Summaries and Interpretations

Elizabeth Fay 

Elizabeth Fay’s informative introduction from her text, A Feminist Introduction to Romanticism, conveys her opinion of the works of British Romantic female writers. First, Fay cites that it is unusual to characterize novelists or female writers as consequential contributors to Romantic era (Fay 3). Fay explains the case of Jane Austen, both a novelist and a female author, who until very recently was not acknowledged as a Romantic writer. Although she recognizes that many scholars view Austen as a writer who gives a “mocking treatment” towards the typical subjects of Romantic poets, Fay brings to light how Jane Austen’s work fits the description of  Romantic literature (Fay 3). Among the qualities in Austen’s writing that illuminate how Austen follows the conventionalities of Romantic writers, Fay underscores the particularly “sincere and darkly ironic” themes in the work of Jane Austen that make her a model Romantic author (Fay 2). Fay notes that Austen’s work is not quite as openly sincere or dark, but actually critiques the two elements through “verbal play that is corrective rather than despairing or vituperative” (Fay 3). She also claims that Austen’s treatment of the subjects of Romanticism was customary for females of the Romantic period because “critique as a literary form offered women a way to accommodate themselves to Romanticism while differing from the main perspectives that were defining the times” (Fay 4). Additionally, Fay notes that female Romantic writers often wrote about emotion because it enabled “women writers to critique society” in a manner that was beneficial to themselves and their readers due to the potentially dangerous social “norms” that could have troubled women if they misjudged the emotional states of others before entering potentially binding marriages and partnerships in the Romantic era (Fay 5). So, overall, Fay highlights how Romantic female writers differed from the traditionally-favored male Romantic scribes and uses Jane Austen’s literature to demonstrate her theories.

Response

            Fay’s synopsis of the attributes of female Romantic writers seems to be thoroughly researched and accurate. The Romantic female writers would seem to need to respond instead of emulate the dark tones that male writers often produced, and I also think that female writers would have benefited themselves and their readers by critiquing the emotional states of men and females in their literature instead of reiterating it given the hardships females faced in an often unforgiving society in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Fay’s recognition that female writers were writing Romantic literature in a way that was productive and enjoyable to the female mindset—and was more acceptable as a female in earlier times. So, Elizabeth Fay’s argument regarding the nature of feminist Romantic literature seems to be extensively supported throughout the introduction and also intuitively logical as a treatise.

English Romantic Poets, pp. 3-24

Arthur O. Lovejoy’s chapter titled, “On the Discrimination of Romanticism,” overviews the general endeavor to define what exactly “Romantic” narratives are as literary works. Lovejoy references that Romanticism has been subjugated to various descriptions and credited to alternating originating creators since the production of Romantic literature—and subsequently “the offspring with which Romanticism is credited are as strangely assorted as its attributes and its ancestors” (Lovejoy 5). As a result of the mixture of arguably valid opinions regarding the context of the soul and nature of Romanticism, Lovejoy also recognizes that it would also not be “possible” to “take sides in the controversy” concerning “its merits” and “its general influence upon art and life” (Lovejoy 6). However, Lovejoy does not think that one should avoid attempting to understand the core of what Romanticism is as a genre, so he proceeds to present his conclusions regarding the meaning of Romanticism using historical illustrations and examples from varying cultures. Throughout his discourses, he concludes that the unifying and cross cultural theme within Romanticism involves the comparative “cleavage” that results when comparing naturalism to tones of art—so Romantic literature is ultimately less concerned with artistic imitation and more with conveying more emotional and natural modes of emotional expression (Lovejoy 20).

Response

I thought his argument overall was convincing, and he definitely reinforces his theories by using cross-cultural pieces of evidence to support his treatises. Although he does clarify the meaning of “Romantic” and what elements are included in the Romantic genre, his chapter is also interesting because he proves how extensively disputed the meaning of “Romanticism” is among critics of literature. Additionally, I found his explanation of the contributions of multiple scholars who use varying European languages intriguingly unique as forms of evidence to support his assertions. His overall emphasis upon the ongoing accentuation of naturalism in Romantic literature as opposed to imitative modes of expression seems to be very accurate given his bilingual experiences studying Romantic literature and his very thorough research comparing the past dissertations regarding the meaning if Romanticism.

English Romantic Poets, pp. 25-55

W.K. Wimsatt’s chapter titled, “The Structure of Romantic Nature Imagery,” contrasts the qualities of metaphysical poetry with Romantic narratives. Within metaphysical poems, logic and intellectual themes dominate the varying subjects of poetry. However, Wimsatt contends that Romantic poetry differs from “metaphysical and neoclassical poetry” in that “romantic poetry” is “a step toward the directness of sensory perception” (Wimsatt 35). So, although all poetry “is always a fusion of ideas with material” Romantic poetry is less strictly logically-oriented than metaphysical literature. With regards to this difference, “the romantic is far closer than the metaphysical to symbolist poetry” (Wimsatt 35). So, in his chapter, Wimsatt attempts to elucidate the elements of Romantic poetry compared to earlier, metaphysical forms, and he concludes that although both types of poetry involve ideas and even emotion, Romantic poetry consists of symbolic and sensory perception components in opposition to metaphysical poetry which is more analytically formulated.

