Madness and the Romantic Poet
Madness and the Romantic Poet examines the longstanding and enduringly popular idea that poetry is connected to madness and mental illness. The idea goes back to classical antiquity, but it was given new life at the turn of the nineteenth century. The book offers a new and much more complete history of its development than has previously been attempted, alongside important associated ideas about individual genius, creativity, the emotions, rationality, and
the mind in extreme states or disorder - ideas that have been pervasive in modern popular culture. More specifically, the book tells the story of the initial growth and wider dissemination of the idea of the 'Romantic mad poet' in the nineteenth century, how (and why) this idea became so popular, and how it
interacted with the very different fortunes in reception and reputation of Romantic poets, their poetry, and attacks on or defences of Romanticism as a cultural trend generally - again leaving a popular legacy that endured into the twentieth century.
Material covered includes nineteenth-century journalism, early literary criticism, biography, medical and psychiatric literature, and poetry. A wide range of scientific (and pseudoscientific) thinkers are discussed alongside major Romantic authors, including Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake, Hazlitt, Lamb, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Keats, Byron, and John Clare. Using this array of sources and figures, the book asks: was the Romantic mad genius just a sentimental stereotype or a romantic myth? Or does
its long popularity tell us something serious about Romanticism and the role it has played, or has been given, in modern culture?