Fatal consequences: Romantic confessional writing of the 1820s

Halliday, Neil Edmund Bain (2020). Fatal consequences: Romantic confessional writing of the 1820s. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis investigates what happened when, in 1798, Thomas Malthus identified a series of tropes surrounding the pursuit of desire which would later inform the confessional writers of the 1820s. Over this period, I argue that we witness a transition from a religious mode of confession to a more secular discourse. Chapter One considers Malthus’s view of man as an economic and reproductive agent, exploring his representation of the somatic tropes articulated in the work of the prose writers succeeding him. Chapter Two examines how Thomas De Quincey’s opium-based confessions represent a potential short-cut to life-writing. However, his dread of literary obscurity is revealed through themes of impotence, restricted expansion and enforced containment. Furthermore, I show how drug-induced reveries are for De Quincey potentially a transitory and insubstantial basis for a sustained discourse. Chapter Three develops the theme of impotence within a sexual context, through an exploration of William Hazlitt’s Liber Amoris. This motif symbolises Hazlitt’s personal and literary failure, as well as reflecting the wider political and social disillusionment of the 1820s. Chapter Four examines Charles Lamb’s confessional writing, and its themes of over-eating and drinking. These apparently more innocent consumption-centred narratives conceal a darker, sexualised discourse. They also represent the emergence of such tropes as indicators of individual and national identity. The final chapter concerns James Hogg, particularly his often over-looked text, The Shepherd’s Guide, which contains the origins of his later Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Hogg’s work on animal husbandry anticipates questions of authorship, literary selfwriting and writing methodology. Overall, this thesis reappraises Malthus’s status as a literary figure and emphasises his role as a primogenitor of Romantic confessional writing; in doing so it provides a fresh investigation of confession as a key genre of 1820s prose writing

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: Department of English
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
URI: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/10188


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