I am contending for the rights of the living, and against their being willed away...
--Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man, 1793
...Until the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.
--William Wordsworth, “Tintern Abbey,” 1798
This course explores the literature of a historical period in Britain when ideas about life--physical life, metaphysical life, political life, social life--were in upheaval. Major historical events and ideological shifts, from the French Revolution (1789) to the Reform Act (1832), provided new ways to think about Paine’s “rights of the living”as well as many interpretive frames for Wordsworth’s ideas about quieting one’s “corporeal frame” in order “become a living soul” and “see into the life of things.”
In the course we will explore what it meant and felt like to be alive in the British Romantic period through writers who were some of its most influential political thinkers (Burke, Paine, Godwin, Wollstonecraft), its novelists (Mary Shelley, Austen), its most popular poets (Hemans, Landon) and its canonical representatives (Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, P.B. Shelley, Byron).