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JUAN SANCHEZ England and Spain and The Domestic Affections: Felicia Hemans and the Politics ofLiterature I N THE WAKE OF OVER A DECADE OF IMPORTANT RECOVERY WORK ON Felicia Hemans inspired by the groundbreaking scholarship ofsuch critics as Marlon Ross, Stuart Curran, and, of course, Anne Mellor, the question of “Why Hemans Note?” a question posed some time ago by Nanora Sweet andJulie Melnyk about the importance of Hemans to Romanticism, might just as easily be phrased today as: “Who’s/whose Hemans now?”1 Out of Mellor’s once well-recognized and universally-acknowledged do­ mestic Hemans, eager critics have spun out a dazzling array ofnew incarna­ tions, including Diego Saglia’s anti-domestic “heroic” Hemans, Donelle Ruwe’s “bourgeois” Hemans, Margot Louis’s “sentimental” Hemans, Gary Kelly’s “liberal” Hemans, and, a personal favorite, E. Douka Kabitoglou’s “transvestite” Hemans. Although these constructions are not necessarily in­ compatible they are sometimes antithetical, as in Tricia Looten’s “imperial Hemans” and Nanora Sweet’s anti-imperialist “republican” Hemans.2 i. See Ross, The Contours of Masculine Desire: Romanticism and the Rise of Women’s Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990); Curran, “Romantic Poetry: The I Altered,” in Ro­ manticism and Feminism, 185-207; Romanticism and Gender; and Sweet and Melnyk, “Intro­ duction: Why Hemans Now?” in Felicia Hemans: Reimagining Poetry in the Nineteenth Century, eds. Sweet and Melnyk (New York: Palgrave, 2001). 2. Saglia, “Epic or Domestic?: Felicia Hemans’s Heroic Poetry and the Myth ofthe Victo­ rian Poetess,” Rivista di Studi Vittoriani 2, no. 4 (1997): 125; Ruwe, “The Canon-Maker: Felicia Hemans and Torquato Tasso’s Sister,” in Comparative Romanticisms: Power, Gender, Subjectivity, eds. Larry H. Peer and Diane Long Hoeveler (Columbia: Camden House, 1998), 134; Louis, “Enlarging the Heart: L.E.L.’s ‘The Improvisatrice,’ Hemans’s ‘Properzia Rossi,’ and Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh,” Victorian Literature and Culture 26, no. 1 (1998): 1; Kelly, “Death and the Matron: Felicia Hemans, Romantic Death, and the Founding of the Modern Liberal State,” in Felicia Hemans, 196; Kabitoglou, “The Pen and Sword: Felicia Hemans’s Records ofMan,” in Romantic Masculinities, eds. Tony Pinkney, Keith Hanley, and SiR, 53 (Fall 2014) 399 400 JUAN SANCHEZ In some ways, the numerous incarnations of Felicia Hemans offer a sim­ ple commentary on the generative nature of interpretation itself. Though this nature is anything but straightforward, I want to make a special case about the peculiarity of Hemans’s mode of writing that I argue may help us account for the seemingly endless ways of reading Hemans, not only among her contemporaries but also among many of her critics today. Ex­ amination of the special characteristics of Hemans’s poetry, what I call, to borrow Ranciere’s theoretical framework, the politics of her literature, is then less about an investigation of the ideological positionings of Hemans’s texts or even their coded representations of social, cultural, and political struggle.3 Rather it is more abstractly about the way in which her poetry frames, as Ranciere puts it, the relation between what can be said and what can be seen, or, to state it in historical terms, what could be said and what could be seen in post-iypos Britain. When applied to politics proper, such an investigation moves away from ideological critique toward a rhe­ torical and textual analysis of how literature gives rise to different modes of perception of the political that make possible different ways of speaking about the world. To that end, this essay considers those aspects ofHemans’s writing that not only make possible but also encourage antithetical appro­ priations of her work without apparent contradiction. In placing the destabilizing literary tropes of her poems in stark relief to the more stable narrative structure that often frames them, Hemans’s writing dramatizes the political, a style of writing that brings to life the dynamic nature of early nineteenth-century political debate and thought. In the absence of definitive proof of Hemans’s personal political commitments—Hemans never openly declared herself Whig, Tory, republican, or other— not to mention the unfavorable conditions that made it difficult for women to comment openly on the political world, reading the politics of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2330-118X
Print ISSN
0039-3762
Pages
pp. 399-416
Launched on MUSE
2020-03-19
Open Access
No
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