Life: Organic Form and Romanticism

Yale University Press
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 from the 17th through the 20th c. Her interests include poetic form and aesthetics, 19th c. bibliomania and literary antiquarianism, gastronomy (or literature and food), the history and genre of the literary essay, and relations between William Blake’s poetry and visual culture.

She is completing 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 with artwork from the Italian Papal states and Tuscany, to be published as part of the Clarendon Lecture Series by Oxford University Press. Her most recent book is Book Madness: A Story of Book Collectors in America (forthcoming from Yale University Press), an experiment in associational literary history that explores different pockets of book collecting in mid-19th c. America. The story focuses on the sale of Charles Lamb’s antiquarian books—a quintessential book lover’s library—in New York in 1848. She is editing The Cambridge History of the British Essay, a fifty-chapter historiographical study of the development of the essay genre by authors from Europe, America, India, and Australia that includes her chapter on bibliographical writing, “On Book.s”

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).