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EN954 Romantic Elegy

Professor Emma Mason

Not running 2019–2020


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), whereas current research tends to politicize it as a necessary response to human behaviour (R. Clifton Spargo and Judith Butler both insist that elegy is a primarily ethical mode). The module addresses both approaches, as well as modern theories of elegy associated with the 'affective turn' and affect theory.


Elegists studied include William and Dorothy Wordsworth, John Clare, Matthew Arnold, Christina Rossetti, Alfred Tennyson, Walt Whitman, Thomas Hardy, W. S. Graham, Paul Monette, Elizabeth Jennings, Alice Oswald, Susan Howe, Anne Carson, Peter Larkin, Deryn Rees-Jones and Douglas Dunn.



Seminars focus on a particular text in relation to critical extracts. Discussion will focus on, but will not be limited to, the texts indicated on the syllabus and students are encouraged to prepare for the course by reading widely on the subject of elegy. See the Further Reading page for more information.