The material sublime of women romantic poets.
Of all the qualities of Art, the sublime is that which appears to be the most vague, irregular, and undefined... for those who talk rationally on other subjects, no sooner touch on this, than they go off in a literary delirium delirium
Condition of disorientation, confused thinking, and rapid alternation between mental states. The patient is restless, cannot concentrate, and undergoes emotional changes (e.g., anxiety, apathy, euphoria), sometimes with hallucinations. ; fancy themselves, like Longinus, "the great sublime they draw," and rave like Methodists, of inward lights, and enthusiastic emotions, which, if you cannot comprehend, you are set down as un-illumined by the grace of criticism, and excluded from the elect of Taste.
- Martin Shee, Elements of Art The elements of art are a set of techniques which describe ways of presenting artwork. They are combined with the principles of art in the production of art. 
Any attempt to understand the complex position of women poets in the intertextual in·ter·tex·tu·al
Relating to or deriving meaning from the interdependent ways in which texts stand in relation to each other.
in network of British Romanticism must take into account the gendered tropes of the sublime which circumscribe cir·cum·scribe
tr.v. cir·cum·scribed, cir·cum·scrib·ing, cir·cum·scribes
1. To draw a line around; encircle.
2. To limit narrowly; restrict.
3. To determine the limits of; define. the aesthetic possibilities of female authorship in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries.(1) Historically, the aesthetic discourse of sublimity has been articulated through an idiom of teleological tel·e·ol·o·gy
n. pl. tel·e·ol·o·gies
1. The study of design or purpose in natural phenomena.
2. The use of ultimate purpose or design as a means of explaining phenomena.
3. belatedness in which critics have assumed that the ambiguous applications to which their contemporaries put the term "sublime" necessitated the recovery of the sublime's original - and therefore (so the assumption goes) primary - signification SIGNIFICATION, French law. The notice given of a decree, sentence or other judicial act. . The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries witnessed a myriad of essays and inquiries (by such thinkers as John Dennis John Dennis is a name that may refer to:
Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (Marbach am Neckar, November 10, 1759 – May 9, 1805 in Weimar) was a German poet, philosopher, historian, and dramatist. , and Immanuel Kant) attempting to reformulate Verb 1. reformulate - formulate or develop again, of an improved theory or hypothesis
formulate, explicate, develop - elaborate, as of theories and hypotheses; "Could you develop the ideas in your thesis" and refine Nicolas Boileau-Despreaux's popular seventeenth-century translation of Dionysius Longinus. Consistent among these disparate redefinitions, however, is a set of rhetorical maneuvers concurrently establishing the sublime as a tropological and phenomenological index of masculinity while representing female experiences and articulations of sublimity as "unnatural."
In the twentieth century, the Romantic critical tradition extending from Rene Wellek, M. H. Abrams, and Harold Bloom '''
Harold Bloom (born July 11, 1930) is an American professor and prominent literary and cultural critic. Bloom defended 19th-century Romantic poets at a time when their reputations stood at a low ebb, has constructed controversial theories of poetic influence, and to Geoffrey Hartman Geoffrey H. Hartman (b. 1929) is a German born American literary theorist, sometimes identified with the Yale School of deconstruction, but also characterized as something of an individualist and maverick. He was born in Germany, in an Ashkenazi Jewish family. and Thomas Weiskel has reiterated this strategy by selecting, from the sublime's varied and often conflicting historical representations, only those formulations reinforcing the mythic identity of the self-begotten male poet and his ability, as Weiskel puts it, to "transcend the human."(2) Traditional Romantic scholarship, according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. Marilyn Butler, Clifford Siskin, and Jerome McGann, has chosen the aesthetic ideals of a handful of male poets to create the definitive standard against which other writers of the period are now evaluated. In creating this standard, Romantic studies have been "dominated" by what McGann describes as "an uncritical absorption in Romanticism's own self-representations," and when Romantic scholarship valorizes "'creativity,' imagination' or 'expressiveness,'" as Siskin argues, it joins William Wordsworth "in taking the 'mind of Man' to be the 'main haunt and region' of our 'song.'"(3) More recently, Orrin Wang has likewise observed that Romanticism "has arguably always been a cultural invention, a historical and literary phenomenon that has always necessarily been theorized."(4) In the traditional six-poet Romanticism that these and other critics describe, the sublime reaches its conceptual apex in Wordsworth, and the Mount Snowdon episode from Book XIII of The Prelude (1805) with its powerful image of the poetic mind transcending its own physical limitations has come to represent the quintessentially sublime response of the human imagination to the overwhelming power of nature.(5)
In recent years this paradigm has not gone unquestioned. Feminist critics in particular have challenged this popularized version of the Romantic sublime by formulating alternative aesthetic discourses of Romanticism to explain the absence of articulations of transcendental sublimity in the works of women Romantic writers. Most notably, Anne Mellor has persuasively argued that women writers make use of what she has termed a "feminine" or "domestic sublime" to celebrate their unbroken, archetypal ar·che·type
1. An original model or type after which other similar things are patterned; a prototype: "'Frankenstein' . . . 'Dracula' . . . 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' . . . bond with the natural world, a bond that their male contemporaries have lost.(6) In the context of Mellor's arguments, the transcendental or "masculine" sublime represents the male writer's desire to control the natural world, a world from which he feels alienated and by which he feels threatened; through transcendence, the male writer seeks to escape the confines of the physical world in order to rejoin, on a "higher" spiritual/intellectual level, an idealized nature that he has subdued. Mellor's "feminine sublime" echoes the early feminist theories of Carol Gilligan and Nancy Chodorow and perpetuates the essentialist assumption that women participate in an unbroken continuum that connects them, through the reproductive capacities of their bodies, to the natural world, to Nature as Mother, it is this rootedness in the physical world that gives women Romantic poets a heightened sense of social responsibility and a greater awareness of the material repercussions repercussions npl → répercussions fpl
repercussions npl → Auswirkungen pl of their writings. By contrast, the discourse of sublimity articulated by male Romantics can only be seen as necessarily bound up with the male writer's reluctance to face the quotidian quotidian /quo·tid·i·an/ (kwo-tid´e-an) recurring every day; see malaria.
Recurring daily. Used especially of attacks of malaria. consequences of pursuing radical ideals such as free love, spontaneous emotion, and political revolution.(7) Barbara Claire Freeman has responded to the essentialist limitations of the feminine sublime by insisting that it does not represent an "innate femininity or unique style of women's writing," but in her own argument the dichotomy remains: "Unlike the masculinist sublime that seeks to master, appropriate, or colonize col·o·nize
v. col·o·nized, col·o·niz·ing, col·o·niz·es
1. To form or establish a colony or colonies in.
2. To migrate to and settle in; occupy as a colony.
3. the other, I propose that the politics of the feminine sublime involves taking up a position of respect in response to an incalculable otherness."(8)
The problem for contemporary Romantic scholarship is that the "feminine sublime" of Mellor and Freeman is unable to account for the ambivalent responses to nature's power that appear in poems such as Dorothy Wordsworth's "The Floating Island."(9) In this account of a slip of land that has broken away from the shoreline at Hawkshead, the speaker solemnly recognizes the destructive processes of nature, which "though we mark her not, / Will take away - may cease to give" (lines 19-20), and the poem predicts that this island, "a peopled world... in size a tiny room" (line 16), is fated to be "buried beneath the glittering Lake! / Its place no longer found" (lines 25-6). In contrast to William's conviction in "Tintern Abbey" that "Nature never did betray / The heart that loved her,"(10) Dorothy's own experience teaches her that the natural world, in which "Harmonious Powers with Nature work / On sky, earth, river, lake, and sea" (lines 1-2), necessitates random acts of destruction in order "to fertilize some other ground" (line 28). This seemingly subversive manipulation of those same tropes that usually lead to articulations of transcendence in male-authored Romantic poems represents a technique employed by many women poets of the period. However, this strategy is not an essentially "feminine" discourse of the sublime; rather, it calls upon another discourse of sublimity, the discourse of a "material sublime" that was already in circulation during the Romantic period. If, as I will argue, the rhetorical success of the transcendental sublime is dependent upon the poet's successful suppression of encroaching material forces in Romantic texts, then the "material sublime" denotes those moments either when the physical world announces itself within the textual gesture toward transcendence, effectively disrupting the act of suppression, or when the text itself foregrounds the materiality upon which the sublime experience is based.
