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Authors: Thorpe, Katherine J. L.
Advisors: StewartWolfson, Susan Susan J.
Contributors: English Department
Keywords: Abstraction
Eighteenth-Century Poetry
Romantic Poetry
Subjects: English literature
Issue Date: 2021
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Protean Figures: Personified Abstractions from Milton’s Allegory to Wordsworth’s Psychology of the Poet argues for the powerful, surprising richness of personified abstractions in eighteenth-century poetry. Many critics, following William Wordsworth’s rejection of abstract personifications in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads (first in 1800 and more vehemently in 1802), have failed to see personified abstractions as the protean, unstable, rich, and complex figures that they were. One fertile origin point for the prevalence and vitality of personification in eighteenth-century poetry, I suggest, was Milton’s personification “Sin” in his epic Paradise Lost (1667); Milton makes Sin at once an allegorical personification but also a sympathetic character. Drawing on Milton, eighteenth-century poets such as Anne Finch, William Collins, and Thomas Gray used the trope as a powerful resource for communicating abstract concepts such as “Pity” or “Anger” not as fixed and universal, but as representing the poet’s interior thoughts and feelings. Amidst the broad cultural, scientific, social, and religious changes of the Enlightenment, including the rise of print culture, expanding literacy and authorship, and anonymous readership, these poets deployed personification as a powerful tool for staging and encouraging new kinds of readerly recognition and identifications. Despite his professed embarrassment at the trope, I contend that Wordsworth’s accounts of the poet’s psychology and his relationship to readers developed directly from this rich poetic tradition. Personification—especially of abstractions—deserves our serious reconsideration as a trope that often points to the powerful work of the imagination in crafting poems and to how readers identify with and respond to these efforts.
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Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

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