Clayton Carlyle Tarr, “Stillborn Plots: Revolution, Imagination, and the Failure of Romanticism” (pp. 415–447)

The metaphor “fell stillborn from the press” was used frequently by Romantic-era critics to disparage unsuccessful literary productions. Stillbirth statistics began to be collected in earnest in the late eighteenth century alongside an explosion of midwifery texts and obstetric advances. Since Romantic authors often referred to their texts as offspring, it is useful to understand stillbirth plots in these texts as evidence of the authors’ anxiety over imaginative or revolutionary failure. Stillbirth plots are a recurrent theme in Romantic literature, appearing in both novels and poetry, and they are tied together by the mental struggle of the creator, either female or male. In Romantic novels, stillbirth plots signal the defeat of radical theories, whereas in poetry they express the failure of the imagination. Ultimately, these metaphors of failed parturition demonstrate Romantic writers’ fascination with contemporary obstetrics, which made extraordinary advances in the late eighteenth century only to remain static throughout the nineteenth century.

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