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Wordsworth's economic spirit

Vaughan, Iain Kee (2008) Wordsworth's economic spirit. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

In much of his poetry, and from an early stage of his career, Wordsworth aims to resist the power of money, to repudiate it for its social and moral inefficacy. However, the act of repudiation involves an acknowledgement of money’s power: in order to resist money, an alternative must be ‘coined’. This thesis will show the way in which Wordsworth consistently attempts to deal with money in his work, not only as an imaginative theme, but also as an everyday reality, and that his remarkable sensitivity to such matters ensures that economic ideas infiltrate many of the significant aspects of his poetic. In my introductory chapter, I bring together two poems that seem to represent successive stages in Wordsworth’s confrontation and rejection of worldly economics, ‘Tintern Abbey’ and Home at Grasmere. I contrast the first poem’s hesitant attempt to inaugurate a version of economic community with the second poem’s apparent fulfilment of this aspiration. In chapter two, I examine the juvenile poem The Vale of Esthwaite and the early publication An Evening Walk, in order to suggest some reasons for the economic preoccupation that I find at the core of Wordsworth’s poetic. The German trip of 1798-99 is the subject of chapter three, and, through some relatively neglected verse that Wordsworth composed during this period, I demonstrate the connection that he made between economic and poetic crises, and ask how far each was resolved. I find a tension between the economic and gift themes in Wordsworth’s poetry, and in chapter four I examine this problem in detail, via The Prelude, in which both feature prominently. In doing so, I will reveal the fundamentally economic ideas on which Wordsworth’s self-image as poet rests. As a response to the avowedly ‘experimental’ character of Lyrical Ballads, in chapter five I attempt my own experimental reading of the ‘Preface’ in which Wordsworth sought to explain the principles of these poems. I show the way in which Wordsworth’s account of the value of poetry closely reflects arguments made by John Locke over a hundred years earlier to explain the value of money. I also suggest some historical reasons for this broad similarity. In the second part of chapter five, I trace economic subtexts in the ‘Essay Supplementary to the Preface’ (1815). I suggest that although developments in the public sphere may have prompted Wordsworth’s arguments in the ‘Preface’, a more private kind of economic sensitivity forms the background to the ‘Essay’. In my final chapter, I consider the significance of the mansion in Wordsworth’s poetry, an image which is not only instrumental in the development of the theme of imaginative wealth, but becomes the primary figure by which it is articulated. In the first part of this chapter I trace the development of this image in Wordsworth’s early verse; in the second part of the chapter I consider its meanings in Wordsworth’s mature verse, through complementary readings of The Ruined Cottage and ‘Tintern Abbey’, and a brief rereading of The Prelude.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Wordsworth, Romantic Poetry, Adam Smith, John Locke, Bernard Mandeville, Political Economy
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Supervisor's Name: Cronin, Professor Richard
Date of Award: December 2008
Embargo Date: 3 February 2012
Depositing User: Dr. Iain Kee Vaughan
Unique ID: glathesis:2008-12-571
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 09 Feb 2009
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 13:19
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/571

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