The idea of transformation lies at the heart of all theories of sublimity, following the rediscovery of Longinus in the seventeenth century; a sublime encounter with a terrible or awe-inspiring object transforms the simple reactions of fear and terror into something altogether different, something unexpected and paradoxical. In gothic and sensationalist sen·sa·tion·al·ism
a. The use of sensational matter or methods, especially in writing, journalism, or politics.
b. Sensational subject matter.
c. Interest in or the effect of such subject matter. versions of sublimity, the poet or novelist transforms ordinary terror into a thrilling form of pleasure that usually makes no pretensions to transcendence. Romantic poets working in the discourse of the transcendental sublime attempt to transform awe or fear into an epiphany of spiritual self-awareness and imaginative empowerment. In the twentieth century, Marxist critics describe the sublime as a therapeutic process through which the prosperous middle class transforms aesthetic experiences of fear into a vicarious vicarious /vi·car·i·ous/ (vi-kar´e-us)
1. acting in the place of another or of something else.
2. occurring at an abnormal site.
1. form of spiritual labor that supplants the purgative purgative /pur·ga·tive/ (purg´it-iv) cathartic (1, 2).
An agent used for purging the bowels.
Tending to cause evacuation of the bowels. benefits offered by physical work.(11) Psychoanalytic formulations of sublimity, by such theorists as Neil Hertz and Slavoj Zizek, blend Lacanian psychoanalysis with semiotics to describe the sublime as the point of semantic saturation where the apparent breakdown in the network of representation leads, not to confusion, but rather to a transcendent meaning beyond signification itself.(12) Regardless of their varied theoretical underpinnings, at some point these disparate formulations of the sublime all involve a denial of, or a turning away from, the powerful, material source of awe, terror, or linguistic/psychological saturation that has initiated the sublime experience, and a turning inward to locate within the self an analogue to this external power. But there are also instances in the discourses of sublimity where the transformative turn away from the feeling of terror is paradoxically accompanied by a turn toward the material source of that same terror; these are the transformations encompassed by the material sublime.(13)
In the works of many women writers during the Romantic period, the material sublime transforms fear and anxiety into feelings of commiseration or identification with the material world, resulting in a moment of personal defiance, empowerment, or self-realization. As an aesthetic strategy, the material sublime is not employed by all women writers, and those writers who participate in the discourse of the material sublime do not always do so in the same manner; it is, therefore, not a uniformly or exclusively feminine technique. The reason for this ambiguity is that the material sublime is not a discrete aesthetic category distinct from or diametrically di·a·met·ri·cal also di·a·met·ric
1. Of, relating to, or along a diameter.
2. Exactly opposite; contrary.
di opposed to the transcendental sublime. Rather, the material sublime is always already embedded within the discourse of the transcendental sublime, and as such it is also already incorporated in the texts of male Romantic writers. But whereas the emergence of the material sublime signals a disruption in male writing, its deployment becomes a prominent strategy for many women writers struggling against an aesthetic ideology bent on masculinizing the discourse of transcendental sublimity.(14)
In Romantic poetry by women, the material sublime takes many forms, most often beginning, like the transcendental sublime, as an encounter with something terrible, overwhelming, or awe-inspiring in nature. The dialectic of self-other typically structuring this encounter with nature's power is not dissolved through a synthesizing moment of transcendence, as it is in many male-authored descriptions of the sublime; instead, the dynamics of the material sublime underscore the tension of this self-other relationship in order to stress the identity of the self as a conscious and distinct participant in the dialectic. Among women writers of the Romantic period, the fore-grounding of materiality in articulations of the sublime represents not only the textual incorporation of the culturally inscribed codes of female bodiliness, but also the rhetorical means by which these writers could announce their presence within the proscribed PROSCRIBED, civil law. Among the Romans, a man was said to be proscribed when a reward was offered for his head; but the term was more usually applied to those who were sentenced to some punishment which carried with it the consequences of civil death. Code, 9; 49. aesthetic discourse of Romanticism.
Twentieth-century Romantic criticism has responded to non-transcendental accounts of the sublime either by dismissing them as disarticulations or by labeling them as lesser offshoots from the main branch of an aesthetics of transcendence. Weiskel writes that the "gothic sort of writing" is the sublime's "bastard scion sci·on
1. A descendant or heir.
2. also ci·on A detached shoot or twig containing buds from a woody plant, used in grafting. " and this comment is indicative of the critical tradition that has elevated articulations of transcendence above other expressions of sublimity.(15) It has already been theorized by feminist and New Historicist criticism that the transcendental sublime in British Romanticism demarcates an exclusively masculine realm of discourse, in which the poet, through the sudden expansion of his imagination, responds to the overwhelming power of the natural world by crediting himself with momentarily overspilling the finitude fin·i·tude
The quality or condition of being finite.
Noun 1. finitude - the quality of being finite
boundedness, finiteness of his own corporeal Possessing a physical nature; having an objective, tangible existence; being capable of perception by touch and sight.
Under Common Law, corporeal hereditaments are physical objects encompassed in land, including the land itself and any tangible object on it, that can be existence. But the success of this transcendental moment, I argue, is predicated upon the unacknowledged suppression of the material world and its physical limitations. Theories of the transcendental sublime concurrently associate the figure of woman with physical limitation, troping her as the embodiment of the body, in order to advance a masculine discursive strategy for gaining physically unencumbered access to the infinite. However, the concurrent suppression of both the material world and the feminine body has been overshadowed, in aesthetic theories of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, by the dominant psychology of transcendence, which emphasizes the supposed universality of one discourse of sublimity at the expense of the other discourses that its historical constructions have specifically excluded.
Before examining some of the crucial moments in the history of the sublime, I want to stress that I am not making the essentialist claim that Romantic women writers are incapable of, uninterested in, or ethically opposed to the psychology of transcendence or to the phenomenological realm that it demarcates; such assertions are beyond the scope of my present argument, which aims at historicizing the sublime as a discursive strategy. To put it simply, whether or not men and women can actually experience something called the "sublime" when they gaze at a mountain or witness a violent storm is a question for psychoanalysis and points to a highly subjective and affective inquiry that should be kept distinct from an investigation of the sublime as a discursive aesthetic category in the Romantic period. Weiskel assumes that "any aesthetic, pressed beyond a certain point, becomes or implies a psychology," but I want to examine the textual moments prior to that at which "the sublime makes every man his own psychologist" in order to historicize his·tor·i·cize
v. his·tor·i·cized, his·tor·i·ciz·ing, his·tor·i·ciz·es
To make or make appear historical.
