Skip to main content

EN966 Literature, Revolution and Print Culture in the 1790s


The origins of British Romantic writing are routinely traced to the Revolution Controversy of the 1790s. This course looks at the revolutionary decade and its literary productions. It takes off by looking at the key texts in the Revolution debate (Burke, Wollstonecraft, Paine, and Godwin) and considers their distinctive ideas and rhetorics, the relation of those ideas to questions of style and circulation, and the extent that they set the terms of what followed. Thereafter, it will look at the influence of the controversy on the emerging poetic careers of Coleridge and Wordsworth, especially in relation to the poetry of the radical leader John Thelwall, and the waythe controversy was fought out in the novel of the 1790s. As far as a ten-week course will allow, the focus will not just on canonical or even obviously ‘literary’ texts, but on print culture more broadly construed, including the pamphlet, broadside, and periodical literature of the popular radical movement (provided in photocopies or online). In the process, it will examine the notion that there was a ‘crisis’ of literature (Paul Keen) in the 1790s out of which modern ideas of the ‘literary’ emerged. This issue will be addressed particularly in the final two weeks of the course, which will look at some of the literature that emerged after the revolutionary decade and its constructions of the ‘literary’ and ‘the public sphere’ in light of the revolutionary crisis of the 1790s.

Primary texts  

Jon Mee and David Fallon, eds., Romanticism and Revolution (Blackwell, 2011)

Novels: Godwin, /Caleb Williams/,;Mary Hays, /Memoirs of Emma Courtney/

Poetry: Coleridge, ‘Fears in Solitude’, ‘Lines written on leaving a Place of Retirement’, ‘Frost at Midnight’; Wordsworth, ‘The Ruined Cottage’, ‘Old Man Travelling’, ‘Preface’ to Lyrical Ballads; Thelwall, ‘Lines written at Bridgwater’

Indicative reading  

Greg Claeys, /The French Revolution Debate in Britain/ (Palgrave Macmillan)

Mary Favret, /Romantic Correspondence: Women, Politics and the Fiction of Letters/ (Cambridge)

Paul Keen, /The Crisis of Literature in the 1790s/ (Cambridge)

revised_outline.docx