An implicit continuum: Elegiac impulses and poetics of loss in nineteenth-century British poetry
This dissertation is an examination of nineteenth-century British elegiac poetry. It focuses on poems written by both Romantic and Victorian poets—William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Clare, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Emily Brontë, James Thomson (B. V.), Thomas Hardy—and argues that much of nineteenth-century British poetry is elegiac, even when the poems are not strictly elegies by form. The last four decades of critical discussions of the elegy and elegiac writing have tended to focus almost exclusively on the psychological interpretations of the written word within the confines of the conventions of the genre. Throughout this period of stagnation, students and scholars of the elegiac vein have by and large been spoon-fed with this mainly Freudian theoretical bent which has been spearheaded by the psychoanalytic critic Peter M. Sacks. In an attempt to construct an alternative critical perspective that detracts from this psychoanalytic methodology, I explore varying attitudes to loss that elicit elegiac responses in the form of elegiac impulses.
My dissertation also works to bridge the conventional divide between the Romantic and Victorian eras which too often results in oversimplifications. I believe it is essential to see not only the ruptures, but also the continuities of the elegiac traditions throughout the nineteenth century. The unique differences between the two eras are certain and well documented. However, little has been said about the textual, thematic, and stylistic value of elegiac poems written throughout the century in question. I argue further that there is a long-neglected need for a distinct delineation of the intrinsic characteristics of nineteenth-century elegiac poetry through a number of specific paradigms. At this juncture, I divide nineteenth-century elegiac poetry into two main conceptual categories: sense of loss and elegiac response, where the former derives from and operates upon the paradigms of either physical death or the idea of death (i.e. perceptual death), while the latter works through the paradigm of either silence or tautology and circularity. In the final analysis, the nineteenth-century poet's inherent preoccupation with absence and the void and his/her response to loss becomes manifest in the form of elegiac impulses, and ultimately creates its distinctive watermark that is visible to the discerning eye by virtue of its tautological and circuitous pattern.