James Metcalf (KCL) - 2016-17 Students

Sites of memory: the liminal spaces of graveyard poetry

This project looks again at some neglected texts of the mid-eighteenth-century, categorised as graveyard poetry, by re-examining the spaces in which they are set. The dominant topoi of churchyards and ruins, so prevalent in poems by Edward Young, Robert Blair, Thomas Warton, and Thomas Gray, the hypothesis contends, can be read as liminal spaces, thresholds, boundaries and crossing points, between the present and the past, life and death, history and memory. The PhD develops the previously unapplied theoretical frameworks of Pierre Nora’s ‘les lieux de memoire’ and recent studies in liminality to analyse the tensions of these textual sites, but also to think about the contested position of graveyard poetry in literary studies and the notion of the canon. Notoriously difficult to place, and previously but uncomfortably grouped as pre-Romantic, post-Augustan, or the product of an Age of Sensibility, graveyard poetry is reconsidered here as existing and working between genres and modes of writing, characterised by a defining yet elusive quality of liminality. Using these concepts, and rethinking intersections with melancholy and Gothic literature of the long eighteenth century, the project proposes this new reading, providing a fresh lens through which it will critically reinterpret mid-eighteenth-century graveyard poetry.

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