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Perversity of Poetry, The

Romantic Ideology and the Popular Male Poet of Genius

Dino Franco Felluga

Publication Year: 2005

Once the dominant literary form, poetry was gradually eclipsed by the realist novel; indeed, by 1940 W. H. Auden was able to note, “Poetry makes nothing happen.” In The Perversity of Poetry, Dino Franco Felluga explores the cultural background of poetry’s marginalization by examining nineteenth-century reactions to Romantic poetry and ideology. Focusing on the work of Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron, as well as periodical reviews, student manuals, and contemporary medical journals, the book details the period’s two contending (and equally outrageous) claims regarding poetry. Scott’s poetry, on the one hand, was continually represented as a panacea for a modern world overtaken by new principles of utilitarianism, capitalism, industrialism, and democracy. Byron’s, by contrast, was represented either as a cancer in the heart of the social order or as a contagious pandemic leading to various pathological symptoms. The book concludes with a coda on Alfred Lord Tennyson, which illustrates how the Victorian reception of Scott and Byron affected the most popular poetic genius of midcentury. Ultimately, The Perversity of Poetry uncovers how the shift to a rhetoric of health allowed critics to oppose what they perceived as a potent and potentially dangerous influence on the age, the very thing that would over the course of the century be marginalized into such obscurity: poetry, thanks to its perverse insistence on making something happen.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-x


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p. xi

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pp. 1-11

Nineteenth-century critics expressed with cries of alarm what was for W. H. Auden by 1939 a mere statement of fact: “poetry makes nothing happen.” The lines that follow this statement in Auden’s famous poem, “In Memory of W. B.Yeats,” speak to a number of the concerns in this book:...

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pp. 13-32

BEFORE I CAN TURN TO THE RHETORICAL STRATEGIES USED BY MEN of letters to “diagnose” Scott and Byron, the two poets who were consistently seen as the opposing possibilities for poetic genius in the late Romantic period, and before I can begin to demonstrate the connection between each poet’s poetry and politics,...

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pp. 33-69

WHEN HE DECIDED TO TURN TO THE ROMANCE FORM IN HIS 1805 Lay of the Last Minstrel, just a few years after Wordsworth attacked the “degrading thirst after outrageous stimulation” fed by “idle and extravagant stories in verse” (Prose 1.128–30), Scott was engaging a rather embattled generic form. ...

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pp. 71-103

UNLIKE SCOTT, BYRON COMPLICATED THE HARMONIZING FUNCTION of the romance by “unromantically” discussing the present. This chapter will argue that Byron countered Scott’s efforts both to familiarize the past and to harmonize antagonism by instead defamiliarizing the present and inciting revolution,...

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pp. 105-141

BYRON USES WHAT POWERS OF ENCHANTMENT HE COMMANDS IN his poetry not to bury the past in the past (the mourning work that in Scott reburies the wizard in his tomb even as it rebinds the wizard’s tome against the endless return that is the reading act), but instead uses his enchanter’s wand...

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CODA: Tennyson’s Idylls, Pure Poetry, and the Market

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pp. 143-161

IF POETRY WAS, INDEED, PERCEIVED AS PERVERSE IN THE NINETEENTH century, as we saw in Byron, how exactly does one account for the equally pervasive tendency to represent poetry as an antidote to the ills of a prosaic age, as we saw in Scott? ...


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pp. 163-182


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pp. 183-198


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pp. 199-208

E-ISBN-13: 9780791483978
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791462997
Print-ISBN-10: 0791462994

Page Count: 220
Illustrations: 2 line drawings
Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 62750492
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Perversity of Poetry, The

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Subject Headings

  • Masculinity in literature.
  • Byron, George Gordon Byron, Baron, 1788-1824 -- Appreciation.
  • Popular literature -- Great Britain -- History and criticism.
  • English poetry -- Male authors -- History and criticism.
  • Scott, Walter, Sir, 1771-1832 -- Poetic works.
  • Scott, Walter, Sir, 1771-1832 -- Appreciation.
  • Romanticism -- Great Britain.
  • Creation (Literary, artistic, etc.).
  • Men in literature.
  • Genius in literature.
  • English poetry -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
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