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Title: The Poetry of Loneliness from Romance to Romanticism
Authors: Worsley, Amelia
Advisors: Schor, Esther
Stewart, Susan
Contributors: English Department
Keywords: eighteenth century
Subjects: Literature
Issue Date: 2014
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: We have not always been lonely. Loneliness may seem like a timeless and universal experience, but the words "loneliness" and "lonely" were new in late-sixteenth century English literature. In this dissertation, I argue that the invention of loneliness shaped what it meant to be a poet in Britain, from the Renaissance to the Romantic period. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, poets chose not to associate themselves with the new term, but by the nineteenth century, loneliness had become a central facet of poetic self-fashioning. When poets started to call themselves "lonely," they were not merely drawing attention to their new-found solitariness, but also creating a new conceptual framework for the poetic imagination--and indeed, for what loneliness means today. The standard account of literary loneliness has focused on the idealized figure of the melancholy male solitary and his growing tendency to symbolize a new kind of emotional, intellectual and aesthetic isolation. This account rests on the assumption that poets are most themselves when alone, and that aesthetic experience is most likely to occur in solitude. From Hamlet, to Milton's Satan and Il Penseroso, to the graveyard poets, to male Romantic poets famous for their lonely wandering, solitariness has been taken as a sign of the inward turn necessary to be a poet. Such narratives, however, have not taken account of loneliness' origins in late sixteenth-century Renaissance romance. In its earliest instances, loneliness describes characters who are neither solitary, nor melancholy. These characters do not always speak and are not necessarily turned inward in their loneliness. From Shakespeare's Ophelia, to Milton's Lady, to characters in Aphra Behn and Anne Finch's poems, loneliness describes vulnerable, often speechless female characters whose bodies, as well as their imaginations, are under threat of attack because they are in spaces far away from the protections of society. This gendered trope of romance loneliness is, I argue, the foundation on which the mythos of the lonely poet is built. Vulnerable lonely female bodies, first found in romance, form a model for later lonely poets. Loneliness emerges as a more social condition than it might have seemed, oriented toward the outside, social world. In this way, loneliness offers a model for poetic interiority that solitude could not.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

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