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Title:Romantic Historicism and the Afterlife
Author(s):Underwood, Ted
Subject(s):historicism, romanticism, cultural distinction, James Macpherson, New Historicism
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 both 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.
Issue Date:2002
Publisher:Modern Language Association
Citation Info:Ted Underwood, "Romantic Historicism and the Afterlife," PMLA 117 (2002): 237-51.
Publication Status:published or submitted for publication
Peer Reviewed:is peer reviewed
Date Available in IDEALS:2013-08-12

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