Review Article on David Simpson’s Wordsworth’s Historical Imagination

Citation: Review Article on David Simpson’s Wordsworth’s Historical Imagination. The Wordsworth Circle 19 (1988): 172-81.

Excerpt from beginning of essay (pages 172-73)

By making “displacement” its key concept (a successor to apocalypse or the circuitous journey), David Simpson’s Wordsworth’s Historical Imagination stamps more deeply what is rapidly becoming the insignia of the “new historicism” in Romantic studies (a speculative definition of which I append at the close of this review).

Displacement is the flat apocalypse of an intellectual generation formed in, and after, the journées of May 1968, May 1970, and so on. This is perhaps the deepest of all truths about the new historicism: the “history” or “reality” it seeks in masses of magically particular documents sooner or later gives off the unmistakeable odor of enchantment. At these moments, h istory becomes a grail, and texts its allegory. . . . (p. 179)It is what might be called lateral transcendence, the glide of a refugee from brutal historical experience not to higher worlds (because the new historicism knows no other worlds) but merely to some other site of historical experience—even if called Self, Mind, or Nature—that is at least not a killing ground. Thus the ongoing reappraisal of such killing grounds as the spots of time in The Prelude, whose flight from haunts of violence into imagination and memory becomes in the new historicist view a historical emigration (in James Chander’s thesis, for instance, from the French Revolution into the poet’s personal “traditionalism” [Wordsworth’s Second Nature, Chicago, 1984]). If the Romantics seem to view other worlds, in short, that is because they are aliens in their own world.

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