To use historical details or materials. a network of discourses that are at once more diffuse and more interwoven in·ter·weave
v. in·ter·wove , in·ter·wo·ven , inter·weav·ing, inter·weaves
1. To weave together.
2. To blend together; intermix.
v.intr. than the monolithic paradigm of transcendence allows us to see.(16)
The heterosexist discourse running through the strategic containment and disempowerment of women in late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century theories of the sublime can be found already at work in Longinus's On the Sublime. Longinus's text is concerned less with the psychology of aesthetic experience than with the rhetorical art of persuasion, and he tells his students that they must imitate the "great writing" of earlier generations if they wish to move or transport their own audiences. The origins of the sublime may seem far removed from its Romantic and modern formulations as an exclusively transcendental experience, but Longinus's analogy for the inspiration that is transmitted through sublime writing links the sublime with one of the root metaphors, in Western aesthetics, for poetic creation.
For hence it is, that numbers of imitators are ravished RAVISHED, pleadings. In indictments for rape, this technical word must be introduced, for no other word, nor any circumlocution, will answer the purpose. The defendant should be charged with having "feloniously ravished" the prosecutrix, or woman mentioned in the indictment. Bac. Ab. and transported by a spirit not their own, like the Pythian Priestess, when she approaches the sacred tripod. There is, if Fame speaks true, a Chasm in the Earth, from whence exhale exhale /ex·hale/ (eks´hal) to breathe out.
1. To breathe out.
2. To emit a gas, vapor, or odor. Divine evaporations, which impregnate im·preg·nate
1. To make pregnant; to cause to conceive; inseminate.
2. To fertilize an ovum.
3. To fill throughout; saturate. her on a sudden with the inspiration of her god, and cause her the utterance of oracles and predictions. So from the sublime spirit of the ancients there arise some fine effluvia, like vapours from the sacred vents, which work themselves insensibly in·sen·si·ble
a. Imperceptible; inappreciable: an insensible change in temperature.
b. Very small or gradual: insensible movement. into the breasts of imitators, and fill those, who naturally are not of a towering genius, with the lofty ideas and fire of others.(17)
For Longinus, inspiration is an act akin to divine impregnation impregnation /im·preg·na·tion/ (im?preg-na´shun)
2. saturation (1).
1. the act of fertilizing or rendering pregnant.
2. saturation. , and male poets analogously re-enact this procreative pro·cre·a·tive
1. Capable of reproducing; generative.
2. Of or directed to procreation. moment by emulating each other, homosocially masking the intervention of a priestess in the creation of literary texts. The classical image of writing as a heterosexual (yet exclusively masculine) procreative act accompanies the concept throughout its subjective codification The collection and systematic arrangement, usually by subject, of the laws of a state or country, or the statutory provisions, rules, and regulations that govern a specific area or subject of law or practice. in the works of Burke, Kant, and later theorists. Even the very image of inspiration as a preternatural vapor that impregnates the faithful poet with lofty visions survives in the Romantic period in such metaphors as the "unfather'd vapour" of Wordsworth's imagination in The Prelude.(18)
In what are usually considered the major documents of the sublime for Romanticism,(19) Burke's A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757) and Kant's Critique of Judgment (1799), the discursive containment and usurpation Usurpation
presumptuously assumed David’s throne before Solomon’s investiture. [O.T.: I Kings 1:5–10]
takeover of Austria (1938). [Eur. Hist. of female sexuality generates both an aesthetic concept that guarantees the rhetorical viability of masculine transcendence and a social code that ensures the propagation of human society. Burke's formulation of the sublime is almost as distant, in its theoretical orientation, from the transcendental sublime of Wordsworth, as it is from the more rhetorical concerns of Longinus, but Burke codifies the sexual tensions implicit in earlier theories of sublimity, and this codification persists in Romantic aesthetics. The logical structure of his argument generates a series of basic oppositions which characterize the sublime as a Foucauldian discourse of power. No one can claim to possess the sublime, in the manner that one can possess physical beauty; one can only experience and express this power. For Burke, as well as for the male Romantic poets, the site of this power is the point of conflict between such oppositions as self and other, imagination and nature, the terrible and the beautiful, and male and female.
Burke's definition of the sublime contains few hints of the creative transcendence that has become the defining characteristic of sublimity for most twentieth-century readers. Instead, he is primarily concerned with explaining the means by which an experience of terror brings about sensations of pleasure. The capacity for instilling terror, therefore, becomes the defining characteristic of sublime objects: "Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant CONVERSANT. One who is in the habit of being in a particular place, is said to be conversant there. Barnes, 162. about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime."(20) In order for the paradoxical transformation from terror to delight to occur, the materiality of the sublime's source must be erased, forgotten, or suppressed, and in Burke's treatise this suppression is effected under the rubric RUBRIC, civil law. The title or inscription of any law or statute, because the copyists formerly drew and painted the title of laws and statutes rubro colore, in red letters. Ayl. Pand. B. 1, t. 8; Diet. do Juris. h.t. of "distance." According to Burke, the subject must place a safe distance between himself and the terrible object if an experience of sublimity is to be possible. "When danger or pain press to [sic] nearly, they are incapable of giving any delight, and are simply terrible; but at certain distances, and with certain modifications, they may be, and they are delightful, as we every day experience" (p. 40). The central paradox of the sublime is that the same material forces constituting the initiating experiences of sublimity are at the same time, if left unchecked, a source of disruption to transcendence. "Distance" is the means by which Burke suppresses this disruption.
The emphasis that Burke places on the need for physical distance between the terrifying object and the subject experiencing the sublime remains a consistent stipulation in Romantic formulations of sublimity. In a passage that Wordsworth left out of the final version of A Guide through the District of the Lakes (1835), he concludes that "it may be confidently affirmed that no sublimity can be raised by the contemplation of such power when it presses upon us with pain and individual fear to a degree which takes precedence in our thoughts [over] the power itself."(21) Likewise, Kant argues that "one who is in a state of fear can no more play the part of a judge of the sublime of nature than one captivated cap·ti·vate
tr.v. cap·ti·vat·ed, cap·ti·vat·ing, cap·ti·vates
1. To attract and hold by charm, beauty, or excellence. See Synonyms at charm.
2. Archaic To capture. by inclination and appetite can be of the beautiful."(22) Kant's theory necessitates the suppression of material danger in experiences of the sublime because the threat of physical harm interferes with the purely intellectual task of aesthetics. But despite the theoretical necessity of Kantian "disinterestedness" and Burkean "distance," not all theorists agreed that it was possible to derive pleasure from pain while simultaneously erasing the physical threat that the pain itself signified. In 1798, Joanna Baillie, alarmed at the sadistic sa·dism
1. The deriving of sexual gratification or the tendency to derive sexual gratification from inflicting pain or emotional abuse on others.
