical attention. The study might even be considered as part of the 'eudaimonic turn' that currently seeks to rescue joy, ecstasy, wonder and happiness from those critics who dismiss it as ideology or neurosis in their weary roles as the defenders of literary criticism's negativity bias.

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Forgotten password Please enter your email address below and we'll send you a link to reset your password. Thus, what Christian Hirschfeld wrote in his Theorie der Gartenkunst trans. Theory of Gardening — can be applied to the literary world as well. On the sublime, Hirschfeld argues that Man sees his own potential in the grandeur of nature and in the boundless landscapes therein.

He also believed that this applied to both man's freedom and lack thereof, and moving from restriction to freedom results in an inner elevation. Hirschfeld further believed that the sublime of the nature then becomes a symbol of inner human realities. So the English Romantics began to view the sublime as referring to a "realm of experience beyond the measurable" that is beyond rational thought, that arises chiefly from the terrors and awe-inspiring natural phenomena.

But all Romantics agreed that the sublime was something to be studied and contemplated. And in doing so, the Romantics internalized their thoughts of the sublime and attempted to understand it. Although the moment may have been fleeting, the Romantics believed one could find enlightenment in the sublime. William Wordsworth is the Romantic best known for working with the sublime. Many scholars actually place Wordsworth's idea of the sublime as the standard of the romantic sublime. Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood, In which the burden of the mystery In which the heavy and weary weight Of all this unintelligible world, Is lightened Here Wordsworth expresses that in the mood of the sublime, the burden of the world is lifted.

In a lot of these cases, Wordsworth finds the sublime in Nature. He finds the awe in the beautiful forms of nature, but he also finds terror. Wordsworth experiences both aspects of the sublime. However, he does go beyond Burke or Kant's definition of the literary sublime, for his ultimate goal is to find Enlightenment within the sublime.


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Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a poet, critic and scholar, and he was very concerned with the sublime, especially in contrast to the beautiful. Coleridge argues his view best when he says that:. I meet, I find the Beautiful - but I give, contribute or rather attribute the Sublime. No object of the Sense is sublime in itself; but only as far as I make it a symbol of some Idea. The circle is a beautiful figure in itself; it becomes sublime, when I contemplate eternity under that figure. Therefore, the speaker must contemplate more than just the object itself; it is sublime in its greater context.

Now, Coleridge's views on the sublime are unique because Coleridge believed that Nature was only occasionally sublime, that is, only in the sky, the sea and the desert, because those are the only objects in nature that are boundless. For this reason, Coleridge's " Rime of the Ancient Mariner " is often considered sublime, though it is one of the few works in which Coleridge expresses the natural world as being sublime.

In most of Coleridge's other works, he focuses on the "metaphysical sublime," which is found in the 'in between's of the world earth and sea, sky and sea, etc. But Coleridge didn't demand the sensation of terror or awe within the sight, rather, he focused on the element of infinity. The so-called "second generation" Romantics employed the sublime as well, but as the early Romantics had different interpretations of the literary sublime, so too did Percy Bysshe Shelley , Lord Byron , and John Keats.

In many instances, they reflected the desire for Enlightenment that their predecessor showed, but they also tended to stick closer to the definition of the sublime given by Longinus and Kant. They tended to focus on the terror in the sublime, and the ecstasy found there. The literary sublime found in Romantic poetry left a lasting impression on writers for generations.