ENGLISH 451 - Studies in Literature, 1600-1830
Section: 001 Reading Romantic Natures
Term: FA 2019
Subject: English Language and Literature (ENGLISH)
Department: LSA English Language & Literature
Waitlist Capacity:
With permission of instructor.
May be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:

Romantic poetry (in Britain, 1798-1832) is one of the proof-texts for today’s study of the relationship between literature and the environment. This, of course, has not always been the case. Reading Romantic Natures studies this poetry from a sense of present-day urgency about the natural world, but with perspectives that also trace to earlier critical approaches.

Romantic poetry was once called “nature poetry,” because it represented nature as a domain with its own value. Previously, nature in literature figured as a backdrop to human action or as an allegorical system. “Nature poetry” was long read as “nature-worship poetry,” with the text’s human dimension presumed to complement the natural. After 1945, however, American humanist critics unearthed this poetry’s antagonism between human and natural energies. Only by pushing back against nature’s indifference and material intransigence could humanity realize its own distinctive nature. Yet starting in the 1970s, Deconstructive readers saw nature as a kind of optical illusion. Romantic poetry was neither for nor against nature, since nature was a by-product of the poetry’s internal linguistic play, not its referent. Both in support and in opposition, New Historicist critics in the 1980s emphasized the poetry’s social reality. Natural themes and images clued readers to histories, politics, interests, and ideas connected to the French Revolution—from universal liberation to empire and monarchy.

Beginning in the 1990s—coincident with the growing awareness of environmental degradation—critics returned to the nature-theme in Romantic poetry, but in a way that previously anthropocentric criticism had not grasped. Scholars found new conceptual angles in pre-modern philosophies, in early 19th century sciences, in today’s post-classical physics, theoretical biology, and eco-study. Animal studies, post-humanism, onto-philosophy, bio-politics, actor-network theory: these are names for critical movements now active in the study of Romantic nature poetry.

This course 1) introduces students to British Romantic poetry, especially its representation of nature; 2) familiarizes students with the literary criticism most influential for Romantic poetry, with a focus on current approaches; 3) teaches multilateral reading, where history, philosophy, and science are mobilized to understand literature.

Course Requirements:

Requirements: 1) daily “provocations” (10 minutes, max); the student isolates one short assigned passage; presenter and respondents are graded on oral performance; 2) three five-page papers on assigned topics; 3) group presentations toward the end of term, with a co-authored write-up.

ENGLISH 451 - Studies in Literature, 1600-1830
Schedule Listing
001 (REC)
TuTh 11:30AM - 1:00PM
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