2. The deriving of pleasure, or the tendency to derive pleasure, from cruelty. implications of deriving pleasure from pain, introduced the idea of the "sympathetic curiosity" to explain that people enjoyed witnessing the suffering of others in order to gain a greater appreciation of the extent of human fortitude.(23) In the early nineteenth century, Richard Payne Knight argued that since "corporeal pain and physical evil are [according to Burke] the means of the sublime, and self-preservation its principle," the Burkean system inevitably "leads directly to materialism."(24) As Baillie and Knight show, materialism becomes a recurring conceptual dilemma for theorists of the sublime; although it plays a necessary part in the dialectical construction of sublimity, its continued presence poses a threat to the success of the dialectic's transcendental resolution.
In addition to the physical dangers that threaten to disrupt the pleasure of the sublime experience that they themselves initiate, Burke also identifies a second source of disruption for the sublime: beauty. For Burke, the category of the beautiful serves several important purposes: it demarcates the limits of the sublime, maintains the social order by transforming lust into love, distinguishes feminine from male characteristics, and provides the material sign of female submissiveness. Burke defines beauty not only in aesthetic terms, but in terms of its utilitarian effects as well. Whereas the sublime promotes self-preservation, beauty guarantees the propagation of the human race by making women physically attractive to men. "By beauty I mean, that quality or those qualities in bodies by which they cause love, or some passion similar to it" (p. 91). More importantly, for Burke beauty is also the sign of weakness inscribed on women's bodies: "so far is perfection, considered as such, from being the cause of beauty, that this quality, where it is the highest in the female sex, almost always carries with it an idea of weakness and imperfection im·per·fec·tion
1. The quality or condition of being imperfect.
2. Something imperfect; a defect or flaw. See Synonyms at blemish.
1. " (p. 110). Since the strong passions of the sublime are beyond the limits of female experience, Burke's formulation ensures that a woman can seek her own self-preservation only by relying upon the sublimity of her husband, whose fidelity is secured by the beauty of her submissiveness.
But while beauty makes women attractive to their sublime husbands, it also poses a great threat to male autonomy: the "smoothness," "softness," and the "insensible INSENSIBLE. In the language of pleading, that which is unintelligible is said to be insensible. Steph. Pl. 378. swell" of a woman's "neck and breasts" form a "deceitful maze, through which the unsteady eye glides giddily" (p. 115). Burke inscribes deceit onto the beautiful female body, a body that he considers the most dangerous at precisely those places where he regards it as being the most beautiful, the most sexually arousing. The beauty of the female body threatens male self-preservation because it undermines the disinterestedness required for the pursuit of the sublime. But Burke is careful to assert that the disruptive capacity of female beauty does not itself represent a form of power, because the "beauty of women is considerably owing to their weakness, or delicacy, and is seen enhanced by their timidity, a quality of mind analogous to it" (p. 116).
These heterosexist views are not singular to Burke, but rather are part of a historically gendered aesthetic which reflects and spills over into its social and cultural context. A half-century before Burke, Dennis set out to "restore Poetry to all its Greatness, and to all its Innocence."(25) Credited by Samuel Monk with being the first Englishman to focus specifically on the subjective, emotional aspect of the sublime, Dennis insists that passion is the defining aspect of the sublime, and his brief definition looks to a violently charged sexual metaphor to express the effects of this passion: "it gives a noble Vigour to Discourse, an invincible force which commits a pleasing Rape upon the very soul of the Reader; that whenever it breaks out where it ought to do, like the artillery of Jove, it Thunders and blazes and strikes at once, and shews all the united force of a Writer."(26) In Dennis, the misogyny misogyny /mi·sog·y·ny/ (mi-soj´i-ne) hatred of women.
Hatred of women.
mi·sog inherent in the historical discourse of sublimity manifests itself as an aggressive sexual act that is supposed to be "pleasing" to the feminized soul of the male reader. Although women are theoretically denied access to the discourse of the sublime because they inhabit the antithetical an·ti·thet·i·cal also an·ti·thet·ic
1. Of, relating to, or marked by antithesis.
2. Being in diametrical opposition. See Synonyms at opposite. realm of the beautiful, the submission required of the male during the initiating, overwhelming experiences that eventually lead to sublime transcendence necessitates the discursive feminization feminization /fem·i·ni·za·tion/ (fem?i-ni-za´shun)
1. the normal development of primary and secondary sex characters in females.
2. the induction or development of female secondary sex characters in the male. of the male's soul in order to preserve the masculine autonomy and authority needed afterward for articulating the experience itself.
In contrast to the complex theoretical abstractions of The Critique of Judgment, Kant's earlier work on the sublime, Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, a work often overlooked or dismissed on account of its informal, uncritical style, is filled with examples and metaphors that clearly participate in the sexualized aesthetics of the time. "The fair sex," Kant asserts, "has just as much understanding as the male, but it is a beautiful understanding, whereas ours should be a deep understanding, an expression that signifies identity with the sublime."(27) A sublime or "deep" understanding is inappropriate for women, because it interferes with their ability to remain attractive to men: "a woman who has a head full of Greek... or carries on fundamental controversies about mechanics . . . might as well have a beard."(28) According to Kant, women are not intellectually incapable of sublime thoughts, but the powerful emotions and intellectual rigors that men experience in the sublime would prove disfiguring to a woman's overall appearance, the beauty of which must be preserved in order to attract a husband. While men pursue the infinite, "the sublimity of [a woman's] soul shows itself only in that she knows to treasure these noble qualities as far as they are found in him."(29) For Kant, then, a woman who pursues the heights of the sublime actually deprives herself of her only access to it because the only "feminine" sublime is a vicarious one.
Male writers were not alone in perpetuating the gendered bias of the sublime. Frances Reynolds, sister to Sir Joshua Reynolds, maintains the distinction that the "softness and mildness of the feminine expression would be displeasing in a man," and likewise "robust and determined expression of the rigid virtues, justice, fortitude, & c. would be displeasing in a woman."(30) In accordance with eighteenth-century essentialist ideology, she insists that it "is the feminine character that is the sweetest, the most interesting, image of beauty; the masculine partakes of the sublime."(31) What is most significant about Reynolds's essay is that even at the late date at which she is writing, 1785, there are still versions of sublimity in circulation that involve neither transcendence of the human mind nor the usurpation of nature's powers. Reynolds's sublime is a religious one; it finds its initiating experiences in the same objects that point the way to transcendence for other writers, but for Reynolds these experiences culminate in the discovery of "Grace." Reynolds's sublime, like the material sublime, is another of the strategies that women employed in circumventing the forbidden discourse of transcendence, but whereas the religious sublime is often linked to other, spiritual interests that are quite removed from the aesthetic discourse of sublimity, the material sublime is itself a product of the same discourse that seeks to masculinize mas·cu·lin·ize
1. To give a masculine appearance or character to.
2. To cause a female to assume masculine characteristics, as through hormonal imbalance. transcendental sublimity. What is at stake in the aesthetic of the sublime, for Burke, Kant, and Wordsworth alike, is the power to observe, to judge, and to articulate, but the power to speak of sublimity is contingent upon the ability to hold the material world at arm's length, and as this discursive power is colonized by male writers, the beautiful and the material become troped as exclusively, and derisively de·ri·sive
de·ri , feminine.
The masculinization masculinization /mas·cu·lin·iza·tion/ (-lin-i-za´shun)
1. normal development of male primary or secondary sex characters in a male.
