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The connection between politics and magic largely faded from view in eighteenth-century Britain, as it became socially unacceptable in elite circles to show interest in the supernatural. However, the apparent support of some mystical prophets for the French Revolution re-engaged the government’s interest, and a tradition of ‘mystical nationalism’ was born at this time (influenced by William Blake) that would go on to influence British politics to the present day. Elite interest in ritual magic returned at the end of the nineteenth century, sometimes connected with traditionalist and ultra-conservative political views. In the Second World War notorious magician Aleister Crowley attempted to offer magical advice to Winston Churchill, and magicians claimed to have performed rites against the enemy, while the politically motivated conviction of the Spiritualist medium Helen Duncan resurrected the 1736 Witchcraft Act. By the 1980s extreme politics in Britain had a magical fringe. The British far right, in particular, drew on earlier traditions of ‘mystical nationalism’. British royalty’s fascination with magic likewise continued in the twentieth century. Belief in magic remains an undercurrent in British political life to the present day, far less prominent than it was four centuries ago but nevertheless present, and sometimes influential in unexpected ways.
The link between religion and Romantic poetry has long and recurrently been recognized. The present chapter, however, argues that this link is philologically comprised, with Romantics poetically investing in global religious traditions via acts of linguistic recovery. Invoking Robert Lowth’s lectures on biblical poetry as its precedent, this chapter explores three representative case studies of Romantic poetic engagement with sacred literatures from the Middle East, as well as later Middle Eastern-language renditions of Romantic poets, surveying William Blake’s Hebrew prophecies, Thomas Moore’s Islamicate receptions, and Lord Byron’s Armenian pilgrimages.
The history of art in the Romantic period has usually been considered in secularized terms, with a focus on the genres of portraiture and landscape, and the impact of commercialization and public exhibitions. Religious painting was produced in Britain in these decades, including decorations and altarpieces for Anglican churches by Benjamin West, Henry Thomson, and even the landscape painter John Constable. In fact, religious pictures were produced more frequently and with greater ambition in the early nineteenth century than hitherto. Meanwhile, dissenting and esoteric faith commitments influenced the output of several significant artists, most notably William Blake. This essay explores the major changes in British religious art of the period and reflects on the reasons why religious images have been so often overlooked by mainstream art history.
This chapter outlines the work of music for Romantic literature. The Romantic era was a pivotal period in the formation of literature as we now tend to understand it, as a category of imaginative and expressive prose and poetry, and writers deployed music in a number of ways to explore the power, limits, and nature of the literary. While lofty claims were made for literature as an ideal art form, one of the strongest uses of music for literature was to suggest its failures – to indicate kinds of freedom, fulfilment, and plenitude only pointed to by verbal language. The paradoxical uses of failure are discussed in this chapter through texts by writers including Blake, Kleist, Hoffmann, Coleridge, and Mérimée.
While Gothic scholars of the last two or three decades have explored forms of Gothic sensation, spectacle or visuality, they have generally had as their focus illustrations, caricature prints, graphic ephemera and advertising material rather than oil paintings and watercolours by the famous artists associated with Romanticism. This chapter considers precisely those works of art that have defined Romanticism. The more circumscribed notion of art and the artist associated with the ‘autonomisation’ of art around 1800 is here tied to the emergence of Gothic forms and themes within painting. It is argued that it is more than coincidental that the chronology of the original phase of Gothic literary and cultural production matches that of the development of aesthetics as philosophical discourse, and the ‘invention of art’ as a relatively autonomous field of activity. That a full-blooded Gothic art subsequently resurfaces only intermittently in the history of ‘high art’ exposes not only the volatility and inconstancy of Gothic culture, or the irreconcilability of the Gothic and art, but also the general ambivalence towards the indeterminacies of art in the modern era.
This chapter is an exposition of a visionary, apocalyptic perspective in Christian intellectual history of the early modern period which contrasts with a mainstream mistrust of apocalyptic claims. Discussion of Anne Hutchinson, Gerrard Winstanley, and William Blake concludes with a consideration of the centrality of such an apocalyptic perspective in the New Testament.
This chapter traces the growth of Chaucer’s reputation from the early eighteenth century through the Romantic period. It begins with Dryden’s free modernisations that helped to popularise Chaucer’s works, examines the effects of John Urry’s 1721 edition, and looks closely at the groundbreaking linguistic and editorial work of Thomas Tyrrwhitt, who was the first to edit Chaucer’s verse from the manuscripts, and explained for the first time both the grammar and pronunciation of Chaucer’s Middle English, as well as an explanation of his metre. Tyrrwhitt’s edition generated new interest in Chaucer among the Romantic poets, especially evident in William Blake’s “Canterbury Pilgrims,” the modernisations of Chaucer written by William Wordsworth, Leigh Hunt and Elizabeth Barrett, and the dubious effort by the literary hacks R. H. Horne and Thomas Powell to publish a new set of Chaucer modernisations in 1841.
However well-regarded Chaucer’s works were during his lifetime, it was his immediate successors who fashioned him into the ‘father of English poetry’ they then bequeathed to the subsequent English literary tradition. In particular, the poets Thomas Hoccleve and John Lydgate not only represented Chaucer in this manner in their own, widely disseminated works, they were also instrumental in the broad dissemination of Chaucer’s works. Importantly, these activities were motivated not just by admiration but also by a politico-literary context in which Hoccleve and Lydgate, unlike Chaucer, were asked to produce works that spoke both for a prince and to a prince. Their invention of Chaucer’s literary authority cannot then be separated from their intervention into politics, and this conflation they also bequeathed to the English literary tradition, where it remained plainly visible in the works of their own successors, and where it persists, more obscurely, to the present.
This chapter investigates the effect of climate change (along with the host of other anthropogenic effects on the planet that now fall under the rubric of the Anthropocene) on the concept of extinction, particularly, human extinction. Whereas previous concepts of human extinction - from religious apocalyptic to Darwinian evolutionary discourses - were capable of imagining extinction as an event of grandeur and promise of something greater, extinction in the Anthropocene is figured as a moment of profound and abject loss, namely, the loss not just of humans but of particular configuration of capitalist comfort and consumerism. This chapter examines the history of this now dominant perception of extinction, via Enlightenment, Romantic and modernist thought.
This chapter outlines the emergence of climate fiction and its key modes. It pays particular attention to the extent to which climate fiction has worked within the established conventions of literary realism, meeting the many representational challenges mounted by climate change. While it considers the extent to which realism is able to render the abstract and intangible phenomenon of climate change visible, it argues that there is also a significant body of writing on the subject which turns to alternative forms and narrative strategies in the effort to represent climate change, and manages to overcome some of the limitations of realism. In other words, where climate fiction meets the challenges of representing climate change, it has the potential to provide a space in which to address the Anthropocene’s emotional, ethical, and practical concerns.
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