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British Romanticism and the Critique of Political Reason

What role should reason play in the creation of a free and just society? Can we claim to know anything in a field as complex as politics? And how can the cause of political rationalism be advanced when it is seen as having blood on its hands? These are the questions that occupied a group of British poets, philosophers, and polemicists in the years following the French Revolution.

Timothy Michael argues that much literature of the period is a trial, or a critique, of reason in its political capacities and a test of the kinds of knowledge available to it. For Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Burke, Wollstonecraft, and Godwin, the historical sequence of revolution, counter-revolution, and terror in France—and radicalism and repression in Britain—occasioned a dramatic reassessment of how best to advance the project of enlightenment. The political thought of these figures must be understood, Michael contends, in the context of their philosophical thought. Major poems of the period, including The Prelude, The Excursion, and Prometheus Unbound, are in this reading an adjudication of competing political and epistemological claims.

This book bridges for the first time two traditional pillars of Romantic studies: the period's politics and its theories of the mind and knowledge. Combining literary and intellectual history, it provides an account of British Romanticism in which high rhetoric, political prose, poetry, and poetics converge in a discourse of enlightenment and emancipation.

About the Author

Timothy Michael is a Fellow of Lincoln College and an associate professor of English at the University of Oxford.


"An ambitious and illuminating book that will undoubtedly shape the future course of Romanticism studies. And, given the current political climate in the United States and around the globe, the questions it asks are immensely relevant to discourse beyond literary criticism."—Modern Philology

"It is received wisdom that the Romantics were critics of reason. What is not so well-known, and what this book shows, is that they undertook its critique in the radical Kantian sense. They did so in hopes of renewing reason as a means for generating political knowledge, a task which brought together writers whose apparent political affiliations were very different. Michael has made a valuable contribution to our understanding of the political–philosophical ambitions of a generation too often remembered only for its poetry."—David Simpson, University of California, Davis, author of Romanticism and the Question of the Stranger

"Underlying the scrupulous research is [Michael's] own belief in 'the legitimacy of political knowledge': a kind of learning from inquiry that is not identical with mastery of the theories of government or mere position-taking. . . . British Romanticism and the Critique of Political Reason will be read . . . with absorbing interest by scholars of an earlier period who may have imagined that the eighteenth century concluded on or about the year 1789."—David Bromwich, Yale University

"In this trailblazing study, Timothy Michael proves to be in absolute, sovereign command of his multifarious material. He is, in the best sense, himself a political thinker and a discerning critical mind. Michael displays what was once defined as the only secret of style: have something to say and say it as clearly as you can. This is a landmark publication."—Christoph Bode, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, author of The Novel: An Introduction

"Romanticists, intellectual historians, and philosophers will benefit immensely from Michael's work."—Studies in Romanticism

"Ambitious, well executed, and timely, this book provides valuable insight into some of the most abiding questions of Romantic studies."—Charles W. Mahoney, University of Connecticut, editor of A Companion to Romantic Poetry

"A compelling and timely argument about the contested relationship between reason and politics in British Romanticism . . . Michael's argument not only recovers the world and language of the Romantics, but also speaks directly to contemporary issues in politics across the globe."—The Coleridge Bulletin

"A thoughtful, rigorous book written in a pleasingly clear manner. . . . Michael's philosophical criticism offers an exciting attempt to rethink the field."—English

"The publication of Timothy Michael's British Romanticism and the Critique of Political Reason represents a landmark in the study of British Romantic literature."—The European Legacy

"A sophisticated and ambitious bookMichael's account genuinely offers a new account of British Romanticism."—Studia Neophilologica

"Here is the basis for an argument about the ongoing importance of literature in our lives, and why it cannot be studied separately from other areas of knowledge, since it is itself a vehicle for knowledge's creation and modification."—AmeriQuests

"Not the least of the strengths of this work is the lucidity of its author's style: the clarity with which he presents and prosecutes his thesis, summarizes or elaborates particular intellectual positions and debates as he sets out their bearings on his discussion, adds considerably to the force of his insights."—European Romantic Review

"A stimulating study, not least in providing a new frame through which to interpret British Romanticism."—The Byron Journal

"In this ambitious and frequently brilliant book traversing the fields of intellectual and literary history and formal analysis, Michael explores the Kantian strand within British Romanticism's critique of political reason developed in the wake of the French Revolution."—Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies

"A lucid, erudite study."—Literature and History

"A fascinating, philosophically accomplished, and beautifully produced book."—The BARS Review

"The book represents an exemplary and major contribution to Romantic studies . . . Readers of intellectual history, the history of ideas, the German Enlightenment, and those interested in the history of British, and to a lesser extent European, politics [will] find much to admire, cherish, and inspire in these pages."—Romantic Circles

"Michael offers extraordinary insights into many other matters, including the philosophy of Shelley, Coleridge and Kant . . . Deserve[s] a place on the bookshelf on anyone interested in British politics, American history, the history of India, philosophy (both ancient and 18th/19th century), poetry, the development of ideas and much else."—Sun News Miami

"British Romanticism and the Critique of Political Reason will be read in any case with absorbing interest by scholars of an earlier period who may have imagined that the eighteenth century concluded on or about the year 1789."—Review of English Studies

9781421418032 : british-romanticism-and-the-critique-of-political-reason-michael
296 Pages
$54.95 USD
9781421418049 : british-romanticism-and-the-critique-of-political-reason-michael
Electronic book text
296 Pages
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