Wordsworth's Gothic and the mournful imagination
Spencer, Kara Audrey.
Thesis (M.A.)--Georgetown University, 2010.; Includes bibliographical references.; Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format. As a historical form, the gothic novel flourished during William Wordsworth's lifetime (1770-1850). In his youth, Wordsworth read poets such as James Beattie, Helen Maria Williams, Charlotte Smith, Robert Blair, and Edward Young, and practiced his own hand at gothic poetry. His first published poem, "Sonnet, on Seeing Helen Maria Williams Weep at a Tale of Distress" (1786), traces a gothic fantasy that still pales in comparison to that within the most ambitious poem of his youth, The Vale of Esthwaite. Despite these gothic roots, modern critics have generally supposed that Wordsworth's experimentation with the gothic mode was limited to his early poems; that his juvenile interest in the gothic ended once he became interested in the higher art of poetic naturalism.; To be sure, Wordsworth would go on to make pronouncements against gothic literature, most famously in the preface to the 1800 Lyrical Ballads. For Wordsworth, the gothic was lowly art--sensational, debased productions detrimental to the taste and morality of readers. Still, much of Wordsworth's mature writing reflects the mode that he militated against. His poetry, in Lyrical Ballads and beyond, includes sensational elements such as ghosts, madness, and epic despair. Even his masterpiece, The Prelude, is haunted by a presence recognizable as his own deceased father. Wordsworth's early experimentation with the gothic, and later philosophical rejection of it, has become the common critical summary of a relationship that is hardly this simple.; This thesis lays out some connections between Wordsworth and the gothic novel, connections that seem most striking to me and most important to the larger task of understanding the complex yet undertreated relationship between these two literary forces. To this end, we will examine some of Wordsworth's more gothic texts in an attempt to make sense of the presence of gothic material in the poetry of a man that detested the gothic. By doing so, we discover that Wordsworth's use of the gothic mode is inextricably linked to his unique position as a troubled mourner, that is, one who has suffered inexorable loss and has come to a stopping point in the process of mourning.; Specifically, Wordsworth's early failure to mourn the loss of his father properly put him in a position to understand the psychological ramifications of troubled mourning, such as the imagination's tendency to present spectral images of the object of grief in one's surroundings--a phenomenon described by Freud in Mourning and Melancholia. According to Freud, individuals might cling to lost objects through acts of "hallucinatory wishful psychosis"--that is to say that those in mourning are likely to see ghosts, as this is symptomatic of deep loss.; Wordsworth was defined by his identity as a mourner, and, in turn, he wrote about characters that mourned. As a result, his poetry often features mourners haunted by spectral images, which account for a great deal of the gothicism contained within his poetry. As a man who explored his own irrevocable loss again and again through verse, Wordsworth's poetry simply could not contain his concerns without tapping into the gothic.
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