2. development of male secondary sex characters in a female or prepubescent male. of the transcendental sublime is accompanied by a complex shift in the figurations of gender in Western philosophical and aesthetic discourse, and this shift produces a series of telling contradictions. Theoretically, women are supposed to be incapable of experiencing, embodying, or articulating the sublime; yet in the Romantic period, more women were writing poetry than ever before, and their poems often aggressively engaged the same tropes of nature and terror popular with male writers. As a genre, poetry is supposed to be an inappropriate medium for women writers, since it is, according to Burke, the most sublime medium of artistic expression; yet many women writers were praised for their poetic accomplishments by male writers and critics of the period. Finally, and paradoxically, men alone are supposed to be capable of experiencing and describing the sublime, and yet, those mental faculties that are most affected by the sublime are frequently troped as feminine. As Dennis's account of the sublime rape of the intellect shows, male writers, referring to their own imaginations at the moment of transcendence, often identify their minds, their souls, or their spirits (in other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently , the immaterial elements of selfhood) with feminine pronouns. This kind of pronoun slippage also appears in John Baillie's An Essay on the Sublime (1747), where he states that "object only can be justly called Sublime, which in some degree disposes the Mind to this Enlargement of itself, and gives her a lofty Conception of her own Powers."(39) More notably, in The Prelude, Wordsworth proclaims "my soul / Did once again make trial of her strength / Restored to her afresh" and he suggests that "the mind itself' is "best pleased perhaps / While she, as duteous as the Mother Dove, / Sits brooding."(33) Since the transcendental sublime demands that an observer first submit to nature's power in exchange for the intense feeling of self-expansion that follows, the masculine discourse of sublimity encounters an awkward contradiction. As a feminine trait, submission threatens the autonomy of the male subject undergoing the sublime experience. Therefore this submissive capacity must be circumscribed within the feminized sphere of the intellectual or the spiritual self so that the male body can retain the strength and independence necessary for withstanding the overwhelming sensation of transcendence that has been deemed inappropriate, and even dangerous, for women.
If the Romantic sublime finds its best subjects in intense emotions, chaos, disorder, and mystery, then the problem that subsequently arises for male writers in the early Romantic period is that women - as the discursive figuration fig·u·ra·tion
1. The act of forming something into a particular shape.
2. A shape, form, or outline.
3. The act of representing with figures.
4. A figurative representation.
5. of the unspeakable and unknowable un·know·a·ble
Impossible to know, especially being beyond the range of human experience or understanding: the unknowable mysteries of life. - stand poised to inhabit the powerful realm of the sublime. As the signifiers of the other, the stereotypical figure of woman in Western Culture already occupied the space that Burke identifies as the best source of sublime imagery: "in nature dark, confused, uncertain images have a greater power on the fancy to form the grander passions than those have which are more clear and determinate DETERMINATE. That which is ascertained; what is particularly designated; as, if I sell you my horse Napoleon, the article sold is here determined. This is very different from a contract by which I would have sold you a horse, without a particular designation of any horse. 1 Bouv. Inst. n. 947, 950. " (p. 62). Obscurity is essential to the sublime, Burke explains, because "it is our ignorance of things that causes all our admiration, and chiefly excites our passions" (p. 61). As Margaret Homans has shown in Bearing the Word, the female has traditionally been used to signify the unknown, the mysterious, the "silent object" that is both inexpressive in·ex·pres·sive
1. Lacking expression; blank: an inexpressive stare.
2. Devoid of emotion or style; flat or dull: an inexpressive violin performance. and inexpressible.(34) In Longinian and Neoclassical aesthetics, such ambiguous attributes were antithetical to the strict demands of rhetoric, but by the late eighteenth century, the emerging forms of Romanticism that subordinated mimesis mimesis /mi·me·sis/ (mi-me´sis) the simulation of one disease by another.mimet´ic
1. The appearance of symptoms of a disease not actually present, often caused by hysteria. to self-expression concurrently emphasized an independence from structure that posed a dilemma to male literary aestheticians. As a result, the epistemology of woman undergoes a radical modification in the eighteenth century as the tropes and figures of the female become more explicitly aligned with the material in the dominant aesthetic theories of the period. Yet, the old discourse linking the feminine to the mysterious survives in the figuration of the male's intellect as itself feminine. Julie Ellison observes that "the key terms of romantic poetics - the sublime, the haunted, the grotesque, the sentimental, the ironic, memory, desire, imagination - are accompanied by a demand to be understood intuitively," and intuition "is marked as a feminine quality."(35) If the mysterious survives in Romanticism as a characteristic of women, it finds itself contained and weighted down by an inescapable bodiliness, representative of all the material concerns that the male Romantics strive to cast out of their own intellectual/spiritual pursuit of the infinite.
Many women writers respond to this new figuration by isolating those moments in their poetry when the material, refusing to be suppressed, returns (or resurfaces) within the text to intensify the physicality of the overwhelming, terrifying moment of sublime self-diminution. These moments often specify the economic and social restraints, singular to female experience in the Romantic period, that interrupt or preclude transcendence. For women in the Romantic period, to write is to engage in a process of signification that has already aligned them with the materiality of the signifier sig·ni·fi·er
1. One that signifies.
2. Linguistics A linguistic unit or pattern, such as a succession of speech sounds, written symbols, or gestures, that conveys meaning; a linguistic sign. ; however, Romanticism valorizes, in the linguistic terms of the transcendental sublime, the semiotic semiotic /se·mi·ot·ic/ (se?me-ot´ik)
1. pertaining to signs or symptoms.
2. pathognomonic. breakdown that liberates the material sign and permits access to the unnamable signified. For the male Romantics, self-annihilation opens a space in which the poet can re-create a noncorporeal poetic self by means of the figuratively usurped procreative powers of Longinus's Pythian priestess; for female Romantics, however, poetic self-annihilation is suicide. Through the material sublime, then, women poets find a means of reinforcing their authorial identity while articulating a desire to shatter that identity and escape the oppressive forces that discursively circumscribe their limited expressions of selfhood.
Charlotte Smith's poetry demonstrates how the material sublime provides a means of self-empowerment for women working within the discourse of Romanticism. Smith's sonnets neither domesticate the sublime in order to express a "feminine" unity with nature, nor do they exhibit the transcendence characteristic of many male-authored poems. Mellor has argued that women Romantic writers articulate their relationship to nature through an aesthetic that identifies "sublime landscapes" with "blissful childhood memories"; in her view, women represent the sublime "as a flowing out, an ecstatic experience of co-participation in a nature they explicitly gender as female."(36) But Smith's "On passing over a dreary tract of country, and near the ruins of a deserted chapel, during a tempest," does not embrace nature as a loving sister, and her experience in the natural world is not one of co-participation but rather one of solitude. Smith appropriates the popular Romantic trope trope
1. A figure of speech using words in nonliteral ways, such as a metaphor.
2. A word or phrase interpolated as an embellishment in the sung parts of certain medieval liturgies. of a violent storm in order to construct relationships of commiseration with other unfortunate "beings" who seem to take pleasure in the temporary solitude that physical suffering brings.
