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30 Great Myths about the Romantics

Duncan Wu

ISBN: 978-1-118-84318-5 March 2015 Wiley-Blackwell 336 Pages



Brimming with the fascinating eccentricities of a complex and confusing movement whose influences continue to resonate deeply, 30 Great Myths About the Romantics adds great clarity to what we know – or think we know – about one of the most important periods in literary history.

  • Explores the various misconceptions commonly associated with Romanticism, offering provocative insights that correct and clarify several of the commonly-held myths about the key figures of this era
  • Corrects some of the biases and beliefs about the Romantics that have crept into the 21st-century zeitgeist – for example that they were a bunch of drug-addled atheists who believed in free love; that Blake was a madman; and that Wordsworth slept with his sister
  • Celebrates several of the mythic objects, characters, and ideas that have passed down from the Romantics into contemporary culture – from Blake’s Jerusalem and Keats’s Ode on a Grecian Urn to the literary genre of the vampire
  • Engagingly written to provide readers with a fun yet scholarly introduction to Romanticism and key writers of the period, applying the most up-to-date scholarship to the series of myths that continue to shape our appreciation of their work

Acknowledgements xi

Introduction xiii

A Note on Monetary Values xxvii

Myth 1 Romanticism began in 1798 1

Myth 2 English Romanticism was a reaction against the Enlightenment 8

Myth 3 The Romantics hated the sciences 17

Myth 4 The Romantics repudiated the Augustans, especially Pope and Dryden 29

Myth 5 The Romantic poets were misunderstood, solitary geniuses 40

Myth 6 Romantic poems were produced by spontaneous inspiration 49

Myth 7 Blake was mad 58

Myth 8 Blake wrote ‘Jerusalem’ as an anthem to Englishness 66

Myth 9 Lyrical Ballads (1798) was designed to illustrate ‘the two cardinal points of poetry’, using poems about everyday life and the supernatural 74

Myth 10 Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads was a manifesto for the Romantic revolution 82

Myth 11 Wordsworth had an incestuous relationship with his sister 90

Myth 12 Tory Wordsworth 98

Myth 13 The person from Porlock 108

Myth 14 Jane Austen had an incestuous relationship with her sister 115

Myth 15 The Keswick rapist 124

Myth 16 Byron had an affair with his sister 132

Myth 17 Byron was a great lover of women 140

Myth 18 Byron was a champion of democracy 149

Myth 19 Byron was a ‘noble warrior’ who died fighting for Greek freedom 156

Myth 20 Shelley committed suicide by sailboat 166

Myth 21 Shelley’s heart 175

Myth 22 Keats’s ‘humble origins’ 185

Myth 23 Keats was gay 193

Myth 24 Keats was killed by a review 203

Myth 25 Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote Frankenstein 212

Myth 26 Women writers were an exploited underclass – unknown, unloved, and unpaid 220

Myth 27 The Romantics were atheists 232

Myth 28 The Romantics were counter-cultural drug users 242

Myth 29 The Romantics practised free love on principle 251

Myth 30 The Romantics were the rock stars of their day 261

Coda 270

Further Reading 277

Index 283