Why do so many poets in the Romantic period describe themselves as lonely?
Studying the history of the development of the concept of loneliness in British literature can offer some counterintuitive answers to this question. In this talk, Worsley argues that the loneliness of first-generation Romantic poets was not merely a marker of their isolation, egotism, sadness, or failure to engage with other people, so much as an experiment in making new forms of subjectivity and imagined connections between people possible.
Being ‘lonely’ is not the same as being ‘solitary’: lonely poets saw that if loneliness can describe an ineffable feeling of separation among people who are together with others, then writing about it could also, paradoxically, create a sense of connection among people who were separated from each other by time and space. The invention of Romantic loneliness requires meditation on the complex forms of sociability that being part of a reading and writing public entails.
By contrast to recent studies of Romantic sociability, which have been positioned as reactions against the previous critical tendency to focus on solitary masculine poets, Worsley argues that loneliness should itself be considered an evocation of Romantic sociability – and that female and political poets also engage these tropes. Many kinds of Romantic poets were able to embrace loneliness as characteristic of a poetic vocation, where previous poets had not been able to, because they made a joint project of imagining how to be lonely together. In three brief case studies, Worsley explores how William Wordsworth, Charlotte Smith, and Robert Southey figure loneliness in their poetry, and also offer some early modern and Enlightenment examples of loneliness to contrast Romantic loneliness against.
No registration required for this seminar – all are welcome.