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"Everlastinge to Posterytie": Chatterton's Spirited Youth

"Everlastinge to Posterytie": Chatterton's Spirited Youth he brief career of the “marvellous Boy” Thomas Chatterton and the genesis of the pseudomedieval poems he attributed to Thomas Rowley have the vague familiarity of Romantic myth. So far as academic literary history is concerned, however, Chatterton has usually figured as an oddball enthusiasm, as the obscure occasion of an overblown debate, or as an avatar of modern celebrity. While recent criticism has begun to regard him as an exemplary exception rather than an isolated curiosity, two modes prevail: one focuses on the psychodynamics of the Rowley story, considered as an exaggerated version of adolescent fantasy, while the other examines how Chatterton’s generic experiments and dealings with patrons illuminate conditions in the late-eighteenth-century literary market. The present essay combines elements of the psychoanalytic and the cultural-materialist approaches both to reflect on how the literary world conspired in Chatterton’s fantasy and to understand how fantasy structures empirical reception. Cowritten by a Romanticist and a medievalist, the essay itself participates formally and thematically in the discontinuous histories it describes. Our analysis, an extended meditation on the metaphor of literary “genealogy,” alternates between intensive and extensive approaches, moving freely between the eighteenth-century context and Modern Language Quarterly 63:2, June 2002. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Modern Language Quarterly: A Journal of Literary History Duke University Press

"Everlastinge to Posterytie": Chatterton's Spirited Youth

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Publisher
Duke University Press
Copyright
Copyright 2002 by University of Washington
ISSN
0026-7929
eISSN
1527-1943
DOI
10.1215/00267929-63-2-141
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

he brief career of the “marvellous Boy” Thomas Chatterton and the genesis of the pseudomedieval poems he attributed to Thomas Rowley have the vague familiarity of Romantic myth. So far as academic literary history is concerned, however, Chatterton has usually figured as an oddball enthusiasm, as the obscure occasion of an overblown debate, or as an avatar of modern celebrity. While recent criticism has begun to regard him as an exemplary exception rather than an isolated curiosity, two modes prevail: one focuses on the psychodynamics of the Rowley story, considered as an exaggerated version of adolescent fantasy, while the other examines how Chatterton’s generic experiments and dealings with patrons illuminate conditions in the late-eighteenth-century literary market. The present essay combines elements of the psychoanalytic and the cultural-materialist approaches both to reflect on how the literary world conspired in Chatterton’s fantasy and to understand how fantasy structures empirical reception. Cowritten by a Romanticist and a medievalist, the essay itself participates formally and thematically in the discontinuous histories it describes. Our analysis, an extended meditation on the metaphor of literary “genealogy,” alternates between intensive and extensive approaches, moving freely between the eighteenth-century context and Modern Language Quarterly 63:2, June 2002.

Journal

Modern Language Quarterly: A Journal of Literary HistoryDuke University Press

Published: Jun 1, 2002

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