Swift fleet the billowy bil·low
1. A large wave or swell of water.
2. A great swell, surge, or undulating mass, as of smoke or sound.
v. bil·lowed, bil·low·ing, bil·lows
1. clouds along the sky, Earth seems to shudder at the storm aghast; While only beings as forlorn as I, Court the chill horrors of the howling blast. Even round yon crumbling walls, in search of food, The ravenous Owl foregoes his evening flight, And in his cave, within the deepest wood, The Fox eludes the tempest of the night. But to my heart congenial is the gloom Which hides me from a World I wish to shun; That scene where Ruin saps the mouldering tomb, Suits with the sadness of a wretch undone. Nor is the deepest shade, the keenest air, Black as my fate, or cold as my despair.(37)
Nature is strangely divided against itself in the opening lines, shuddering at its own destructive power, while Smith's "forlorn" disposition draws her into the midst of this division, where she courts the approaching storm. The "crumbling walls" in the background may at first seem to locate this sonnet in the Romantic subgenre sub·gen·re
A subcategory within a particular genre: The academic mystery is a subgenre of the mystery novel. of the "ruin-poem," a genre which makes use of imagery that, as Anne Janowitz argues, serves as a marker of national history and enables the poet to "shift the opposition of art and nature into a convergence of not only materials, but also intentions."(38) However, what is stressed here are not convergences, but the continued oppositions between Smith and the natural world. The ruined wall, in fact, does not become a transformational symbol but remains in the background while the poem focuses on the small animals running for cover in the foreground.
The threatening storm discourages the owl and the fox from satisfying their material needs, but for Smith, the "gloom" provides an obliterating refuge from the more terrible trials of the quotidian world to which she cryptically alludes. Smith's desire to court the raw power of the natural world is not, in itself, unique among Romantic poems; in fact, this is the perplexing per·plex
tr.v. per·plexed, per·plex·ing, per·plex·es
1. To confuse or trouble with uncertainty or doubt. See Synonyms at puzzle.
2. To make confusedly intricate; complicate. desire that Burke attempted to explain as motivated by the intense passions promised by the sublime. But at the point in Smith's sonnet where we might expect her to turn away from this physical terror to describe a pleasurable sensation or a moment of spiritual or intellectual transcendence, she does just the opposite.
The sonnet closes by again emphasizing that no aspect of nature holds greater terrors than her own "fate" and "despair." In response to the quotidian concerns of her domestic life, Smith turns to a kind of spiritual liberation in the terrors of the natural world; she finds temporary relief by identifying herself, directly, with the physical dangers that male viewers pursue and then suppress in their quest for transcendence. Thus, the elevation of self produced by the material sublime stems from the realization, in the poem's final lines, that the natural world holds no threats greater than those that the poet faces in her daily life. According to Schiller, a declaration of freedom from the forces of nature is a futile gesture since no human is physically strong enough to withstand its superior power; one can only achieve independence from nature's destructive power by submitting to it and thereby becoming one and the same with it.(39) For Schiller, the confused feelings of the sublime demonstrate the imaginative independence that the mind purchases by submitting to nature's power. Smith strikes a similar bargain in her use of the material sublime when she embraces the material forces of the natural world in order to draw from them an expanded sense of selfhood.
There is, perhaps, no better example of Smith's deployment of the material sublime than sonnet 44, "Written in the Churchyard at Middleton in Sussex," a sonnet that Wordsworth liked well enough to copy out by hand on the flyleaf fly·leaf
A blank or specially printed leaf at the beginning or end of a book.
pl -leaves the inner leaf of the endpaper of a book
Noun 1. of his copy of Smith's Elegiac el·e·gi·ac
1. Of, relating to, or involving elegy or mourning or expressing sorrow for that which is irrecoverably past: an elegiac lament for youthful ideals.
2. Sonnets.(40) Once again, Smith implies that her strength as a poet comes from her ability to withstand the terrifying forces of nature. The poem begins with an image that was common among the late-eighteenth-century poets of sensibility and that would become a popular symbol among the Romantics.
Press'd by the Moon, mute arbitress Ar´bi`tress
n. 1. A female arbiter; an arbitratrix.
a female arbiter.
See also: Agreement of tides, While the loud equinox equinox (ē`kwĭnŏks), either of two points on the celestial sphere where the ecliptic and the celestial equator intersect. The vernal equinox, also known as "the first point of Aries," is the point at which the sun appears to cross the its power combines, The sea no more its swelling surge confines, But o'er the shrinking land sublimely rides.(41)
As in no other poem in the Romantic period, this sonnet depicts the sublimity of the moon in a manner that is not only visually startling - as in the description in the "Simplon Pass" episode of Wordsworth's Prelude - but quietly destructive as well. Unlike gothic accounts of the sublime, in which nature becomes the sign of threatening patriarchal power, Smith genders the dominant forces of nature as indifferently feminine. The storm and sea are under the tempestuous tem·pes·tu·ous
1. Of, relating to, or resembling a tempest: tempestuous gales.
2. Tumultuous; stormy: a tempestuous relationship. influence of the female moon, the "mute arbitress of the tides," and the destruction and terror that follows results from the powerful expression of her will, assisted by the supplementary masculine power of the sun at equinox.
The destruction brought on by the invisible workings of the sun, moon, and earth not only poses a physical threat to living creatures, but also violates the peaceful rest of the dead, who have passed beyond the effects of the material world.
The wild blast, rising from the Western cave, Drives the huge billows from their heaving bed; Tears from their grassy tombs the village dead, And breaks the silent sabbath of the grave! With shells and sea-weed mingled, on the shore Lo! their bones whiten in the frequent wave;
Far from being a horrific experience, this mass exhumation is a dark epiphany revealing that the storm's power to violate the physical remains of the dead does not extend to disturbing this final sleep. Death represents a means of escape from the kinds of natural forces that Schiller claims can only be escaped through submission.
But vain to them the winds and waters rave; They hear the warring elements no more: While I am doom'd - by life's long storm opprest, To gaze with envy on their gloomy rest.
Smith does not entertain thoughts of suicide despite her realization that the dead have finally escaped nature's power to torment them; instead, the poem's conclusion turns from the storm to contemplate the poet herself, who stands alone in stark contrast to the recently exhumed bodies scattered before her. The dynamics of the material sublime lead Smith from a predictable expression of horror to one of envy. According to Kant, in order for the sublime to bring about the agreement of reason and imagination that produces pleasure, the subject must experience terror or awe without fear of actual physical harm. The danger that Smith feels comes not so much from her immediate surroundings as from the personal, domestic struggles to which she alludes as "life's long storm."(42) Smith does not transcend the self-other dialectic by finding an analogue within herself for nature's immense power, since the storm has literally thrown at her the physical evidence of human limitation; however, the intrusion of the narrative "I" (line 13) asserts Smith's continued position within the self-other dialectic, a life-long struggle to which she has been "doom'd."
Like Smith, Mary Tighe also deploys the tropes of the material sublime to assert her self-identity in "Written at Scarborough" (1799). Beginning in a moment of quiet reflection that is consistent with the rhetorical technique characterizing the "conversation poems" of Wordsworth and Coleridge, "Written at Scarborough" blends the productions of memory and imagination to draw a series of parallels between personal experience and natural landscape. But these analogies do not produce the restoration that Wordsworth so often seeks in nature; rather, the sonnet underscores the solitude of the narrator's suffering.
