British Romantic Writers: Topics for the First Essay

Due in class, Monday, October 17: Write a 1250-1500 word essay (about five double-spaced pages) that involves a close critical examination of at least one of the works we have studied so far. You may choose your own topic or use one of the following topics as a starting point. Use MLA citation style for quotations of both primary and secondary sources.  The essay should prove an arguable thesis, that is, a position that a reasonable person could oppose. Feel free to use appropriate secondary sources if necessary, but you are not required to do so.

Topics on Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience:

1.      Children in Blake’s Songs: How does Blake’s representation of childhood depend on the forms of children’s poetry?  What do the Songs have to do with nursery rhymes?

2.       Blake and the Industrial Revolution: What evidence of the industrial revolution does Blake present to his audience? What problems, and what solutions does he present?

3.       Blake’s Radicalism: How does Blake present his political views in these poems?  What are the “mind forg’d manacles” and what does Blake want us to do about them?

Topics on Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

1.      Blake’s Religion: Do the proverbs and parables of this work represent a coherent set of religious beliefs? Does their status as parodies undermine their status as serious religious texts?

2.      Prophecy: What is the prophetic mode, and why does Blake speak in this way? Look up “prophecy” in a reference work of literary criticism, and argue for or against The Marriage of Heaven and Hell as a prophetic text.

Topics on Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France:

1.      The Force of the Past: What claim does the past make on the people of the present, in Burke’s view, and what benefit do we derive from the bargain?

2.       Burke’s critics: Examine the exchange between Burke and one of his critics—whose opinion appears stronger, in strictly argumentative terms?

3.      Burke and the French Revolution: Were Burke’s characterizations of the French Revolution fair, or distorted?  If distorted, in what ways, and why?

Suggestion Topics on Wordsworth:

1.      Wordsworth and memory: Several of Wordsworth’s poems in the Lyrical Ballads, including “Tintern Abbey” contain many shifts in time and perspective, both obvious and subtle.  Trace these shifts in a poem or a long passage, showing how and why the poem stops, starts, doubles back, and leaps forward again, and giving a precise account of what the poet describes and from what perspective. 

2.      Language: In the “Preface to the Lyrical Ballads,” Wordsworth claims to have used “the language of ordinary men” rather than elevated poetic diction. Is this true? In what ways is Wordsworth’s language ordinary or extraordinary?