Robert Southey Hates London

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By Matthew Sangster

Writing (rather belatedly) to note that a special issue of Romanticism on the Net, which I co-edited with Tim Fulford, has recently been published featuring an article by me on the ways in which Southey engaged with (or disengaged from) the city. The abstract is below.

This article explores Robert Southey’s attitudes to London, using his often negative reactions as a means of examining his construction of his identity while also employing his works as a prism through which to consider the social and representational problems that the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century city presented for literary writers. It places Southey’s handful of London-related poems in the context of his wider oeuvre by analysing his correspondence, his Letters from England (1807), and the Colloquies (1829). Through looking at consonances with works by William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Edmund Burke, among others, the article shows how Southey constructed a vision of London as a place of perverted sublimity, where scale and repetition served to grind down confidence in one’s individual value, leading to sickness, disaffection and alienation. While examining fluctuations in Southey’s attitudes over time, it contends that his fear of the London mob, his distaste at urban pollution, …read more