As musing pensive pen·sive
1. Deeply, often wistfully or dreamily thoughtful.
2. Suggestive or expressive of melancholy thoughtfulness. in my silent home I hear far off the sullen ocean's roar, Where the rude wave just sweeps the level shore, Or bursts upon the rocks with whitening foam, I think upon the scenes my life has known; On days of sorrow, and some hours of joy; Both which alike time could so soon destroy! And now they seem a busy dream alone; While on the earth exists no single trace Of all that shook my agitated ag·i·tate
v. ag·i·tat·ed, ag·i·tat·ing, ag·i·tates
1. To cause to move with violence or sudden force.
2. soul, As on the beach new waves for ever roll And fill their past forgotten brother's place: But I, like worn sand, exposed remain To each new storm which frets the angry main?
Like Smith, Tighe unravels the metaphors that lead to transcendence in much of the male-authored poetry of the period by turning, in the couplet's volta, away from joyful resolution to a reaffirmation of self that is predicated upon the material reality of her continued suffering. Both Smith and Tighe supplant the apotheosis apotheosis (əpŏth'ēō`sĭs), the act of raising a person who has died to the rank of a god. Historically, it was most important during the later Roman Empire. of the transcendental sublime with an elevated sense of personal physical endurance. Burkean and Wordsworthian accounts of the sublime necessitate a distancing of the subject from (and a subsequent suppression of) the material object of terror because the proximity (even in contemplation) of the physical source of emotional pain foregrounds the subject's own bodily danger, thereby forestalling the subject's approach to transcendence. For Tighe, however, the source of her grief in this sonnet is found in the absence of the material objects which have brought about the feelings of "joy" and "sorrow"; her feeling of self-diminution, a feeling usually anticipatory of the self-expansion that characterizes the transcendental sublime, is brought about by the realization that "no single trace" remains of her earlier troubles. In fact, her pensive musing is itself initiated not by the immediate presence of a sublime scene, but rather the absence (the spatial, though not aural, displacement) of the violent ocean: "I hear far off the sullen ocean's roar." What results from Tighe's musings is not Wordsworthian "recollection in tranquillity," but rather the sober realization that the remembered events of her life now "seem a busy dream alone." Far from looking for an escape, Tighe longs to anchor her ephemeral memories in the tangible world to preserve them and to give an external, verifiable referent to her emotions.
Is Tighe's sonnet, then, a lament over the dream-like impermanence im·per·ma·nent
Not lasting or durable; not permanent.
im·perma·nence, im·per of remembered events, or is it actually a bold assertion of self in the mutable world? Like many of Smith's sonnets, Tighe's "Written at Scarborough" appropriates the initiating tropes of the transcendental sublime to underscore the discursive rootedness of the female subject in the material world. Tighe's lament at the poem's conclusion actually fulfills her own desire for some material sign of her past, and continued, presence in the world. The palpability of that presence is stressed by the metaphor of the resilient "worn sand" exposed to the waves that ceaselessly roll onto the beach. The conclusion represents an assertion of self that is neither the product of sublime transcendence nor an expression of what Mellor's "feminine sublime" identifies as a woman poet's celebration of continuity with nature and the surrounding landscape. In opposition to the natural world, Tighe draws her identity from her continued endurance of time and nature instead of escaping them through sublime transcendence or through dream visions of the imagination.
To reiterate my earlier assertion, the material sublime is not exclusively a female strategy; it is also occasionally deployed by male Romantics, but less as a complaint about cultural constructions of selfhood and more as a lamentation lamentation,
n a prayer expressing affliction or sorrow and requesting defense, retribution, or comfort. over the inescapability of corporeality cor·po·re·al
1. Of, relating to, or characteristic of the body. See Synonyms at bodily.
2. Of a material nature; tangible. and its limitations. One of the best examples of this is Keats's "Ode to a Nightingale Ode to a Nightingale is a poem by John Keats. It was written in May, 1819, in the garden of the Spaniards Inn, Hampstead. It was first published in 'Annals of the Fine Arts' in July of the same year. ," where the material signification of the word "forlorn" invades the poem's approach to transcendence, just as Keats feels that his imagination is about to take flight with the nightingale. "Forlorn! the very word is like a bell / To toll me back from thee to my sole self!"(44) The worldly agonies, the "weariness, the fever, and the fret" that the poem enumerates early on, refuse to be suppressed at the poem's close; the bird leaves, and we are left with the Keatsian motif of bittersweet bittersweet, name for two unrelated plants, belonging to different families, both fall-fruiting woody vines sometimes cultivated for their decorative scarlet berries. uncertainty. "Fled is that music: - Do I wake or sleep?"(45) The conflict between materiality and transcendence is clear to Keats, but his inability to suppress the material world, in this particular poem, does not preclude his engaging the tropes of the sublime to underscore his poetic selfhood. What makes this instance of the material sublime different from those that appear in the works of many women writers is that its conflict with transcendence is immediately played out within the text of the poem. Keats repeatedly attempts to move toward transcendence, but ultimately the material world forces its way into his illusory flight. By foregrounding the confused state of his consciousness at the poem's close, Keats leaves the reader with a powerful image of a poet whose inability (at least in this poem) to "transcend the human" actually heightens his self-projected sense of humanness. The material sublime does not signify a failure of the Romantic consciousness, but represents another way of coming to a heightened sense of self-awareness through language, precisely at the moment when the language of the transcendental sublime breaks down. For women writers, the material sublime provides an idiom through which to articulate the epistemological uncertainty surrounding their ambiguous status as poets in an age that would not allow them to discard the discursive trappings of material existence in pursuit of the transcendence valorized by their male contemporaries.
1 The epigraph ep·i·graph
1. An inscription, as on a statue or building.
2. A motto or quotation, as at the beginning of a literary composition, setting forth a theme. is from Martin Shee, Elements of Art, a Poem; in Six Cantos; With Notes and a Preface; Including Strictures on the State of the Arts, Criticism, Patronage, and Public Taste (London: W. Bulmer and Co., 1809), p. 193, note.
2 Thomas Weiskel, The Romantic Sublime: Studies in the Structure and Psychology of Transcendence (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins Univ, Press, 1976), p. 3.
3 Jerome McGann, The Romantic Ideology: A Critical Investigation (Chicago and London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1983), p. I; Clifford Siskin, The Historicity his·to·ric·i·ty
Historical authenticity; fact.
historical authenticity of Romantic Discourse (New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of and Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1988), pp. 7-8.
4 Orrin N. C. Wang, Fantastic Modernity: Dialectical Readings in Romanticism and Theory (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1996), p. 2.
5 William Wordsworth, The Thirteen-Book "Prelude, "ed. Mark L. Reed (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1991). All subsequent references to The Prelude are to this edition; book and line numbers will be given.
6 Anne K. Mellor Anne K. Mellor is a distinguished professor of British literature at UCLA; she specializes in Romantic literature, British cultural history, feminist theory, philosophy, art history and sexuality studies. , Romanticism and Gender (New York and London: Routledge, 1993).
7 See Marlon Ross, The Contours of Masculine Desire: Romanticism and the Rise of Women's Poetry (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1989). Ross points out that "Women poets are so sensitive to the potential conflict between domesticity and the wider world of public fame because the conflict is so palpable in their private lives and in their poetic careers" (p. 289). Like Mellor and Barbara Claire Freeman (The Feminine Sublime: Gender and Excess in Women's Fiction [Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1995]), Ross also suggests that the aesthetic discourses of male and female writers should be viewed not as diametrical di·a·met·ri·cal also di·a·met·ric
1. Of, relating to, or along a diameter.
2. Exactly opposite; contrary.
di opposites but rather as points along a complex continuum. However, I am arguing that, in discussions of the sublime, the continued use of the labels "masculine" and "feminine" and the insistence that certain articulations of sublimity arise from specifically female experiences (even though we may find these articulations interwoven through, and suppressed by, "masculine" discourses) ultimately return us to an essentialist view of Romantic aesthetics.
