Populism, Gender, and Sympathy in the Romantic Novel by James P. Carson (auth.)

By James P. Carson (auth.)

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Recent studies of the genre of the national tale and the Romantic construction of national identity have fostered a renewed interest in Maturin. I argue that there is a contradiction between the Irish nationalism of Maturin’s novels and personal letters and the Unionism of his sermons. I explore how for Maturin unity is achieved in the realm of sound. The idea of the group speaking in one voice presents both a possibility and a threat, an ideal foundation for nationalism and a frightening explanation of group psychology.

While both Gothic novelists and canonical Romantic authors recognize how new mass phenomena challenge the traditional foundations of identity, they respond differently to that challenge. Drawing significantly on literary criticism of the novel and Romanticism, Dror Wahrman has traced the history of the modern understanding of an essentialized self, possessing psychological depth and interiority. According to Wahrman, this modern self appears in Britain in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, when a historical rupture, eventuated by the crisis of the American Revolutionary War, led to the collapse of what he terms the ancien régime of identity.

She follows Godwin and Wollstonecraft in preferring an egalitarian mode of republican citizenship based on radical agrarianism to the classical republican citizen-soldier whose intellectual autonomy depends on the exploitation of those who perform manual labor. Drawing on the doctrines of feminine sensibility, Mary Shelley sketches her ideal for humanity in the overcoming of self through sympathy even while, more clearly than Maturin, she discovers the faculty of imagination in the sound of the crowd.

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