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Life: Organic Form and Romanticism

About the Author

Denise Gigante

Denise Gigante teaches eighteenth and nineteenth-century British literature, with a focus on Romanticism. Her interests include the longer historical tradition of poetry and poetics, the English periodical essay, the Romantic novel, taste, gastronomy, aesthetic theory, antiquarianism, and the history of the book.  She is currently working on The Book Madness: A Story of Book Collectors in America and is the author of The Keats Brothers: The Life of John and George, (just released by Harvard UP in paperback), Life: Organic Form and Romanticism (Yale UP, 2009), Taste: A Literary History (Yale UP,...

Yale University Press
2009

 

What makes something alive?  Or, more to the point, what is life? The question is as old as the ages and has not been (and may never be) resolved. Life springs from life, and liveliness motivates matter to act the way it does. Yet vitality in its very unpredictability often appears as a threat. In this intellectually stimulating work, Denise Gigante looks at how major writers of the Romantic period strove to produce living forms of art on an analogy with biological form, often finding themselves face to face with a power known as monstrous.

The poets Christopher Smart, William Blake, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats were all immersed in a culture obsessed with scientific ideas about vital power and its generation, and they broke with poetic convention in imagining new forms of “life.” In Life: Organic Form and Romanticism, Gigante offers a way to read ostensibly difficult poetry and reflects on the natural-philosophical idea of organic form and the discipline of literary studies.