8 Freeman, p. 11.
9 Dorothy Wordsworth, "The Collected Poems of Dorothy Wordsworth," in Dorothy Wordsworth and Romanticism, ed. Susan Levin (New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1987), Appendix One, pp. 207-9.
10 Wordsworth, The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, ed. Ernest De Selincourt and Helen Darbishire, 5 vols. (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1940-49), 2:259-63, lines 123-4.
11 See Tom Furniss, Edmund Burke's Aesthetic Ideology: Language, Gender, and Political Economy in Revolution (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993); and Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (London: Basil Blackwell, 1990).
12 Neil Hertz, The End of the Line: Essays in Psychoanalysis and the Sublime (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1985). See also Slavoj Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (London and New York: Verso ver·so
n. pl. ver·sos
1. A left-hand page of a book or the reverse side of a leaf, as opposed to the recto.
2. The back of a coin or medal. , 1989) for a Marxist-Lacanian approach to the sublime.
13 My use of the term "discourse" is informed by Peter De Bolla's important distinction that the "discourse of the sublime," which is itself supposed to be productive of sublimity, actually comprises a vast network of discrete and historically contingent "discourses on the sublime," which are enabled by, and in fact only have meaning within, the larger network (The Discourse of the Sublime: Readings in History, Aesthetics, and the Subject [Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989]), pp. 34-5.
14 I am using the term "material" in two senses: 1) in its most comprehensive New Historicist and Marxist sense - to encompass the historical, political, and economic forces that shape poetic texts as they respond to the quotidian concerns of nineteenth-century England - and 2) as a reference to the signs of the spatial and temporal limitations, and the physical needs and desires of the human body. Materiality functions as an uncomfortable reminder to the theorizing self that it is the product of social and historical forces; that its survival and quality of life are dependent upon economic forces and sexual mechanisms; and that, as a mortal being, its ultimate physical end is death.
15 Weiskel, p. 112.
16 Weiskel, p. 83. Weiskel's passionate argument brings to the study of literature what much criticism too quickly dismisses: an openly stated emotional and ethical commitment to giving meaning to life through the production and study of literary texts. The major problem with works such as Weiskel's, however, is that they cloud historical issues by foregrounding spiritual beliefs and personal intuitions that make such theories as the sublime even more inaccessible. Our necessarily mediated understanding of what the Romantics thought and wrote about the sublime must be kept separate from whatever subjective opinions we may have with regards to nature, psychology, and the possibility of transcendence. Understanding the human capacity to comprehend the infinite is not necessarily bound up with tracing the connotative and denotative de·no·ta·tive
1. Denoting or naming; designative.
2. Specific or direct: denotative and connotative meanings. functions of the sublime as an aesthetic concept in the Romantic period.
17 Dionysius Longinus, Dionysius Longinus On the Sublime, trans. William Smith (London: F. C. and J. Rivington, 1819), pp. 111-2. I have used William Smith's 1739 translation of Longinus instead of the standard Rhys Roberts edition of 1899 because late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century writers would have known the Smith edition.
18 Wordsworth, The Prelude, 6.527.
19 See Rene Wellek, Immanuel Kant in England, 1793-1838 (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1931) and Samuel Monk, The Sublime: A Study of Critical Theories in Eighteenth-Century England (New York: MLA MLA
Modern Language Association
MLA n abbr (BRIT POL) (= Member of the Legislative Assembly) → miembro de la asamblea legislativa
MLA (Brit , 1935).
20 Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, ed. J. T. Boulton (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1958), p. 39. All subsequent references are to this edition and page numbers will be given parenthetically par·en·thet·i·cal
adj. also par·en·thet·ic
1. Set off within or as if within parentheses; qualifying or explanatory: a parenthetical remark.
2. Using or containing parentheses. in the text.
21 William Wordsworth, The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, 3 vols., ed. W.J.B. Owen and Jane Worthington Smyser (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), 2.354.
22 Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgment, trans. James Creed Meredith
The Hon. Mr Justice James Creed Meredith (28 November 1875 - 14 August 1942) K.C. (1952; rprt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 110.
23 Joanna Baillie, A Series of Plays: In Which It Is Attempted to Delineate The Stronger Passions of the Mind (London: T. Cadell Jr. and W. Davies, 1798; rprt. London: Routledge/Thoemmes Press, 1996), p. 12.
24 Richard Payne Knight, An Analytical Inquiry into the Principles of Taste (London, 1805), p. 374.
25 John Dennis, "Proposal," in The Grounds of Criticism in Poetry (London: Strahan and Lintott, 1704), p. 1.
26 Dennis, The Grounds of Criticism in Poetry, p. 79.
27 Kant, Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, trans. John T. Goldthwait (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1960), p. 78.
28 Kant, Observations, pp. 78-9.
29 Kant, Observations, pp. 93-4.
30 Frances Reynolds, An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Taste, and of the Origin of Our Ideas of Beauty, etc. (1785; rprt. Los Angeles: Augustan Reprint Society, 1951), p. 23.
31 Reynolds, p. 29.
32 John Baillie, An Essay on the Sublime (1747; rprt. Los Angeles: Augustan Reprint Society, 1953), p. 4.
33 Wordsworth, The Prelude, 1:102-4, 1:150-3.
34 Margaret Homans, Bearing the Word: Language and Female Experience in Nineteenth-Century Women's Writing (Chicago and London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1986).
35 Julie Ellison, Delicate Subjects: Romanticism, Gender, and the Ethics of Understanding (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1990), pp. 10-1.
36 Mellor, p. 97.
37 Charlotte Smith, The Poems of Charlotte Smith, ed. Stuart Curran (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1993), p. 59, lines 1-14. All references to Smith's poetry are from this edition.
38 Anne Janowitz, England's Ruins: Poetic Purpose and National Landscape (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), p. 5.
39 Friedrich Schiller, Naive and Sentimental Poetry / On the Sublime, trans. Julius A. Elias (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1984), p. 195.
40 See Bishop C. Hunt, "Wordsworth and Charlotte Smith," WC 1, 3 (Summer 1970): 85-103.
41 Smith, p. 42, lines 1-4. Henceforth, line numbers will be cited parenthetically in the text.
42 For details of Smith's domestic and financial hardships, see Florence Hilbish, Charlotte Smith: Poet and Novelist (1749-1806) (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1941). Smith initially turned to publishing her poems, and later to publishing novels, as a means of supporting her ten children after she and her husband separated.
43 Mary Tighe, "Written at Scarborough," in Keats and Mary Tighe: The Poems of Mary Tighe with Parallel Passages from the Works of Keats, ed. Earl Vonard Weller (New York: MLA, 1928), p. 220, lines 1-14.
44 John Keats, "Ode to a Nightingale," in Complete Poems, ed. Jack Stillinger (Cambridge MA: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, 1982), pp. 279-81, lines 71-2.
45 Keats, line 80.
John G. Pipkin is an assistant professor at Boston University. This essay is part of a larger project on women writers of the Romantic period. He is currently editing the manuscript of Mary Tighe's unpublished novel, Selena.