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Writing spaces: the Coleridge family’s agoraphobic poetics, 1796-1898

Taylor, Joanna E

Writing spaces: the Coleridge family’s agoraphobic poetics, 1796-1898 Thumbnail


Joanna E Taylor


In recent years there has been a rapid growth in interest in the lives and writings of the children of major Romantic poets. Often, this work has suggested that the children felt themselves to be overshadowed by their forebears in ways which had problematic implications for their creative independence. In this thesis I explore the construction of writing spaces – physical, imaginary, textual and material – in the works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s (1772-1834) children and grandchildren: Hartley (1796-1849), Derwent (1800-1883), Sara (1802-1852), Derwent Moultrie (1828-1880), Edith (1832-1911) and Ernest Hartley (1846-1920). I suggest that these writers adopted and adapted STC’s philosophic and poetic systems and employed them to advance their own unique poetics, which I take to include their imaginative approach more generally as well as their poetry specifically.

The spatial readings I propose offer an alternative to the customary temporal focus of an ‘anxiety of influence’. I argue that the spatial imagination on display in this family’s works enabled each writer to interact with other writers in the family network without compromising their creative independence. In advancing an agoraphobic poetics, I suggest that the Coleridge family productively subverted their influence anxieties and employed them to emphasise their imaginative uniqueness. Their responses to the real world offer an important method of considering their place in their literary community, and these responses rely upon the careful formation and articulation of boundaries. These limits are explored in their letters and private writings, redrawn in the form of maps, expressed through poetic form and invocations of other poets, and visualised through the act of writing. This thesis demonstrates that these writers’ apparent anxiety masked confident assertions of their poetic place as important nineteenth-century writers in their own rights.


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