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Buried Communities

Wordsworth and the Bonds of Mourning

Kurt Fosso

Publication Year: 2004

Kurt Fosso’s Buried Communities analyzes the social relationship between mourning and community in William Wordsworth’s writings from 1785 to 1814. In close readings of such major works as The Ruined Cottage, Lyrical Ballads, The Prelude, and The Excursion, Fosso uncovers the idea of mournful community, or what Wordsworth cryptically proclaimed to be a “spiritual community binding together the living and the dead.” In addition to offering an explanation for the poet’s mysterious, longstanding preoccupation with death and grief, Fosso discovers a poetry insistently social in orientation—and consistently social in character—and uncovers significant coherence between the poet’s early and later works. Buried Communities situates Wordsworth as a reformist during a time of social and political crisis, for whom mourning promised to bind together his disaffected countrymen and disjointed world. With its sociological vantage and strong commitment to historical explanation, the book illuminates an important, previously unseen vista for understanding this Romantic poet’s representations of death and grief and significantly reframes the cultural dynamics of the Romantic period in Britain.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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p. vii

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pp. ix-xii

On September 6, 1997, a funeral cortege wound its way down Kensington High Street toward Westminster Abbey, passing on its way an enormous crowd of mourners. Outside the royal palaces, grieving men and women, adults and children, Britons and foreigners, had deposited more than a million bouquets and displays for the deceased Princess of Wales, Diana Spencer...

Abbreviations and Editions

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pp. xiii-xv

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pp. 1-25

It is a startling image. Judging from the record, the former owner of that face was James Jackson, a schoolmaster from the nearby village of Sawrey, reported to have drowned in Esthwaite Water on June 18, 1779. The young witness, if one trusts the account quoted above from the two-part Prelude (1798–99), was...

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1. A “World of Shades”: The Birth of Community in the Juvenilia

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pp. 27-45

Wordsworth is quick to lead readers back to his early life as a source or cipher for his later poetical talent and preoccupations. He contends in The Prelude and elsewhere that his views on “Nature, Man, and Society” were shaped in those years, and describes his best piece of juvenilia, The Vale of Esthwaite, as containing “thoughts and images most of which have been dispersed through...

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2. Grief and Dwelling in the Cambridge Poems, including An Evening Walk

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pp. 47-66

As Mary Moorman observes,Wordsworth’s leather-bound Hawkshead notebook (MS. 2) “went with him to Cambridge” (WW 86). So did his developing sociology.Tucked in his bags with the notebook was The Vale of Esthwaite (MS. 3) and likely a few pages containing other of his Hawkshead works,...

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3. Genre, Politics, and Community in the Salisbury Plain Poems

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pp. 67-96

In the tumultuous years between 1793 and 1795 Wordsworth was a republican under stress, living in a London convulsed by political, social, and economic crises, now including war with France. By autumn of 1793 he was also watching the horrifying specter of the Terror destroying the very ideal of universal fraternity...

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4. Shades of Mourning and the One Life in The Ruined Cottage

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pp. 97-125

By June of 1797 William and Dorothy were ensconced in Racedown Lodge, said by Dorothy to have been the “first home [she] had” (EY 281). But despite the profound happiness the two siblings shared dwelling in their home and viewing its Dorsetshire surroundings, all of course was not right with the world around them. The war with France had resulted not just in continental...

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5. Elegies, Epitaphs, and Legacies of Loss in Lyrical Ballads

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pp. 127-162

The writing for the first edition of Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads began at Alfoxden in the spring of 1798. The final poem, “Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey,” was composed in July after the rest of the first edition was in the hands of the publisher. In their Cornell edition of Lyrical Ballads, James Butler and Karen Green describe Wordsworth’s...

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6. Grieving and Dwelling in the Five-Book Prelude and Home at Grasmere

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pp. 163-192

In the long cold winter at Goslar, during which Wordsworth composed the Lucy elegies and other poems published in the second volume of Lyrical Ballads, he was tentatively drafting a few autobiographical fragments. These narratives, including some of the well-known “spots of time,” would soon help...

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7. “A New Controul” in Poems in Two Volumes and The Excursion

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pp. 193-217

Although the paradigm of dead-oriented community persists in Wordsworth’s poetry until at least The Excursion (1814), it is less conspicuous in his output after 1804. The social model’s diminution is noticeable in the thirteen-book Prelude (1805) and in Poems, in Two Volumes (1807). More importantly, one...


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pp. 219-263

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 265-281


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pp. 283-292

E-ISBN-13: 9780791485705
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791459591
Print-ISBN-10: 0791459594

Page Count: 292
Publication Year: 2004

OCLC Number: 57758999
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Buried Communities

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Mourning customs in literature.
  • Wordsworth, William, -- 1770-1850 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Community in literature.
  • Grief in literature.
  • Elegiac poetry, English ǂx History and criticism.
  • Literature and society -- England -- History -- 19th century.
  • Wordsworth, William, 1770-1850 -- Political and social views.
  • Death in literature.
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