Communal Lyricisms and the Lyricization of English Poetry, 1650–1790

Christopher Chan, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

This dissertation retraces the history of English lyric in the long eighteenth century (c. 1650–1790). It departs from the critical consensus that the “rise” of lyric in this period coincided with the elevation of the ode and its poetic conventions to preeminence, further generating interpretive models which have shaped our understanding of poetry today. Instead, I argue that lyric emerged from the various practices that poets, editors, and other institutions exerted on eighteenth-century verse genres beyond the ode. Attention to these practices, which I collectively term “lyricization,” reveals a robust genealogy of lyric whose origins lie as much in cultural-material issues as they do in literary-critical concerns. To these ends, each chapter of the dissertation charts the production and reception of a popular yet relatively underrepresented eighteenth-century verse genre, as practiced by poets who wrote extensively on contemporary sociocultural matters. Chapter 1 reads the retreat poems of Abraham Cowley and Anne Finch as strategic negotiations of their “contemn’d retreats” from court life following the Restoration and the 1688 Revolution, respectively. Chapter 2 contends that retirement poetry, popularized by John Pomfret’s The Choice (1700) and parodied by his successors, became a viable medium for sociopolitical critique amidst the financial and political crises of the early eighteenth century. Chapter 3 demonstrates how the burlesques of John Philips and Alexander Pope, and the verses of laborers like Stephen Duck and Mary Leapor, contemporaneously lyricized poetry by tying its professional fortunes to contrasting models of poverty. Chapter 4 revisits Anne Steele and Susannah Harrison’s hymns of affliction as lyrical experiments in collectivizing personal suffering, particularly as they were handled by their posthumous editors. Chapter 5 contends that eighteenth-century literary reviewers lyricized the antislavery poems of William Roscoe, John Jamieson, and James Field Stanfield by eliding their graphic descriptions of the slave trade into concerns about their “poetic” value and technique. Across these cases, Communal Lyricisms therefore stresses the importance of thinking “communally” between poetic and material practices. To historicize eighteenth-century lyric in this vein is to reaffirm its roots in poets’ sustained engagements with sociopolitical, material, and literary concerns alike.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Chan, Christopher, "Communal Lyricisms and the Lyricization of English Poetry, 1650–1790" (2020). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI27957375.
https://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI27957375

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