Life: Organic Form and Romanticism
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.
About the Author
Denise Gigante teaches British Romantic literature, and poetry over a longer tradition. Her interests include poetic form and aesthetics, bibliomania and literary antiquarianism, gastronomy, the history and form of the essay, material print culture, and the mixed-media work of William Blake.
She is currently completing work on The Cambridge History of the British Essay, a monumental history the development of the essay genre by a global network of authors that includes her own chapter, “On Books: The Bibliographical Essay” She is also working to complete The Mental Traveller: William Blake, a study of Blake’s illuminated poetry in relation late Medieval and Renaissance Christian iconography and the literary tradition of Pilgrimage, in a heavily illustrated volume to be published as part of the Clarendon Lecture Series by Oxford University Press.
Her most recently published book is Book Madness: A Story of Book Collectors in America (Yale University Press, 2023), a narrative experiment in literary history that explores different pockets of book collecting in mid-nineteenth-century America. The story is based on the sale of Charles Lamb’s antiquarian books—a quintessential book lover’s library—in New York in 1848.
She is also the author of The Keats Brothers: The Life of John and George, (Harvard UP, 2011), Life: Organic Form and Romanticism (Yale UP, 2009), Taste: A Literary History (Yale UP, 2005), and two anthologies: The Great Age of the English Essay (Yale UP, 2008) and Gusto: Essential Writings in Nineteenth-Century Gastronomy (Routledge, 2005) as well as numerous articles and book chapters on topics of interest from taste and gastronomy to book collecting and poetic form