Holy Ghosts: Romantic Asceticism and Its Figural Phantoms
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This dissertation reconsiders sacred tropes in the Romantic poetry of William Wordsworth, Percy Shelley, and John Keats within the context of ascetic performances and written saints’ lives. I argue that reading these poets as ascetic figures helps us to better understand Romantic isolation as a deeply social engagement, for an ascetic rejects his social milieu in order to call for the sanctification of a corrupt community. Asceticism redraws the lines of Romantic immanent critique of nineteenth-century England and newly explains the ghostly afterlives of poets whose literary personae transcend their biographical lives. Furthermore, this study takes up the ways in which the foundational ascetic tropes of Romantic poetry bind the major poets together in an impenetrable canon of writers with holy vows to poetry and to each other. My readings examine different kinds of ascetic vocation at play in the work of each poet, and I ultimately argue that this traditional support for the Romantic canon demands that we reconsider our critical attachments to Romanticism as the beginning of a secular literary tradition.