Accueil > Promethean selves: the politics of British Romanticism 1775-1830


Type d'enseignement : Elective

Semester : Autumn 2017-2018

Number of hours : 24

Language of tuition : English



Course Description

Prometheus Unbound (1820) is a re-writing of Aeschylus's lost play of the same name, by the English poet, philosopher and radical Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). Both plays are based upon the mythical figure of the titan Prometheus, creator of humankind and punished by Zeus for stealing the fire of the gods: Prometheus is chained to a rock in the Caucasus, where his liver is eaten daily by an eagle but regenerates during the night, cruelly transforming his immortality into a means of infinite torture. Shelley's re-appropriation of the play is a political allegory in which Prometheus embodies human spirit and progress—and atheism—overthrowing the mystical, unenlightened and tyrannical ancien régime of the gods. This concept of the liberation of humankind in general and beyond that, of the new freedom of the individual, certainly defines one dimension of the nebulous phenomenon we call ‘Romanticism' in all of its varieties in the western world, during a period that could roughly be framed as going from the late eighteenth century to the late nineteenth. However, British Romanticism has a specific complex relationship with it. British Romanticism can at times focus on the energy of the individual and glorify the inner emotional life, which might be classified as radical or progressive. However, it can also be in rebellion against the coming modern industrial world and fascinated by the aristocratic past, as is in varying degrees the writing of the poet William Wordsworth and the novelist Walter Scott, in what can be called Tory Romanticism. The course has a strong element of literary methodology in the sense that stylistics and aesthetics are considered important; but equal emphasis will be given to historical and political context. We will not be studying Shelley's Prometheus Unbound itself at length (it is not an easy play to read), but will look at extracts of it, as well as samples of British Romantic poetry and extracts from contextual documents (I will make this available electronically). This will be complementary to four main readings, four novels from the period which I require students to read in whole. These are all very readable novels, especially Godwin, Austen and Shelley, and Hays is relatively short. The ‘extra reading' referred to above and in the course outline below will always be in manageable and reasonable quantities.


SMITH, Matthew (Lecturer at Université de Lorraine)

Pedagogical format

I will occasionally give short presentations in class to move things along, but the bulk of class format will be based on student participation. It should be stressed that in-class participation constitutes a fifth of the final grade, and that although I believe assessment of this sort should be carried out in a cautious but positive spirit, only participation that visibly draws on thorough reading work will be rewarded with the highest grades. Quality of participation is as important and perhaps even more important than quantity. This does not mean that everything each student says should be a maximum-stakes rhetorical performance—that would be very stressful for everybody! Sometimes thinking out loud and trying to ask the right questions is also important in the construction of knowledge. What I would insist upon is the importance of fully engaging with the course material.

Course validation

Quality of in-class participation based on reading of course material 20% ; mid-term short writing exercise in class (week 5) 20% ; 2000 word assignment on a subject related to class material, chosen by yourself in agreement with me by week 5 and to be handed in in week 9 35% ; final 2-hour exam in class in week 12, consisting in an essay drawing on the whole of the course material, with a choice between questions 25%

Required reading

  • William Godwin, Caleb Williams (1794; Oxford World Classics, 2009)
  • Mary Hays, Memoirs of Emma Courtney (1796; Oxford World Classics, 2009)
  • Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813; Oxford World Classics, 2008)
  • Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus (1818; Oxford World Classics, 2008)