Response

W.K. Wimsatt’s clarification of the qualities of Romantic poetry definitely resonated with my prior impression of Romantic narratives. I previously thought of “Romantic” literature to be related to the senses and emotional expression—and her contention that Romantic poetry is less strictly logical than metaphysical poetry seems to be a fair argument. Furthermore, I also thought of sensory themes to be more capable of symbolic undertones than metaphysical poetry that is limited by its analytical direction. So, I also think her treatise regarding the symbolic elements of Romantic literature is also accurate given that symbolism is not always congruent with strict modes of logic. In conclusion, her discussion of Romantic narratives in comparison with metaphysical forms of expression seemed to be convincing to me.

William Jones, “On the Poetry of the Eastern Nations”

            “On the Poetry of the Eastern Nations,” is a fascinating text authored by William Jones concerning his observations from his experiences in Eastern lands that motivated him to begin studying Eastern poetry and why he believes that Eastern poetry should be examined as customary study materials along with western literature. Throughout his essay, he reveals how the beauty of the Eastern lands including Arabia (but particularly Yemen and the people inhabiting it) have led to the creation of a plethora of gorgeous poetry from this part of the world. Jones reveals his belief that the aesthetic appeal of the Eastern land has motivated the prevalence of poetry in the Eastern nations: “Poetry receives a very considerable ornament from the beauty of natural images (Jones 529). Jones also discusses how the effects of the ancient religious practices and political customs of its inhabitants have led the populations to have a more stable life and history relatively devoid of warfare compared to Europeans—and the relationship of that stability to the increased poetic inclinations of the Eastern populations that highly value poetry as an art form (Jones 531-532). Furthermore, Jones also credits the “advantage of a rich and beautiful language” that the Eastern people use with the making of their remarkably superior poetry (Jones 534). So, overall, William Jones communicates in his text why he has found the poetry of the East to be an excellent source of not only knowledge but also literature and his theories concerning what motivated the populations of Eastern lands to produce commendable poetry.

Response

            I think William Jones’ summaries of the poetry, ways of life, culture, and history of Eastern lands was fascinating. I enjoyed learning about the telling beauty of Eastern nations as well—and how that geography affected the poets of Eastern nations. However, Jones’ depiction of the Eastern narratives does seem to suggest that it is important to not only study the literature from Jones’ perspective—but also possibly adopt and possess it in an imperial manner by ultimately changing the literature given the inevitably biased perspective of a foreigner. Overall, his language towards the Eastern narratives and culture seems to be indicative of his admiring tone despite his suggestions that imply he thought the literature should not only be examined but espoused by Westerners.

William Jones, “Third Anniversary Discourse”

The essay titled, “Third Anniversary Discourse,” also demonstrates Jones’ reverence for Eastern literature, but he divulges into the culture and history of India to support his assertions regarding the value of Eastern narratives and Eastern lands. He discusses many aspects of the history of India and the Hindus—including the inventions, religious past, intellectual discoveries, and political challenges that came from the subcontinent—but he notably claims that he believes India to be “the true center of population or of knowledge” (Jones 2). He also describes the economic “sources of wealth” that India still offers despite its turbulent history of being ruled by foreigners in addition to the picturesque beauty of India and aspects of India’s culture from his perspective (Jones 3). William Jones’ claim that Sanskrit is probably the most ideal language for communication purposes is also a noteworthy component of this essay that celebrates the factors that led to the perfections of Eastern literature and narrative forms: “Sanskrit is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either” (Jones 3). In summary, William Jones’ essay reveals the aspects of the Eastern lands, languages, culture, and history that contributed to the creation of Eastern literature that Jones asserts should be a part of regulatory curriculum in the West along with Western literature.

Response

            Although I had studied “the East” extensively during two world history classes in high school, I thought William Jones’ observations regarding the political and religious history of India was very informative and inspirational. Additionally, although the subject he describes is naturally interesting to me, his writing style made the reading even more engaging, and I rarely read writing from earlier centuries like Jones’ that seems to be attain a very high level of clarity while also providing deeply descriptive imagery. I was also pleasantly surprised by how thoroughly researched Jones obviously was given the ongoing detail that he offers throughout the text, and I also believe that I usually do not read texts like this about a different culture that seem to be an overarching analysis of a population’s history instead of just a critique of a particular aspect of a culture’s past. Moreover, I also found it refreshing to absorb passionate the tone of this work that obviously reveals how much he values India and the subjects of his writing. Even though his writing is very impressive, the accounts of his professional credentials that are revealed in this text are even more commendable! Overall, reading this written piece was extremely inspirational, and I enjoyed reading the fascinating writing style created by Jones in this essay that is an obvious sign of his poetical leanings and qualifications as an extremely gifted and culturally-aware historical figure.

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