Brimming with the fascinating eccentricities of a complex and confusing movement whose influences continue to resonate deeply, 30 Great Myths About the Romantics adds great clarity to what we know – or think we know – about one of the most important periods in literary history. Explores the various misconceptions commonly associated with Romanticism, offering provocative insights that correct and clarify several of the commonly-held myths about the key figures of this era Corrects some of the biases and beliefs about the Romantics that have crept into the 21st-century zeitgeist – for example that they were a bunch of drug-addled atheists who believed in free love; that Blake was a madman; and that Wordsworth slept with his sister Celebrates several of the mythic objects, characters, and ideas that have passed down from the Romantics into contemporary culture – from Blake’s Jerusalem and Keats’s Ode on a Grecian Urn to the literary genre of the vampire Engagingly written to provide readers with a fun yet scholarly introduction to Romanticism and key writers of the period, applying the most up-to-date scholarship to the series of myths that continue to shape our appreciation of their work
Acknowledgements xi Introduction xiii A Note on Monetary Values xxvii Myth 1 Romanticism began in 1798 1 Myth 2 English Romanticism was a reaction against the Enlightenment 8 Myth 3 The Romantics hated the sciences 17 Myth 4 The Romantics repudiated the Augustans, especially Pope and Dryden 29 Myth 5 The Romantic poets were misunderstood, solitary geniuses 40 Myth 6 Romantic poems were produced by spontaneous inspiration 49 Myth 7 Blake was mad 58 Myth 8 Blake wrote ‘Jerusalem’ as an anthem to Englishness 66 Myth 9 Lyrical Ballads (1798) was designed to illustrate ‘the two cardinal points of poetry’, using poems about everyday life and the supernatural 74 Myth 10 Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads was a manifesto for the Romantic revolution 82 Myth 11 Wordsworth had an incestuous relationship with his sister 90 Myth 12 Tory Wordsworth 98 Myth 13 The person from Porlock 108 Myth 14 Jane Austen had an incestuous relationship with her sister 115 Myth 15 The Keswick rapist 124 Myth 16 Byron had an affair with his sister 132 Myth 17 Byron was a great lover of women 140 Myth 18 Byron was a champion of democracy 149 Myth 19 Byron was a ‘noble warrior’ who died fighting for Greek freedom 156 Myth 20 Shelley committed suicide by sailboat 166 Myth 21 Shelley’s heart 175 Myth 22 Keats’s ‘humble origins’ 185 Myth 23 Keats was gay 193 Myth 24 Keats was killed by a review 203 Myth 25 Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote Frankenstein 212 Myth 26 Women writers were an exploited underclass – unknown, unloved, and unpaid 220 Myth 27 The Romantics were atheists 232 Myth 28 The Romantics were counter-cultural drug users 242 Myth 29 The Romantics practised free love on principle 251 Myth 30 The Romantics were the rock stars of their day 261 Coda 270 Further Reading 277 Index 283
Duncan Wu is Professor of English at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. He is the editor of Romanticism: An Anthology, 4th edition (WileyBlackwell, 2012), and the author of books about Romanticism, Wordsworth, and Hazlitt.
Were the Romantics a bunch of drug-addled atheists who believed in free love? Was Blake a madman? And did Wordsworth really sleep with his sister? Few literary periods are less understood yet include more mythologized figures than the British Romantics – and most of the myths swirling about them are far from romantic. 30 Great Myths About the Romantics features a collection of thought provoking essays that address a range of commonly-held beliefs about key figures of the Romantic era – and about Romanticism itself. Author Duncan Wu’s goal is twofold: to correct some of the biases and misconceptions about the Romantics that have crept into modern critical discussion and to celebrate the mythic concepts, characters and objects that have passed down from the Romantics into contemporary culture (from Blake’s Jerusalem and the person from Porlock to Shelley’s elusive heart). Brimming with the foibles, follies, and eccentricities of the greatest writers in literary history, 30 Great Myths About the Romantics brings clarity to what we know – or think we know – about one of the most important periods in literary history.
“Wu is not a scholar who trades in faddish or modish opinion, and as its title implies, this is by its very nature an exercise in controversy and debate. The book represents a triumph of individual scholarship over what is claimed as often flawed, albeit consensual, critical opinion. Wu’s fluid, readable prose is accessible to all, and his extensive and subtle insights are a joy to read. This unique addition to the student bookshelf provides enjoyment and instruction simultaneously.” —Jane Moore, Cardiff University