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EN954 Romantic Elegy

Running 2022-2023


This module explores elegy and the elegiac from 1780 to the present. It is framed by the premise that the conditions that produced Britain's war with France, the failed revolution, rural poverty and an enclosed and ravaged natural landscape in the late eighteenth century assist in the analysis of our contemporary moment in modernity.

The work of elegy in both then and now attempts a shared project: to justify its expression of despondent sentiment in its formal experiments, political assertions, ideals of faith and community, investment in poetry and private mourning. The module explores this elegiac mode as a way of addressing the brokenness of a society that struggles to invest in a now fragile and threatened concept of the individual.

Until recently, criticism on elegy was dominated by a psychological approach (popularized by Peter Sacks’ Freudian readings of elegy). Current research has politicizd it as a necessary response to human behaviour (R. Clifton Spargo and Judith Butler both insist that elegy is a primarily ethical mode); and more recent work connects elegy to affect theory and religion. The module explores all of these ways of reading elegy.


Elegists studied in previous years include William and Dorothy Wordsworth, John Clare, Matthew Arnold, Christina Rossetti, Alfred Tennyson, Walt Whitman, Thomas Hardy, W. S. Graham, Paul Monette, Roland Barthes, Elizabeth Jennings, Alice Oswald, Susan Howe, Anne Carson, Peter Larkin, Deryn Rees-Jones and Douglas Dunn. The syllabus will be confirmed before the module begins.



Seminars focus on a particular poem or poems. Students are encouraged to read about elegy over the summer: see the Further Reading page for more information.