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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Wordsworth's Pelagian Inheritance
by Ghislin, Mary Carol, M.A., Northwestern University, 2013, 104; 28320650
Abstract (Summary)

Our contemporary age, which can be described as the age of the common man, now admits free-flowing forms of atheism and agnosticism, with thoughtful seekers who look back across the centuries to trace their source. The question they all ask is: What are the headwaters of this free-thinking? At what point did Western thought wrest itself from institutional religious constraint?

Literary academics have long attributed the voice of the modern age to William Wordsworth—who broke with the classical expectations for “suitable” poetic subject matter and instead devoted himself to giving voice to the common man. Scholars in literary academia tend to fall into two camps in the study of Wordsworth: 1. they either read him in light of Spinoza, the author of a pantheistic philosophical treatise in the late 17th century that was published secretly for fear of religious authorities; 2. or they read Wordsworth in the light of a Christian humanism. Both the pantheistic readers and the Christian readers seek to claim Wordsworth as their headwaters. Both camps acknowledge the difficulty in identifying an unambiguous thread in his writings. This author’s own pursuit results in Part I of this essay, which pursues an argument that Wordsworth’s belief in free will is incompatible with Spinoza’s determinism.

This paper also explores the foundations for Wordsworth’s belief in free-will as part of an ancient Lake District Druid tradition, articulated in opposition to the Vatican by Pelagius in the fourth and fifth centuries. Despite Pelagius’ excommunication, the island maintained its underground loyalty to him, so much so that they earned and proudly owned the sobriquet—The Celtic Church. This paper explores the Pelagian doctrine of free-will as the background of Wordsworth’s childhood and as the potential inspiration for his friendly interest in the Quaker movement.

In addition, the long-dismissed philosopher, David Hartley, admired by both Coleridge and Wordsworth—one might say fanatically, given that Coleridge actually named his son Hartley—may have played a more important role in Wordsworth’s early leanings than scholars had previously thought. While Wordsworth did not claim the namesake for his children, one might say that Hartley inspired Wordsworth’s poetic goals, and this paper briefly follows that thread of inquiry.

In further pursuit of a sound basis for Wordsworth’s Christian humanism, the paper takes up his use of biblical allusion. Decrying the western civilization’s loss of a shared biblical knowledge, this author proposes that new readings, including previously unrecognized allusions, will elucidate additional layers of Christian leanings in Wordsworth’s poetry. She offers readings for “Tintern Abbey” and “Michael.”

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Soni, Vivasvan, Gibbons, Reginald
School: Northwestern University
Department: English
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: MAI 82/9(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Literature, British and Irish literature
Keywords: Pelagius, Baruch Spinoza, The Idiot Boy, Tintern Abbey, William Wordsworth, Western thought
Publication Number: 28320650
ISBN: 9798597065847
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