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By Andrew M. Stauffer

Andrew M. Stauffer explores the altering position of anger within the literature and tradition of the Romantic interval, rather within the poetry and prose of Blake, Coleridge, Godwin, Shelley, and Byron. This leading edge publication has a lot to give a contribution to the certainty of Romantic literature and the cultural background of emotions.

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H. Auden, writing on the poetic exchange of insults, notes the contradiction between the insulting nature of what is said which appears to indicate a passionate relation of hostility and aggression, and the calculated skill of verbal invention which indicates that the protagonists are not thinking about each other but about language and their pleasure in employing it inventively. A man who is really passionately angry is speechless and can only express his anger by physical violence. 18 Theatrical or “playful” anger can seem a comic oxymoron: laughter deflates both anger and the sublime.

17 The Longinian sublime is rhetorical menos; Longinus makes that identification explicit by attributing Hector’s rage to Homer. The “spontaneous . . devouring energy” of the berserker and the passionate enthusiasm of the sublime poet both exempt their bearers from human limits. ” Dodds’s remark that those in a state of menos are “for the time being rather more, or perhaps rather less, than human,” reveals his uncertainty as well. When sublime fury is the propellant, the arc of transcendence can appear to lead either upward to Longinian hypsos where man seems a divinely inspired minister of destruction, or downward to the chaos of Senecan ira where man seems a mad demon or a rabid dog.

By 1796, however, virtually all supporters of Revolutionary principles had been converted by the Terror, the execution of the king, and several years of warfare – or else silenced by a series of governmental restrictions. As far as anger is concerned, then, Burke’s passage signifies an important discursive victory of the conservative party, and one with real political implications. The anger of the revolutionaries and their reformist sympathizers in England had been more or less completely identified as blind and ferocious rage (or diabolical hypocrisy), while their opponents had firmly seized the elevated ground of noble indignation.

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