British Romantic-Era Poetry

English 4/802L                                        

Spring 2013                             

Stephen C. Behrendt     
319 Andrews; 472-1806
office: 11-1230 TR2,
and by appointment

email Stephen C. Behrendt



                            John Constable.  Helmingham Dell. 1825-26.

Possible Research Project Essay Topics

Below are some suggestions for possible course project topics, in no particular order or priority.

You will quickly notice that these are not the “typical” author- or poem-related topics you might be expecting. Rather, these are topics that ask you to examine and explore the contexts in which Romantic-era poetry was written and read. Too often we forget that works of art exist within complex cultural and intellectual contexts, and that they both result from and reflect the interaction of phenomena that may seem at first glance to be only marginally related to the poem itself as literary text. The suggestions that follow offer you the opportunity to conduct research in areas – and on topics – which may be unfamiliar to you but which may prove both more accessible and more inherently interesting than the typical “paper-on-a-poem” assignment that you have probably encountered ad nauseum already.

I urge you to think of these topics as suggestions only – as guidelines for formulating additional and alternative questions that may intrigue you. That is, please feel free to come up with other topics of your own. I ask only that you let me know reasonably well in advance what you plan to investigate, both so I can help you focus your research and so that I can begin to prepare myself to read your work in the most fully informed fashion. I will be happy to chat with you at any time about an appropriate project, whether you choose one of the topics listed here or one of your own devising.

Start here . . .

Who was the most popular poet in England in [some single year, 1785-1835], and for what ascertainable reasons? This is very much a “culture” question, as well as one about literary reception.

What could (and did) happen to writers whose opinions went against the positions articulated by government, political, or religious institutions? What about those writers who served the interests of the Establishment? An alternative consideration: in what ways did the writer’s gender affect any of these matters?

How did the government – or particular parties or “interest groups”– use poetry as part of their agendas?

The obstacles to success confronted by women authors (and by artists generally) during the Romantic era. This topic needs to be narrowed to particular authors or phenomena.

The reasons for the success of particular women/men writers in the Romantic period. Again, either option requires consideration of gender expectations within British culture of the period.

The relation of the daily periodical press to Romantic poetry.

The relation of particular poets to particular periodicals (e.g. Mary Robinson’s or Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s relation to the Morning
; P. B. Shelley or John Keats to the Examiner; or Letitia Elizabeth Landon to journals like Fisher’s or The Literary Gazette).

The relations of religious verse to Romantic poetry.

The Examiner (or The True Briton or The Black Dwarf or some other periodical) as barometer of “Romantic” thought and opinion.

The rise of the literary annual in the 1820s.

The particular situation of the woman writer who must write for a living (e.g. Charlotte Smith, Mary Robinson, Felicia Hemans)

Romantic-era poets and practical political reform.

The aesthetics of the “fragment” in Romantic art.


Domestic unrest (including in Ireland and Scotland) and Romantic-era poetry

The place of poetry in the rise of British industrial imperialism

Romantic-era poetry and the British colonial enterprise

The economic and social situation of the returning British war veteran (soldiers and sailors both) and the veteran’s family.

The situation of the war widow and her children as presented in poetry

Proletarian (laboring-class) writing in the later Romantic era

Evangelical writing in the Romantic era

Poetry by, for, and about children in Britain during the Romantic era

Manifestations of anti-Gallican (i.e., anti-French) sentiment in unexpected places.

The political history of a year, a person, an event, or a phenomenon in the popular press, or in caricature prints of the period.

Political poetry and the Romantic canon.

The figuring of the female in male-authored poetry.

The figuring of the male in female-authored poetry.

The appropriation of the female, and of female experience, by male writers.

The appropriation of traditionally male forms and subject matters by female writers.

Women on women’s experience.

Men on men’s experience.

The Romantic movement and gender studies?

Did “the public” place any particular importance upon poetry during the Romantic era in Britain, and if so, on what sort especially, and why?

Romantic-era poetry and the “folk culture.”

Romantic-era poetry and the environment; the birth of “Green Romanticism”

British Romanticism and religion

How did a poet in this period go about building a career?

Political repression and Romantic-era poetry

Poetry in service to public or private ideologies

The Poet Laureate: was it necessarily a male fiefdom?

Who read what? How did they get access? Where? Audiences and readerships, real and virtual.

The “book” as physical object during the Romantic era in Britain

Romantic-era poetry, the oppressed, and the “marginalized”

The phenomenon of the Romantic author (Byron is a perfect example) as a public celebrity. This involves a relatively modern phenomenon: the author as celebrity.