Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

If but Once We Have Been Strong: Collective Agency and Poetic Technique in England during the Period of Early Capitalism
by Stanley, Joshua Samuel, Ph.D., Yale University, 2018, 285; 10957340
Abstract (Summary)

Contemporary literary critics concerned with the study of poetics, verse, technique or prosody have generally studied poets and poems with attention to the experiences and intentions of an individual or with attention to the norms and assumptions of a larger stable group such as a society or institution. In this dissertation, I argue that poetics, verse, technique and prosody should be studied with attention to the dynamics and forces of social power; to such work, the binary categories of the individual and the society are often inadequate. I study poets and poems in relation to the particular experiences and imaginations of collective life, especially in relation to the possible political agency of a collective. By collective, I mean something that challenges individual experience, seeks to gain power through joining people together and is necessarily a more inchoate grouping than a society or institution. In the contexts of the transformations in eighteenth-and early nineteenth-century society caused by the emergent capitalist economy, I show how collective agency is connected to and shapes particular developments in verse technique. I do this by discussing the poetry of William Wordsworth, John Keats, Stephen Duck, Mary Collier, John Clare and William Cowper. As part of this, I give significant attention to works by Robert Southey, John Dryden and Alexander Pope. In relation to this work on poetry in an early period of capitalism, I study the poetry of Jeremy Prynne in a later period of capitalism. Prynne's poetry is distinctly related to the poetry of the earlier period and I trace his reworking of poetic techniques learned from Wordsworth.

The dissertation consists of five chapters, divided into two sections, each two chapters long, with the final chapter serving as an epilogue. In the first section, called "Acts," I study poetic technique, heroism, the political power or disempowerment of groups and the ways that people are joined in action together. These two chapters are focused on the internal dialectics of artworks. Chapter 1 is focused on versions of Wordsworth's sonnet "To Toussaint L'Ouverture"; Chapter 2 is focused on Keats's long poems, both rhymed and unrhymed. In the second section, called "Before and After," I track changes in poetic technique in poetry written about rural society in the eighteenth-century and the early decades of the nineteenth-century. Rather than focusing on individual heroism and individual artworks or oeuvres, in these two chapters I attempt two speculative and disjointed histories of the heroic couplet (Chapter 3) and of blank verse (Chapter 4). Chapter 3 presents readings of poems by the laboring poets Duck, Collier and Clare; Chapter 4 presents readings of poems by Cowper and Wordsworth. The epilogue to this dissertation, Chapter 5, is about the afterlife of the blank verse techniques that had been developed around 1800 in the work of Prynne from the 1960s to the late 1970s. While the period that has been called romanticism can be thought of as the dawn of capitalism, by focusing on Prynne's use of an irregular romantic ode style, I argue that this period of Prynne's poetry should be thought of as the romanticism of the dawn of neoliberalism—the poetry of the social imaginations possible before the epoch of neoliberalism.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Fry, Paul
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 79/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: British and Irish literature
Publication Number: 10957340
ISBN: 978-0-438-27385-6
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