English Romanticism in United States literary studies: Literary-historical ideology and the institution

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics


John W. Crowley


Academia, English, Romanticism, Literary-historical

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


English Romanticism in U.S. Literary Studies examines the relationship between the uses of the term "Romanticism" by literary critics and historians in the United States since the late nineteenth century, and the "period" structure that has organized the study of English literature during this era. Its thesis is that this term, in part precisely by virtue of having no fixed definition, has been essential to the development of the forms of literary history that have dominated the study of literature in the American academy. In creating the study of literary history as a discipline separate from the study of history and philology as well as from the traditional study of rhetoric, the modern field of English adapted the terms "romantic" and "Romanticism" in order to designate a properly literary-historical movement. In the course of the twentieth century the meaning of this movement has shifted dramatically, yet the fact of its having taken place has seldom been seriously questioned. This study attempts to draw connections between debates about the meaning and effect of "Romanticism" in literature and culture in the course of the twentieth century, and contemporaneous concerns about culture and the institutions of literary study in the United States.

The project is divided into five chapters. The first chapter establishes a relationship between the concepts of "Romanticism" and the institutional contexts in which these concepts arise. Drawing on Slavoj Zizek's use of philosophical "antidescriptivism," the chapter develops the idea that "Romanticism" is not inevitably linked to a particular set of meanings, but to a desire to establish meaning in literary history. Chapter two develops a historical context for this desire by investigating the development of the genre of literary historiography from the mid- to late-nineteenth century, and the use of the term "Romanticism" in this development. Chapter three looks at the cultural significance of "Romanticism" around 1920, primarily through the work of Irving Babbitt, A. O. Lovejoy and T. S. Eliot. Chapter four examines the "reconsideration of Romanticism" in post-World War II literary criticism in its institutional contexts. Chapter five briefly explores the role of "Romanticism" in contemporary literary study.


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