Jamison Kantor, “‘Say, What is Honor?’: Wordsworth and the Value of Honor” (pp. 1–36)

Instead of reading the poetry of William Wordsworth’s “great decade” (1798–1808) as a struggle between nature and Milton, Rousseau and Burke, or history and the imagination, this essay suggests that it can also be characterized by an internal tension within a keyword of the romantic age: honor. Romantic honor could connote hierarchy and status—which, I argue, functioned in an emerging market for “dignified” literary productions. But it could also be a progressive value of egalitarianism and equity, one that allowed poetry to appeal to the “native and naked dignity” inherent in all people regardless of their economic status. Working off of recent scholarship that considers the role of honor in modernity, this essay explores how Wordsworth’s poetry used the virtue to stage a paradox that endures within liberal society: the conflict between market distinction and social equality. Focusing on honor as a sign for both qualities might thus reveal Wordsworth’s poetry as a register for the influence—and impasses—of liberal politics on European aesthetics.

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