New PDF release: Anger, revolution, and romanticism

By Andrew M. Stauffer

Andrew M. Stauffer explores the altering position of anger within the literature and tradition of the Romantic interval, fairly within the poetry and prose of Blake, Coleridge, Godwin, Shelley, and Byron. This leading edge booklet has a lot to give a contribution to the knowledge of Romantic literature and the cultural background of emotions.

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We learn from Seneca and Longinus that angry outbursts, unrefined by self-dramatizing rhetoric to a greater (Seneca) or lesser (Longinus) degree, have little chance of stirring an audience to anything other than disgust or embarrassment. Further, when angry rhetoric does succeed in producing a like emotion in its listeners, it typically does so not by the routes of sympathy typical to other emotions (like grief), but by means of the sublime. The audience partakes of the emotion in a moment of imaginative transgression and identification with the intensity of the angry rhetoric.

Certainly Seneca would have abhorred Longinus’ privileging of the wild, the mad, the frenzied, and particularly the enraged. Seneca in fact speaks directly to this issue, in a passage from De Ira that anticipates Longinus’ claims for sublimity: And you must not assume this, either – that anger contributes anything to greatness of soul. That is not greatness, it is a swelling . . All whom frenzy of the soul exalts to powers that are more than human believe that they breathe forth something lofty and sublime; but it rests on nothing solid, and whatever rises without a firm foundation is liable to fall.

We weep and laugh as we see others do: He only makes me sad who shows the way, And first is sad himself; then, Telephus, I feel the weight of your calamities, And fancy all your miseries my own. 11 Unlike Seneca, Horace makes no distinction between actual and feigned emotion; the command to grieve, “dolendum est,” implies that the poet must actually feel the emotion, but the warning against inept speech a few lines later, “male si mandata laqueris” (translated here as, “But if you act them ill”), conflates the poet’s expression with the art of theater, or rhetoric.

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