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The Dissolution of Character in Late Romanticism, 1820 - 1839

Jonas Cope

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Restructures and revitalises late Romantic literature as a movement fascinated with competing claims about the reality and knowability of character

The idea of character that many of us still take for granted – whether considered in print as an object of representation, or in life as a congenital ‘bias’ or an acquirable moral possession – is the shared concern of a multidisciplinary debate in reform-era Britain. This book argues for the independent merits of several lesser-known works written in England and Scotland during the 1820s and 1830s, recovering in these works a sustained ideological engagement with the ever-slippery concept of character. The Dissolution of Character in Late Romanticism studies texts written by contemporary poets, novelists, essayists, journalists, philosophers, phrenologists, sociologists, gossip-mongers and anonymous correspondents. Its main authors of interest include David Hume, Walter Scott, Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, Hartley Coleridge, Letitia Landon, Thomas Love Peacock and Thomas Lovell Beddoes.

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1. The Reform Era: An Ethological Age
2. From Person to Text: Character and the Problem of Representation
3. Representing Representation: Walter Scott and Charles Lamb
4. The Politics of Unity: Hazlitt and Character Revisited
5. ‘The Loved Abortion of a Thing Designed’: Hartley Coleridge and the Drive for Dissolution
6. ‘A Series of Small Inconstancies’: Letitia Landon and the Politics of Consistency
7. Character and Paranoia in Beddoes’s Death’s Jest-Book and Peacock’s Crotchet Castle
Afterward. Meta-characterisation: Dickens’s Sketches by Boz and Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus.  

About the Author

Jonas Cope is Assistant Professor of English California State University, Sacramento. He has authored several articles including Passive and Dynamic Sincerity in Mary Shelley’s Falkner, (The Keats-Shelley Journal 63 (2014): 123-37) and The Mortal Immortal: Mary Shelley’s ‘Overreachers’ Reconsidered (The Explicator 72, no. 2 (2014): 122-26). He is an article reviewer for the journal Pedagogy published by Duke University Press.


Cope’s engaging, eye-opening study of character in post-Waterloo Britain sheds valuable new light on the evolution of public perceptions of secular figures as citizens struggled to disentangle the fictional from the real and to reconcile the myth-making tendencies of cultural representation with their hunger for luminaries as "real people."

- Stephen C. Behrendt, University of Nebraska

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