Plural Perspectives in the Social Observation of John Clare.
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My thesis examines social observation in the poetry of John Clare, focusing on his work in the years before he was committed to an asylum in 1837. The project illuminates a plurality of perspectives in his poetry that has not been fully recognized in previous critical studies. It resituates the conventional scholarly approach to Clare, which has been preoccupied by an overly oppositional conception of the ‘two cultures’ that he inhabited: the oral and the literary. My thesis positions him as an intellectually curious seeker whose poetry is invigorated by his experience of different value systems in both the country and the city. Each chapter considers how Clare develops different strategies of social observation in the context of different discourses, and how he unsettles the validity of various attitudes to human behaviour. Chapter One, ‘Naturalizing Perspectives’, offers a new approach to Clare’s interest in natural history, by examining its influence on his portrayal of human behaviour, when he adopts the detailed observational habits of the naturalist. Chapter Two, ‘Refined Perspectives’, shows how he negotiates the influences of poets who represented the social structure of rural life, and poets who were interested in rural subjectivity, in order to identify the distinctiveness of his presentation of customary culture in ‘The Village Minstrel’. Chapter Three, ‘Female Perspectives’, considers his interest in his female readership, and examines how his courtship tales – which have generally been neglected by critics – engage with the concerns about conduct and social elevation that occupied the literature aimed for this audience. Chapter Four, ‘National Perspectives’, examines how he responds to the ferment of political ideas in his time through his representations of the nation – another area that has been little served in critical studies. My Conclusion considers Clare’s later poetry in the asylum and his developing self-consciousness as a social observer.
AuthorsWilliams, Thomas Richard
- Theses