2016 Undergraduate Awards

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Charlotte Smith is often considered a proto-Romantic poet, and her Elegiac Sonnets a precursor to the Romantic poetry of the next century. However, Smith’s Elegiac Sonnets is also heavily influenced by late-eighteenth century currents of thought, most especially the cult of sentiment that had extreme literary significance in the later decades of the eighteenth century. Additionally, changing perceptions of the melancholic artistic genius as a specifically male figure meant that Smith, as a poet for whom melancholy in Elegiac Sonnets was a central element of her artistry, had to demonstrate her claim, as a woman, to the space of the melancholic poet. This claim is accentuated in the fifth edition and onwards of Elegiac Sonnets with the introduction of more and more dramatic levels of melancholy, where poetry’s inability to provide consolation transforms into a renunciation of poetry itself. This essay examines two sonnets from earlier editions of Elegiac Sonnets, “Sonnet I” and “Sonnet XXXII”, and two sonnets from the fifth edition and beyond, “Sonnet XLVII” and “Sonnet XXXIV”, in an attempt to trace Smith’s changing efforts at claiming poetic melancholy for herself.


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