The Blind and Blindness in Literature of the Romantic Period

The Blind and Blindness in Literature of the Romantic Period

Edward Larrissy
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3366/j.ctt1r2394
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  • Book Info
    The Blind and Blindness in Literature of the Romantic Period
    Book Description:

    In the first full-length literary-historical study of its subject, Edward Larrissy examines the philosophical and literary background to representations of blindness and the blind in the Romantic period.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-3201-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Chapter 1 The Enigma of the Blind
    (pp. 1-35)

    One of the theses advanced in this book is familiar and tends to be taken for granted, namely that the Romantic period is indebted to ‘the ancient topos of the blind poet or seer, a visionary whose sight, having lost this world’s presence, is directed entirely beyond to the spiritual.’¹ These are William Paulson’s words from his book on the blind in France in that period. However, while there is an assumption that the topos is relevant to an understanding of British Romanticism, nobody has ever claimed that it is developed in a straightforward fashion in a wide range of...

  6. Chapter 2 The Celtic Bard in Ireland and Britain: Blindness and Second Sight
    (pp. 36-63)

    Physical blindness and ‘second sight’ could, from the early eighteenth century, be associated with the Celtic bard and thus become markers, in polite literature, of a prophetic or poetic vision supposedly common in Celtic countries. Ossian, of course, was blind – like Homer, as it is customary to note – and was clearly possessed of ‘second sight’. So that, given the ascendancy Macpherson’s imitations exerted over the thoughts and ambitions of the poets and poetasters of two continents, one might ask if it is really necessary to do more than lay the association at his door. Yet, as we shall see, the...

  7. Chapter 3 Blake: Removing the Curse by Printing for the Blind
    (pp. 64-88)

    In Blake’s work, the imagery of blindness and the blind is normally related to his debate with empiricist epistemology, although there are some exceptions to this rule. Since the publication of my study in 1985, there has been further support for the idea advanced therein, that Blake’s attitude to empiricist theories of knowledge, chiefly as represented by the Locke tradition, is quite ambivalent, and that it cannot be described as one of simple rejection. In any case, his response to that tradition is closely bound up with his attempts to define his own point of view, which means that the...

  8. Chapter 4 Edifying Tales
    (pp. 89-101)

    The condition of the blind may furnish good matter for a story. There are many possibilities: their capacity to act as competently as the sighted, or learn to do so; their retention of a good heart when struck blind, or possession of one despite being blind from birth; the tricks that the sighted may play upon them, or the compassion they may demonstrate or elicit. All of these fundamental narrative opportunities may become involved with contemporary reflections on the value of work, the existence or otherwise of innate benevolence, or the way in which spiritual insight may be attained. A...

  9. Chapter 5 Wordsworth’s Transitions
    (pp. 102-140)

    The topic of blindness figures in some of Wordsworth’s most important poems, and is associated with central developments in his thought. The blind man, for instance, appears in a famous passage in ‘Tintern Abbey’; the Blind Beggar passage in Prelude VII is essential to the understanding of the poem; and Alan Bewell makes a good case for regarding the speaker of the Intimations Ode as ‘the blind poet’.¹ And despite Wordsworth’s reservations about Macpherson, there are occasional similarities between the self-presentation of the speaker in The Prelude and in the Ossian poems.² There is sometimes an autobiographical element in play:...

  10. Chapter 6 Coleridge, Keats and a Full Perception
    (pp. 141-171)

    The lines about aged blindness added to ‘This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison’ by 1800 evoke the idea of egotistical blindness. The full perception ultimately attained by the speaker transcends, however, the ‘despotism’ of the eye and comprehends responses of hearing, and even touch. Even before 1800, then, Coleridge is attempting to adumbrate a unified creative power – granted that, in this period, the Platonic overtones cannot be separated from the continued influence of empiricism. Nevertheless, the purport of this poem is broadly consonant with that of the later ‘Limbo’, in which I shall claim (contrary to some readers) that the blind...

  11. Chapter 7 Byron and Shelley: The Blindness of Reason
    (pp. 172-187)

    The most significant example of the blind to be found in Byron is that of Milton, ‘the blind Old Man’. To contemplate the meaning of this figure for Byron is to understand something essential to him, something which lays bare the complexity of the links between the aesthetic and the political in his work. The most illuminating point of entry to this question is by way of the collocation of Milton, Dryden and Pope in Don Juan. In this context, they function as repositories of classical value, opposed to the poetics of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey. But Milton sits oddly...

  12. Chapter 8 Mary Shelley: Blind Fathers and the Magnetic Globe: Frankenstein with Valperga and The Last Man
    (pp. 188-203)

    While the figure of the blind man may not be central to Mary Shelley’s work, it is salient enough. The episode where Frankenstein’s creature hides in the house of the blind De Lacey and his family is highly significant for the meaning of the book, as is the ensuing one in which he makes himself known to the old man, whose blindness means that he cannot react with prejudice to the creature’s hideousness. In the second chapter of the first volume of Valperga (1823), we learn of the blindness of Euthanasia’s father, Adimari, which prompts her to read to him...

  13. Chapter 9 Conclusion
    (pp. 204-204)

    The idea of blindness – as trope, as image, or exemplified in a character – is central to to some of the most important texts of British Romanticism. The blind, and developed figures of blindness, offer ways of exploring an individual consciousness which conceives itself as, so to speak, lost in history. This consciousness is nostalgic for an innocence and immediacy of vision which it knows cannot be recovered in modern society, and which, moreover, have been thoroughly analysed by modern philosophy and political economy, with the result that even the fleeting glimpses of vision now vouchsafed have to be understood in...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 205-220)
  15. Index
    (pp. 221-232)