Romantic Historicism and the Afterlife

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Abstract

Many Romantic poets were fascinated by the idea that a special historical sense could hear the cultural difference of remote epochs in the sound of the sea or of the wind. This essay traces that fascination back to late-eighteenth-century attempts to imagine a new kind of secular afterlife that fused nature and history, thereby combining the permanence of a natural process with the consoling collectivity of social existence. The most influential parts of James Macpherson's Ossianic poems were the ostensibly archaic ghosts who literalized Enlightenment fantasies about this form of historical immortality. In poems by William Wordsworth, John Keats, and Felicia Hemans, historical sensations function as intimations of immortality and as signs of culture's primacy over other forms of class distinction. The essay closes by suggesting that late-twentieth-century film and literary criticism continue to promise their audiences a similar kind of earthly immortality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)237-251
Number of pages15
JournalPMLA
Volume117
Issue numberPART 2
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory

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