British Romantic Criticism and the Fine Arts: A Study in Philosophical Theories of Literary Unity
Tambar, Jaspreet S.
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This dissertation is an exploration of how a small but important group of Romantic critics, finding fault in the ideal of three unities developed by neoclassical Academicians and wrongly attributed to Aristotle, turned to the terminology and practices of the fine arts to emphasize their conception of organic unity in literature. The Romantic analogy to painting in particular enables a philosophical criticism of literature to present the aesthetic semblance of painting, the comprehension of a multitude of details in a harmonious whole that is a natural unity to its medium, as a paradigm of modern-romantic poetry and its aspirations to similar complexity, particularity, and imaginative colour. Further, in extension of the French Querelle des anciens et des modernes of the seventeenth century, the division of ancient and romantic art by Romantic critics like August Schlegel, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and William Hazlitt not only establishes an ethnological and historical difference between the artistic productions of these two cultural periods but also allows, unlike the neoclassical unities, a non-anachronistic philosophical vocabulary of whole and parts or of the general and particular in the criticism of poetry, which involution provides a “rule” more consonant with the laws of the imagination rather than with the rhetorical and absolutist dicta that were thither available in the literary canon.