Trauma of Modernity in Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey

Vijay Kumar Datta

Abstract

Critics of the 1960s and 1970s have largely interpreted Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey as projecting a Romantic poet “Cartesian /Kantian / Hegelian in his thinking, concerned more with imagination than with nature or history” (Richard Gravil 36). Their critical verdict is that Wordsworth, in the poem, has been looking “for transcendence through Romantic inwardness” (Thomas Brennan 14). Since the 1980s, however, there have been historicizings of Wordsworth. New historicism, with its materialist strain, provides a fundamentally contradictory conception of the persona's self :rather than a transcendental, the person's self is thought of as empirical and defined by what Jerome McGann calls The Romantic Ideology,” as a “false consciousness” (91). McGann cites Tintern Abbey as example to sustain his charge. He argues, according to Leon Waldoff, thatthe poem displace[s] and elide[s] specific social, economic, and political problems and discontents, as well as historical facts that serve as a background for thepoems (bad harvests, poverty, war, the French Revolution, and transientsand beggars). To the extent that the poems posit or recommend atranscendent or transhistorical (spiritual, religious, or psychological) solution to human problems, they are illusory. (4) This “illusory” tendency, according to McGann in The Romantic Ideology, is nowhere more pronounced than Tintern Abbey, at the end of which “we are left only with the initial scene's simplest natural forms” (80). Marjorie Levinson further builds on McGann's ruling on Wordsworth's disregard of his empirical poetic self to elision and exclusion. In Wordsworth's Great Period Poems: Four Essays, she defines the consciousness of the poetic self the persona of Tintern Abbey by its “blindness which assumes autonomy of the psyche, its happy detachment from the social fact of being” (48). Like McGann, she scrutinizes the absences in Tintern Abbey with a spotlight on the elision of the indigence of the poor populations around the abbey. She takes the elision as sacrificing his sensitivity to communal and the collective for the sake of idealizing the landscape for adapting it into a “devotion” that is individual and private (29). Her adverse verdict goes one step ahead of McGann when she, according to Eric Yu, hauls up Wordsworth “for ‘apostasy', betrayal of his earlier radical ideals and withdrawals into consoling selfhood” (132). Alan Liu echoes McGann and Levinson when he asserts that “what is there in a poem is precisely what is not there: all the history that has been displaced, erased, suppressed, elided, overlooked, overwritten, omitted, obscured, expunged, repudiated, excluded, annihilated, and denied” (556).

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Journal

International Journal of English Literature and Social Sciences

The International Journal of English Literature and Social Sciences (IJELS) is a bimonthly, doubl... see more