Tag Archives: aesthetics

“True Crime” in the Regency: why the Romantics would have been addicted to Law and Order

In December of 1811, Leigh Hunt’s Examiner featured the gruesome news of two families murdered near Ratcliff Highway, in London’s East End. These murders attracted prolonged public attention: The Examiner and The London Times, for example, both followed the “Horrid Murders” from December 8th through January of the following year and invoked them over the next decade as a standard against which all other horrific crimes were measured. The murders also inspired a satiric essay by Thomas de Quincey, first published in 1827 in Blackwood’s Magazine, entitled “On Murder, Considered as One of the Fine Arts.” In it, he describes murder as an art form and the Ratcliff murders as the pièce de résistance. The Regency’s public interest in this crime has an uncanny cousin in our modern-day fascination with police procedural TV shows, and I’d like to suggest that we can see the newspapers’ representation of this moment—particularly because of de Quincey’s essay—as an early exploration of a “True Crime” genre that, narratively, features the same foundations as the serial television shows many are drawn to today.

First, a note about De Quincey’s essay. It features a transcribed lecture presented by a member of the fictional Society of Connoisseurs in Murder—I’ll refer to him as SCM here. These members “profess to be curious in homicide; amateurs and dilettanti in the various modes of bloodshed” and “criticise [murders] as they would a picture, statue, or other work of art” (1, 2). After the murder is “over and done,” SCM—quoting anecdotes from Coleridge and Wordsworth for support—claims that we can “make the best of a bad matter” and “treat it aesthetically” (12). An aesthetic treatment of murder involves examining its “design, [. . .] grouping, light and shade, poetry, sentiment” (5), and SCM has elaborate rules for the characterization of the murder’s victim, place, and time. He calls the early nineteenth century the “Augustan age of murder” (40), and he lionizes Williams—the man accused of committing the Ratcliff murders—as the Milton or Michelangelo of murder, claiming that his crimes are “the sublimest and most entire in their excellence that ever were committed” (54).

Continue reading “True Crime” in the Regency: why the Romantics would have been addicted to Law and Order

Review: The Theory of the Sublime from Longinus to Kant by Robert Doran

sublimeAny scholar in any discipline with even a passing familiarity with the Romantic era knows how central the idea of the sublime is to Romantic thought. But exactly what is the sublime? The sense of awe and terror that overwhelmed Percy Shelley’s mind and spirit upon first looking at Mont Blanc? Wordsworth’s epiphany of cosmic truth upon his return to Tintern Abbey? Any number of wondrous and terrible events that befell Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner on his adventures? Well, yes and no. For these are merely descriptions of sublime events, and do not in themselves provide any sort of qualitative definition. Before reading Robert Doran’s sweeping and erudite study, I’m not sure I could have answered this question. To be honest, I still don’t know if I can answer it satisfactorily, since by its nature the sublime has a way of both transcending and subverting things. But Robert Doran’s The Theory of the Sublime from Longinus to Kant at least provides a rich and detailed map of the the subject, and even if the map isn’t exactly the territory it’s still invaluable to a scholar of Romantic ideology. Continue reading Review: The Theory of the Sublime from Longinus to Kant by Robert Doran

Reading Suggestions for Grad Seminar

New Graduate Course Help entry on Romantic Circles Pedagogy Blog. Dr. Katherine Harris asked for our help recommending reading for her graduate seminar. Respond on her blog post at http://www.rc.umd.edu/pedagogies/pedagogies_blog/?p=264.

This Fall, I’m teaching a graduate course in Romanticism. The last time I offered a graduate course(2 years ago on William Wordsworth), it was cancelled for low enrollment (only 7 signed up; I needed at least 10). This means that an entire generation of our MA graduate students haven’t had any Romantic-era literature for their comprehensive exams. (The last class I taught in the graduate program was in 2008 and that was on Madness & Romanticism, based on an article I wrote for an Alexander Street Press database.) Most of the time, I hear them say that they had a Romantic-era survey in undergrad and don’t need a grad course in Blake, Byron, Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, or Coleridge to pass the exams. Grad courses specifically do not cater to the comprehensive exams, but it’s been difficult erasing this culture from our program.  They will take a Victorian course and read all of Middlemarch and 3 or 4 Dickens novels, but Romanticism falls flat. For the Fall, I have no shame; I will resort to bribery and pop culture-isms to attract students to this course.

Yes, dear Teaching Romanticism Collection, I am asking for your help. I want to teach a course on the development of aesthetics in Romantic-era literature — based on the summer NEH seminar with Stephen Behrendt. The readings will be based on those from the seminar plus any travel diaries, travelogues, ships’ manifestos, letters that involve this idea of travel. The title:

Eat, Look, Go”: Romanticism, Aestheticism, and the Sensualism of Travel

All of the usual suspects appear in the primary reading (MWS, PBS, STC, WW, DW, MW) but who else? Any suggestions? Perhaps we could create a map of their travel (staying with the digital theme that I typically incorporate). Or maybe I should kick it old school and just have them read, interact with the literature.  I’m not quite sure how to get eating in there, too.

Any suggestions?