Romantic Literature and the World

Spring 2018-2019


Alexis Chema

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s most important essay, A Defence of Poetry(1821), ends with an audacious claim: “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” By this he affirms that poetry and the imagination impact (“legislate”) social conditions, even though poets rarely receive the credit. But what about that last term, “the world”? Shelley is also commenting on the central topic we’ll examine in this course: the Romantic idea that imaginative literature makes it possible to think of the world as a whole. This seminar presents major works, figures, and literary forms of Romanticism as a set of engagements with early globalization. We begin with Scottish Enlightenment ideas about cosmopolitanism and “world citizenship,” and trace the development, continuance, and resistance to these ideas in writing about the Atlantic slave trade, domestic and overseas colonial relations, the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars, travel and tourism, and the Ottoman Empire. (Poetry, 1650-1830)