English 9184

The 1790s and their Afterlives: The Godwins and Shelleys

Instructor: Professor T. Rajan.
Full Year Course.

This course focuses on the Godwin-Shelley circle, which Julie Carlson has called England’s first family of writers: William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Percy Shelley and Mary Shelley. It may also include related work by Mary Hays and Amelia Opie that thematises Godwin and Wollstonecraft. The work of this group of writers is characterised by an unusual density of self-allusion and self-analysis, as well as by their discarding, repetition and working through of figures of each other, across the period from the 1790s to the cusp of the Victorian period. A loose envelope for the course is thus my own concept of “autonarration,” in which writers project and revise themselves and other intimates as part-subjects and part-objects, in such a way that the issues they traverse in this psycho-analytic process remain under ongoing negotiation between and within their texts. However, the aim here is not to reduce the texts studied to a family romance. The family of texts studied here is best conceived as an open rhizome of intellectual and generic connections; the point of this course is precisely not to specify a topic that forces us to read for a single theme. Those connections include politics, world history, the relations between prose and poetry and an experimentation with their boundaries, and the survival of the 1790s and Romanticism as a form of dissensus into the Regency as a form of consensus.